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Editorial

Ignoring science at our own risk

/ 05:12 AM January 26, 2019

Science is getting short shrift in this country, with officials, policymakers, legislators and the larger public blithely ignoring evidence that runs counter to their beliefs, ideology or politics when and if it suits them.

It was American politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan who famously said that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” But today, “alternative facts,” even falsehoods, seem interchangeable with truths, with proven and accepted realities, with science.

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Take newly installed House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro who, in a TV interview about lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9, complained that “we’re always talking of science. We are relying so much on science instead of relying on what we see, the real experience that we encounter in our daily lives.”

This seems odd, given that the “scientific process” is in fact based on observation and experience, documented, tested and retested, and subject to rigorous and methodical examination.

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Perhaps it is the rigor required of scientific inquiry that politicians and opinion-makers seek to avoid, belittle and disdain. Perhaps because a bedrock of the method is objectivity, the requirement that the seeker of knowledge do so unburdened by concerns other than the search for facts.

Take the move to amend the Juvenile Justice Law by lowering the minimum age requirement for criminal responsibility. This was a key plank in the campaign platform of then candidate Rodrigo Duterte, and Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was candid enough to admit that the bill was passed mainly to “please” the President.

But in the lead-up to the vote, different child rights organizations, local and foreign including Unicef, the United Nations agency promoting children’s welfare, came out with statements and studies showing that “discernment on decisions and actions” does not develop until adolescence. The Philippine Pediatric Society, composed of doctors who specialize in the treatment and care of children, explained that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, responsible for the ability to make decisions, develops dramatically only during adolescent years. A younger child, the group explained, “would not be able to fully anticipate all the possible consequences of their actions for themselves and society as a whole.”

The reckless push to lower the age of criminal liability is but one example of how politics and opinions get in the way of rational and humane decision-making. President Duterte, for one, justifying the bloody toll of his war on drugs, proclaims that drug addicts are beyond redemption and rehabilitation, saying early on that the preferred alternative to dealing with drug users and pushers is to kill them outright. This despite plentiful proof, here and abroad, that rehab programs can successfully transform drug users into productive citizens.

When the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia came under scrutiny after findings that patients who had not been exposed to the dengue virus could come down with a more dangerous strain of dengue, politicians jumped into the fray. Amid congressional and Senate investigations, a publicity-seeking public attorney even led a hysterical campaign to link the drug and the vaccination program to a number of children’s deaths, despite the doubtful scientific methodology employed as well as the lack of qualifications of the investigators, as many doctors and health experts have pointed out.

All this would be laughable, comical even, if only the consequences weren’t so grim. Filipinos are certainly aware of the dire effects of the war on drugs, with thousands succumbing to extrajudicial killings, leaving behind even more thousands of orphaned and abandoned families. And even the World Health Organization has seen fit to raise an alarm over the drastic fall in the number of children reached by vaccinations, not only for dengue but also for measles and other basic diseases. The dramatic drop in the number of vaccinations is, as this paper lamented in a previous editorial, “the terrible consequence” of the politicking and scare tactics employed in the Dengvaxia issue.

And now, Filipino children are in peril once more, facing arrest and detention in “care centers” that are much too few, poorly maintained and of doubtful efficacy in making children in conflict with the law mend their ways.

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All these just because our politicians and their followers have little use for science, preferring instead to act on their opinions, however faulty, shortsighted and uninformed.

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TAGS: age of criminal liability, Gloria Arroyo, House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro, juvenile justice law, President Duterte, Science
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