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Reign of Error, Part Whatever

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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You’ve heard us regularly crying for help here in North Carolina as our legislature has tried to turn science on its head. So, committed to keeping you posted, we here at the Plugged In Reign of Error desk thought you’d want to know what’s up.

For a moment, anyhow, our governor and his vetoproof Republican majorities in the state house and senate had stopped assaulting science outright. They appeared to content themselves with a kind of purer foofaraw. They fooled around with a bill protecting North Carolinians from nipples (one legislator suggested duct tape as a coverup)assured opossums the right to work on New Year’s Eve, protected the state from medical marijuana, and introduced a bill requiring cursive instruction in schools.

Regrettably, what with controlling both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office, Republicans appeared to grow bored with legislation that was fatuous but still not overtly and immediately harmful.

So they got back to subverting science and fast-tracked fracking in NC. They helped that process along by introducing Senate Bill 76, rethinking who needs to be on the state Mining and Energy Commission — removing obvious dead weight like water and air experts and, especially, the state geologist. As though some knucklehead like  the state geologist would have anything of value to add on the topics of mining or fracking, right?

According to the bill’s sponsor, “This country needs the energy, and North Carolina needs the jobs.” So you can imagine the hesitation that passed through the state senate when this report came out, from the Research Triangle Institute, showing that renewable energy accounted for $1.7 billion in investment in the state in the past five years and during that time has powered 21,163 job years. Except, oops, you would have to imagine it because that’s a “study” and studies don’t impress North Carolina legislators.

Anyhow, once the commission-gutting gets started it’s hard to stop, so out came Senate Bill 10, which would gut another couple dozen or so state regulatory commissions — including the Coastal Resources Commission, the Environmental Management Commission, and the Wildlife Resources Commission. Sciencey stuff. The commissioners all get fired, and the governor — with “confirmation” by the vetoproof legislative Republican majorities — replaces them. Because obviously, the last thing you want on commissions with the responsibility for managing the coastline, the environment, or the state’s wildlife is a bunch of people with institutional memory and the background to think long-term.

If you’re wondering why the head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has offered no resistance to this putsch, recall that new DENR secretary John Skvarla remains unconvinced of the consensus on climate change research and wonders whether oil might not be a renewable resource. He also told WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie he was head of the Department of EnvironmentAL and Natural Resources, which may seem like a small error, but leaving out whether you’re supposed to know the name of the department you head even on your very first day, the difference between the environment and environmental resources is significant. It’s worth bearing in mind when the person in charge doesn’t think it exists.

The bill also purges the North Carolina Utilities Commission, and you scarcely need to be told that the utilities commission is being gutted by a governor– quelle surprise — who got elected with the help of NC energy giant Duke Energys; the excellent Sue Sturgis lays bare that whole sorry business here.

But wait there’s more. Given the wonderful disputes NC legislators have had over sea-level rise, it’s remarkable to see that John Droz, famous for his refusal to recognize scientific consensus on climate change, is not the state’s craziest pseudoscientific expert. Opposing a bill that would raise the age at which teens could use tanning beds from age 14 to 18 — a bill, mind you, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the North Carolina Medical Society, the North Carolina Pediatrics Society, the North Carolina Oncology Society, the North Carolina Dermatologists, and the Child Fatality Task Force —  one Joe Levy disputed the relation between sunlight and skin cancer. Said Levy, representing a tanning bed trade group, not only is the UV light from tanning beds somehow different from the UV light from the sun, melanoma ”does not have direct relationship with sunlight. It is a complex relationship if at all.”

The antidote. Bring me the antidote.


Scott Huler About the Author: A writer who commonly explores science, culture, and the relationship between the two. Follow on Twitter @huler.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. sault 7:53 pm 03/1/2013

    No wonder they keep wanting to gut education funding, it makes it easier for them to pull off whoppers like these! And the media’s refusal to call them out on their scientific ignorance / mendacity is a dereliction of duty. There was a reason Freedom of the Press was SPECIFICALLY guaranteed in the constitution and it wasn’t so we could get the latest celebrity gossip or get drowned in a sea of partisan infotainment.

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  2. 2. Wrmurraytx 9:51 pm 03/1/2013

    Sadly, “Idiocracy” is turning out to be more of a documentary than a fiction.

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  3. 3. dubay.denis 10:18 pm 03/1/2013

    You get what you pay for, and what you vote for. There’s a reason for the term “conflict of interest”!

