By Ruby Pap

The Oscar Elton Sette, a multipurpose oceanographic research vessel from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is seen surveying the health of bottom-fish populations in waters off Kealia Beach in Kapa‘a late March. Photo by Léo Azambuja

So there is this thing called science, and it happens to be the topic of this column. I never really thought too much about the term itself — but lately it feels as though it is under attack. Let me be clear these are my personal views and not reflective of the organization I work for.

The practice of science nationwide is in serious jeopardy due to the federal administration’s proposed budget cuts to scientific agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. These organizations not only conduct their own studies, but they provide millions of dollars in research funding to universities, nonprofits and local governments in Hawai‘i and nationwide.

According to a statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “The Administration’s proposed cuts would threaten our nation’s ability to advance cures for disease, maintain our technological leadership, ensure a more prosperous energy future, and train the next generation of scientists and innovators to address the complex challenges we face today and in the future.”

In its broadest sense, science is: “1: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.” — Merriam Webster Dictionary

Why did I become a scientist? I feel safer in a world that is objective and provides space to ask questions that are testable, even if the answers turn out to contrary to my assumptions. The practice of science provides a framework for continual seeking. I do not like to wear blinders. This leads to inflexibility, a closed mind and heart, and an inability to evolve.

Science at its core is non-partisan and apolitical even if some have attempted to politicize it. To illustrate, a dear friend and I have opposing views on the cause of climate change, but we still agree that scientific research must continue. Yes, science can be biased at times — humans are inherently biased one way or another — but guess what? There is a process for admitting your biases using the scientific method!

Bottom line, I know no better way to objectively understand the world than by scientific inquiry. Show me another way, and I would consider it. But in the absence of science we end up blind.

We have many amazing scientists on Kaua‘i, and I queried just a few of them on what science means to them. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

“Always ask scientists what they don’t know that they would like to know, not just what they know. Societal evolution on the planet is driven by science more than any other thought process.” — Chuck Blay, Earth Scientist

“Science is not just what’s learned in the book, but a skill that is developed based on Kaiaulu or the knowledge one learns from ike kuhohonu or profound experiences one has in the kai (ocean) or the aina (land).” — Kumu Kamealoha, Kaiaulu Ahupua‘a Resource Management

“Decision making should be made on the basis of facts. Science is a mode of investigation to determine what is real…” — Carl J. Berg, Ph.D. Ecologist

“Science is the lens through which I look at life. I use science to decide what food to buy at the grocery store, which medicine to give my daughters, and the fastest course to paddle from island to island.” — Kanesa Duncan Seraphin, Marine Biologist

Many scientists and supporters alike have heeded the call to fight for an environment that nurtures, fosters and supports the pursuit of knowledge and truth. The “March for Science Kaua‘i” is on Earth Day, April 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is a sign-waving event on the lawn across the airport on Kapule Highway. Will you join us?

  • Ruby Pap is an environmental scientist living in Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i.