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Science, Science Fiction, and Political Science


 The term Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”)  is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions. In a closely related meaning, “science” also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied. The term “Science Fiction” refers to a branch of literature that uses science and technology as the backdrop for or even as a character in a story. “Political science” is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, nation, government, and politics and policies of government. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics.  In other words, one deals with what we know to be true, one with what might become true someday, and one with what some people are trying to make true through public policy. There is an issue today that involves all three of these categories and demonstrates each of their applications. It is the issue of blending 15% ethanol into our nation’s gasoline supply.


E-15, the blending of 15% ethanol into gasoline, has the distinction of being the most tested fuel product ever.  More public and private tests have been run on this fuel than any other fuel. The conclusion by the Environmental Protection Agency, the branch of the US government that regulates transportation fuel, is that E-15 is safe for use in all cars from  2001 to the present.  Actually, the EPA data did not show any problems with cars older than 2001 except they could not find enough old cars that could pass the test. The test included traveling 100,000 miles on E-15.  These older cars already had such high millage that putting another 100,000 miles on them caused them to break down of other causes before the fuel test was over.


Prior to the EPA tests, the ethanol industry had conducted years of testing that again showed no problems. Currently, almost all fuel sold in the US has a blend of 10% ethanol, so it is not that surprising that adding an additional 5% would not cause major engine or performance issues.  Yet, the addition of this additional ethanol has sparked intense debate and a lot of science fiction.


Legend has it that when Henry Ford was inventing his first cars, he had planned to power them with soybean oil. An idea which, at the time, that surely must have seemed like science fiction.  As the story goes, it was pressure from the Standard Oil Company that convinced Ford to use petroleum-based gasoline to power his horseless carriage.  The oil industry today is concocting some of their own science fiction.  After the EPA ruling that E-15 was safe for cars, they funded a study that showed E-15 would ruin engines and “Leave motorists stranded in the middle of busy highways.”  While the API study has been discredited by fuel experts and mechanics alike, it is still being touted on Capitol Hill as a reason to ban the use of E-15.


Enter the political science aspect. If you have enough lobbyists or enough money to buy lots of media time, you can make almost anything true. What they have not been able to achieve with science and science fiction, they are attempting to achieve with political science.  Having already seen petroleum use for gasoline fall by 10%, they are desperately trying to prevent the erosion of another 5%.


Meanwhile, E-15 is slowly moving into the retail marketplace.  While only 40 stations in 9 states currently sell E-15, the reaction by consumers has been favorable. The primary reason is it costs less.  Ethanol is cheaper than oil, so the more ethanol you put into the mix, the less a gallon of gas costs.  Never mind that it pollutes less and creates jobs here at home, for most motorists it is the price at the pump that matters. It has been estimated that about 40 million miles have been driven by ordinary motorists with ordinary cars and there have been NO reported problems. 


It is time our elected leaders start listening to the science and stop being fooled by the science fiction and political science around E-15. It is time we adopt an energy policy that benefits the American motorists, not the big oil companies and the leaders of Saudi Arabia.


By Gary Truitt