Letter To The Editor: Response To Nebel

Portola Valley, Calif. 
(Los Alamos resident 1968-2014)

I was a signatory to the letter published in the May 4 edition of the Los Alamos Daily Post (link), in which 18 retired LANL scientists expressed concern regarding federal plans to suppress scientific research and monitoring related to environmental protection and public health.

In the May 6 edition of the Daily Post, Richard Nebel responded thoughtfully, pointing to the productivity of private industry, the bureaucratic ineptness of government, and the feelings of laborers (link). However, he missed the essence of what concerns scientists throughout the country.

Nebel suggests that retired scientists “making six-figure salaries” should not “double-dip” by returning to LANL, collecting even more money as a “guest scientist.” For clarity, let me say that I never made a six-figure salary, but that I did return as a guest scientist without pay for 10 years. Furthermore, I understand his concern with the common laborer’s views, inasmuch as I started my working career cleaning toilets and picking potatoes.

Nebel suggests that the retired scientists establish credibility by working for private industry. That suggestion misses the point of concern.

Across the country, the scientists’ concern is with a selective reduction of funding for earth and health science, while increasing funding for planetary science (and for military expansion). The selective reduction is aimed specifically at the scientific monitoring and exploration of public health and environmental protection, particularly climate change. Private industry is geared toward profit, not toward defense and protection of the commons—the air, the water, the land. It is more profitable for industry to dump wastes where convenient, to consume resources, and later to depart, leaving the damages behind. That’s the nature of cost-sensitive competitive business.

That’s why we need governmental regulations to protect the common resources. Society, after all, IS a process of regulation. There are rules, social rules or laws, for almost every way in which people interact. There’s even a rule (not a law) regarding how you set the silverware at the dinner table.

I don’t support blind regulations, like outlawing knives because they can cut your fingers. Regulations should be based on facts and costs. Particularly in health and environmental matters, those facts are based in science, and that science has to be supported by the government. Do you expect tobacco companies to publish the effects of smoking on health?

As an unpaid volunteer, I’ve brought science to public policy. Out of concern, I did this as a spare-time hobby for about 30 years, and then as a greatly expanded effort for about 10 years. I did measurements and I brought data to the rule-making bodies. And I saw industry, applying its money in politics to eliminate the rules based on scientific reason.

We have a dangerous process in this country, dangerous not only to science and the commons—air, land, water, and climate—but even more dangerous to the well-being of wage earners, if they have a job at all. It is the process of positive feedback between money and politics. Money is invested in politics to remove the regulation of banking, monopoly, and even equal access to the internet. That’s money invested in government in order to make more money, invested to make a government that widens the gap between rich and poor. Any system with unlimited positive feedback will self-destruct. A purely capitalistic economy will collapse if not regulated for the common good. Let me repeat: society IS regulation—best done to promote freedom not repression, but freedom must include the safety of the commons.