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Panelists detail clash of politics, science

Question time will be open to a variety of scientific issues


In our culture-wartorn landscape, “science” could be added to that old adage about maintaining harmony by never discussing politics or religion.

But the organizers of this year’s Forest Grove Conversations event appear to be up for a good challenge.

“Blinded by Science: The Politics of Fact in an Election Year” is co-sponsored by Friends of the Forest Grove Library and Pacific University’s Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation and will feature three regional experts who will discuss how the chosen topic impacts their own fields of expertise.

Jim Moore, a professor of politics and government for Pacific and the director of the McCall Center, said the evening’s topic grew out of several recent news items, not the least of which is the possible legalization of marijuana in Oregon.

He also noted that this time last year, a public policy decision — the fluoridation of Portland water — was the subject of much debate, while more recently, a personal health topic has been grabbing headlines after the publication of a controversial, in-depth study that seems to cast doubts on the value of mammography.

“How do we make sense of the science and how do we, as voters, navigate these issues?” Moore said.

Three panelists will weigh in with brief presentations, after which the trio will answer questions — which do not have to be limited to the panelists’ topics.

The panel will consist of Susan Nielsen, associate editor and columnist for The Oregonian; Mike Cafferata, Forest Grove district forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry; and Russ Karow, head of the Oregon State University Department of Crop and Soil Science.

Nielsen said her presentation will cover what factors she believes can make science-related topics so polarizing, both in general and in Oregon, specifically.

“Science comes up all the time in politics, whether we think about it as ‘science’ or not,” she said. “The most contentious topics often involve scientific knowledge — whether climate change, abortion, water fluoridation, vaccines or the value of mammograms.”

Cafferata, who plans to discuss the politics of forestry — and the potential pitfalls therein — seemed to agree with Nielsen. He said politics impacts scientific subjects, like forestry, more often than Oregonians realize.

“For better or worse, science and politics do come together to influence Oregon’s forests, and it’s all of our jobs to help make sure that happens as smoothly as possible,” he said.

Karow, an expert on industrial hemp, will be discussing the politics and biology of the well-known but oft-maligned crop. Regardless of state law, which accepts hemp as a legal crop, he said, hemp is still considered marijuana by the U.S. government and its growers can be prosecuted by federal authorities. This could mean legal hassles for would-be entrepreneurs, even if their operations are fully compliant with state law.

Other countries have successful industrial hemp industries, Karow said. “We should be able to do the same in the U.S.”

In addition to the panelists, the event will include the winners of the Forest Grove School District’s writing and multimedia contest, who will share their work with the audience.



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