There’s been a lot of talk recently of attempting to get trained scientists into political positions. Critics may look at this as another overreaction of the sore-loser, whining liberals (since most scientists are).
But for most scientists, it’s more of a matter of….
In science, we attempt to gather evidence to test some hypothesis about the nature of things. So it becomes particularly frustrating to hear both sides of a scientific debate being discussed as if simply naming the opposing view was enough to make it stand on equal footing. It becomes particularly terrifying when the policies based on that debate may have a bearing on our survival.
Besides the big issues, I think many scientists view their political involvement as potentially helpful in a more general way. We spend years learning how to think critically and analytically, after all. The political action committee, 314 Action, is trying to get more scientists into political office and has been seeing a surge of interest as scientists want to do something!
The idea appeals very much to me, but I also have a strong, in-group bias. And I see a couple potential problems.
- If scientists as a group become activists, then it’s hard for them to keep claiming to be apolitical. I personally think science should contribute to policy wherever it can and thus be political! But there is a reasonable concern that scientists with openly held political views will be biased towards data that falls in line with their views. All scientists scoff at the suggestion when we talk about climate change because the data is so strong…but can they stay objective in the face of small effects and inconclusive evidence?
The counter to this argument is that it is precisely because scientists have stayed so apolitical in the face of possible annihilation that no one takes it seriously. I’m not sure I believe this, though. I think scientists have been pretty outspoken for at least a decade about climate change. Is that just me?
- The whole thing strikes me as just a little arrogant. Maybe I don’t know enough politics to fully grasp the benefit of having a scientist in a representative seat, but it seems like a scientist is perfectly capable of testifying in the role of scientist. The suggestion that the scientist needs to become the representative in order to make things better strikes me as being perilously close to calling all of their would-be constituency idiots.
It seems like there are better alternatives. Perhaps spending our Saturdays going door to door asking people if they know of the redeeming power of substantially cutting carbon emissions, and warning them of the apocalypse should they reject our teachings!