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NYT’s Frank Bruni Wants You To Get Right With God, Er, ‘Science’

Have you noticed that some people’s incantations of “science” are beginning to sound like verbal talismans devoid of real meaning?


In recent news coverage of the Ebola virus, I noticed that reporters tended to use the word “science” the way some people refer to Jesus. I myself am a fan of both Jesus and science, but I’m referring to the way some people use the terms more as jargon or verbal talisman than as anything meaningful or instructive.

Take this Frank Bruni column. (Please!) OK, let’s all go through it together. It’s headlined “Sinners, Meet Jesus,” no, wait, it’s “Republicans, Meet Science.”

It begins with his frustration that yet another passionate warning from the UN about climate weirding failed to yield a worldwide turn toward progressive policies. The phrase “science” is used 11 times in the typically painful-to-read column. What I notice about the uses is how well they could be switched out with Jesus with little or no changes to the surrounding words

He writes, “Come January, they will take control of the Senate. However else they use it, I fervently hope that they start to show more respect for science.” Do you not have an Uncle Frank or someone else in your life who would utter that same phrase except he might say people need to start showing more respect for Jesus?

Bruni trusts the claims that global weirding will yield food shortages and climate so drastically altered that people won’t be able to work or play outside. It’s almost like a vision of Hades that you would hear from an enthusiastic Sunday School teacher.

“Congress has been largely useless, with a relationship to science that toggles between benign neglect and outright contempt,” he writes. Now, I know we’re all told by evangelicals that we’re supposed to have a relationship with Jesus, but relationships with science are called for by even more religious types.

Here’s where we get really preachy: “And many Americans have a similarly curious attitude, distinguished by woefully insufficient gratitude for the ways in which science has advanced our country and elevated our lives.” HA HA HA HA HA HA. Again, I am totally used to hearing about how insufficiently grateful we are to God and all He’s done for us, but true religionists up the ante. It’s “science” to whom we should be in relationship and grateful.

Bruni knows that you think you’re right with God, er, science. “On the one hand, we’re enthralled by the idea and occasional romance of science.” He notes that you watch a sitcom about physicists and that you are going to go see Interstellar, a move Bruni sees as a passion play but for science. He sort of hilariously holds up TV presenter Bill Nye, “the Science Guy,” as a cultural icon, knowing, I guess, that Neil deGrasse Tyson has faced some recent unpleasantness dealing with quote fabrication. But Bruni is upset that not everyone has fully converted to his progressive belief system.

The big problem, though, isn’t with the little people but with political leaders. They’re the ones who really need to get right with Godscience.

“But that kind of fickle approach to science is most troubling in the people who make our laws,” he writes, and specifically holds out Ebola as a situation where science “doctors” all agree about policy. (Not true, but you know how street preachers embellish a bit in their sermons.)

“If they had proper regard for science[Jesus?], politicians in both parties would fight harder against the devastating cuts to federal research that have happened under sequestration, endangering medical progress and jeopardizing our global leadership,” he writes.

Sadly having to reach back to failed Senate candidates from the 2012 election, he writes “If science[Jesus?] held the sway it[He?] should,” Republicans wouldn’t say certain things

“They’re witches! Burn them at the stake!” he added, though an editor apparently cut that part of the column out. The column ends, “And with the right fealty to science, this next Congress would be forced to accept the overwhelming consensus on climate change and take action.”

Oh dear. Fealty? As in “a feudal tenant’s or vassal’s sworn loyalty to a lord”? We should have sworn loyalty to Lord Science? A Lord Science that bears very little resemblance to actual science — say, systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation — but a lot of resemblance to increasingly histrionic, apocalyptic warnings that progressive policies must be embraced?

Can’t say your hellfire and brimstone speech converted me, Bruni. Bit too Falwell for my tastes. And not nearly as well crafted as a typical fundamentalist sermon, but keep working on it. I’m sure you’ll get there.

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