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  4. 4. Ralph Pagan 10:46 pm 03/1/2013

    Sadly, fracking does not create many jobs, and there is a glut of Natural Gas.

    Link to this
  5. 5. uglyMood 11:00 pm 03/1/2013

    I’d be interested in knowing just when this “balanced coverage” nonsense started that gives equal weight to a handful of corrupt shills on one side and the consensus of thousands of scientists on the other. Who decided this was an acceptable way to practice journalism?

    I would give anything to just once see a mainstream media outlet come out and say “We’d give you the opposing view, but the only people espousing it are bought-and-paid-for corporate shills who are flat-out factually wrong. It would be a disservice to the public discourse to give them one second of airtime to spread their lies, and we’re simply not willing to stoop that low.”

    A man can dream, can’t he?

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  6. 6. jbairddo 11:47 pm 03/1/2013

    Quit the griping, you’ve got basketball (OK, college) and didn’t mention outlawing the teaching of evolution (which is actually surprising).

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  7. 7. scribblerlarry 4:21 am 03/2/2013

    This is a hell of a place to mention it but…… Be careful my friends, a very strong “consensus of opinion” once held that the earth is the centre of the universe. Another held that men are superior to women.

    I strongly urge you to examine and form your own opinions on the actual scientific papers produced and peer reviewed from actual research, rather than from opinions based upon a “consensus of opinion” which is a term that is as scientific as “everybody knows.” It has as much validity as the “enlightened opinions” of those law makers i the article above.

    No, no! Do NOT argue with ME about this. Just ask yourself if YOU are satisfied with the depth of YOUR own enquiries…..

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  8. 8. rodestar99 6:19 am 03/2/2013

    Thats right.. give us money for educatation for 4 yr olds when our high schoolers can’t read. Give us legalized marijuana while forcing draconian punishment on people who have a few beers with their meal.
    Give us Gay Marriage,give us good solid companies like solyndra…..Give us enlightenment …..give us
    CALIFORNIAn HAHAHA give us enlightened leaders like Nancy Pelosi..hahhahaah.
    Give us the strength of a consensus that re elected
    OBAMMMMAAAA hahahha.

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  9. 9. tharriss 8:25 am 03/2/2013

    Wow, so you get to make a loaded comment that strongly implies bias of others, while insisting that no one “argue” with you or what you’re saying?

    Let’s toss a grenade in the discussion, then say “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

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  10. 10. tharriss 8:25 am 03/2/2013

    That comment was supposed to link to scribblerlarry’s.

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  11. 11. dbtinc 9:10 am 03/2/2013

    Bible bangers 1 Intellectuals 0. It amazes me how easily “handled” the great body of the unwashed are. Maybe an intelligence test for voting rights isn’t such a bad idea.

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  12. 12. brandqw 2:27 pm 03/2/2013

    If you think Wanda`s story is exceptional…, 4 weeks ago my aunt’s step son basically made the small fortune of $7344 putting in eleven hours a week from there apartment and they’re roomate’s step-sister`s neighbour has been doing this for 8-months and earnt more than $7344 in there spare time on line. apply the instructions on this site,
    JUMP30 ℂℴℳ

    Link to this
  13. 13. sault 5:20 pm 03/2/2013


    A lot of high-schoolers can’t read because they didn’t get a good start to their education when they were 4 years old! Even though the SINGLE, STRONGEST factor in predicting a student’s achievement in school is their parents’ income level, going to a substandard school doesn’t help, especially in the first few years of their schooling where a lot of bad habits can get established.

    And guess what? Our prisons are overflowing with people that committed victimless crimes (i.e. drug offenses, with the majority being marijuana possession!) So we cut funding to schools and severely disadvantage the vast majority of kids that can’t afford to go to private school, and then when they want to smoke a PLANT, we thrown them in prison, ruining their career prospects for anything other than minimum wage jobs for years! Not to mention that they get to rub shoulders with robbers, rapists and murderers while in jail with many turning into hardened criminals during their stay.

    Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense and is a GREAT use of our human capital. I guess the private prison industry will continue to see record profits, especially as they spend million$$$ lobbying for mandatory minimum sentencing so they can keep their for-profit facilities at the highest capacity possible.

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  14. 14. PierceMichelson 10:56 pm 03/2/2013

    If you think Robert`s story is impressive,, in the last-month my friend basically brought in $8014 grafting a fifteen hour week an their house and there co-worker’s mother-in-law`s neighbour did this for 8-months and earnt more than $8014 in there spare time at there computer. applie the information from this site……

    Link to this

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