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Letter: Thoughts on science and issue discussions

Submitted by Dan Svedarsky
Crookston Times

    I’ve been fortunate to log some 76 years on the earth and spent almost 50 of those years as a teacher and researcher at the Crookston campus of the University of Minnesota. I’m a wildlife ecologist who focuses on local and global sustainability using science as a guide.

    How did I get to where I am on this topic? Where we are, depends on those experiences, places, people, and parents that shaped us. Some we have chosen, and others just happened, and we took it from there. One of my many choice experiences was a past conversation with good friend and former U of MN Regent Clyde Allen, a past Commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Revenue.  One of his favorite sayings was:

    “Don’t let our differences affect our willingness to discuss the issues. And don’t let the issues affect our willingness to discuss our differences.”  Powerful words then, and especially now, when some folks have a hard time hearing one another because they are shouting so loudly. I have recently followed with great interest, the many tributes paid to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her many monumental contributions to society and foundations of our democracy. I was especially intrigued to learn about Justice Ginsburg and her close friendship with the late Justice Antonio Scalia. Apparently, they were at opposite ends of the political spectrum on many ideological topics; yet, as Regent Allen recommended, that did not prevent them from discussing the issues. I’m sure each were the better for it.

    I recall a social occasion with some family friends where the brother of our hosts was coming for a visit from Alabama. After a stellar high school record in Crookston as an athlete and scholar he had gone to the Air Force Academy, then law school, and was in practice in the South. He apparently heard that I was this professor with some liberal tendencies since he felt compelled to announce soon after introductions that in terms of politics, he was “to the right of Attila the Hun!” Now I never met Attila but I felt compelled to reply, “You know, there are 2 things that you’re not supposed to talk about, right? Politics and religion. And you know, I love talking about both of them!” After his initial raising of eyebrows, we had a couple rounds of “Crown” and by golly we went on to have a great discussion. And nobody got hurt. Hopefully science can be a reference in talking about either, or both. Science is about seeking truth, right? And some days truth is tough to sort out.

    The coming days will be filled with contentious political statements and debates but I sincerely hope that folks can discuss and listen to one another rather than summarily reject a thought or idea simply because it is different than our own. It is through listening to alternative ideas that we can grow. If we only seek out viewpoints identical to our own, all we get back are our echoes.

Dan Svedarsky

Professor Emeritus

University of Minnesota Crookston