January 26, 2015

Science and Politics or Science versus Politics?

A few items on the intersection of politics and science (and the tension between the two). First up is an infographic that shows the relative frequency of various "science and engineering words" during the annual State of the Union (SOTU) address by all US Presidents since Teddy Roosevelt. The "science and tech" category is at the bottom, and has been an increasingly important component of these speeches over the last 40 years.

Related to societal relevance is the whole issue of political will and action on science-related topics. This is particularly true when it comes to policies that address Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). This point was not missed during the 2015 SOTU. However, one might wonder how effectively climate policy can be when most politicians have a cursory (at best) technical understanding of scientific issues. Perhaps advocacy for science policy (e.g. lobbying) is not enough after all -- perhaps we need more scientist-politicians.

COURTESY: 350.org

Many discussions of global warming (mostly involving denialists) involve an appeal to the scientific consensus. While the consensus does point strongly towards the reality of a human-induced warming of the planet, the discoveries that lead to this consensus were individualistic quests for data. The data were not voted into existance, and neither can consensus on a scientific issue [1]. While skepticism should come into play when considering the implications of findings, it should not play a role in judging conclusions drawn from isolated findings. For one example, please see this article by Ethan Siegel on Starts With a Bang! blog on why science by democracy (or popular consensus) does not represent how science is actually done.

A call for scientist-politicians? COURTESY: Grady Carter blog (for the montage).

The final item in this post in a new Kickstarter/film initiative to bring awareness to the American space program. "Fight for Space" is a project to bring awareness of budgetary cuts to our scientific endeavors and the pressure to fulfill politically-approved missions. To change this state of affairs, check out the Planetary Society's advocacy efforts. The scientific mission of NASA has been yielding significant returns as of late [2], so help to keep this momentum going.

COURTESY: SaganSense Tumblr.

[1] The popularity of a set of ideas do not mean that they are scientifically credible. For more, see this article from Why Evolution is True regarding the lack of evidence for but popular persistence of proposals involving a divine origin of life.

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