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To keep politics out of science, scientists need to be more scientific, not more political
Posted By Joanne Nova On January 7, 2013 @ 12:52 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled
Since when was science “political?” Answer: It’s not, but the institutions and bureaucrats who pretend to be scientists are. In the past, partisan scientists would at least try to hide that and keep up the dispassionate persona that marks a seeker of the truth. Now some scientists wear their bias like a badge.
How do we stop the politicisation of science? Not this way. Daniel Sarewitz argues (weakly) in Nature that we need scientists of both political sides in “expert” panels:
The US scientific community must decide if it wants to be a Democratic interest group or if it wants to reassert its value as an independent national asset. If scientists want to claim that their recommendations are independent of their political beliefs, they ought to be able to show that those recommendations have the support of scientists with conflicting beliefs. Expert panels advising the government on politically divisive issues could strengthen their authority by demonstrating political diversity. The National Academies, as well as many government agencies, already try to balance representation from the academic, non-governmental and private sectors on many science advisory panels; it would be only a small step to be equally explicit about ideological or political diversity. Such information could be given voluntarily.
“Expert” science panels should only ever be judged by their science not their politics. A successful panel can judge theories by objective criteria: do they predict the world around us, are they strictly logical, and do they have observational evidence (data) to back them up? With so many incompetent professors and meaningless Nobel Prizes, qualifications don’t guarantee ability anymore. The idea that we could ask “experts” how they vote or tally up their donations to political parties is profoundly unscientific. Nature has lost the plot.
If Daniel Sarewitz wants people to perceive scientists as rising above politics, I hate to say the bleeding obvious, but scientists need to actually rise above politics. Scientists need to stop being activists and start holding logic and evidence above all else, and speak cautiously about their ability to predict the world until they can demonstrate their ability to do it.
What we need are not Democrat-scientists or Republican-scientists, we need scientist scientists.
When some scientists are caught hiding declines, honest upstanding scientists need to denounce them. When good scientists don’t speak up about the bad ones, is it any wonder the public assumes that all of science is as corrupted, sick and self serving as every other human institution?
In climate science the self-correcting mechanism of reality takes an age to winnow the trash from the treasure. Billions can be wasted in the meantime. Compare that to the wizards of Silicon Valley whose products are tested day after day. Who cares about the political inclinations of those technologists? It works, or it doesn’t.
When scientists predict that there will be no more snow, and it snows, there ought to be a price. When a scientist can tell us the rains won’t fill the dams and that our cities need expensive desal plants, and he’s proven wrong yet suffers no loss of reputation or stature (or funds), what does it mean to be a scientist? Nothing. The people trashing the reputation of all scientists are the ones who stay silent while charlatans steal the brand-name and good will of science, and get away with profoundly unscientific behavior.
While real science is apolitical, the human machinery of science has been politicized by the funding mechanism adopted since WWII.
Science is an expensive business. The easiest way to get funded is to ask the government– look how many scientists are doing privately funded research. Since scientists are largely dependent on big-government, it follows that they like big-government, and it’s inevitable that science institutions will gravitate towards supporting big-government parties. It only makes it worse that academia is also a big-government culture, and scientists taught in government schools usually graduate from government funded universities (even if they are private, most of the research funding is from government), and go on to work in government funded research, surrounded by other people who’ve traversed exactly the same path. They all sit around in tea-rooms telling each other why “conservatives” are wrong, but they’ve hardly ever met one, let alone had repeated exposure. Some are such political pre-schoolers they think the “Tea Party” is extreme rightwing because they’ve no idea of what a libertarian is. Those who do know keep their mouth shut, lest it give away any politically “incorrect” inclinations. With few exceptions academia is almost a perfect filter for personality types who don’t compete well in the free market, who have no business experience, are not entrepreneurs, and have little inclination to take risks. The dominant culture keeps the other voices silent (read the comments on the Nature article where non-leftie academics don’t dare reveal their political leaning publicly).
“What’s the opposite of diversity?
Roger Peikle Jnr writes that scientists need a new year’s resolution not to be partisan. He correctly points out that science associations like “Science” are only concerned about scientific integrity of the White House when the president is a Republican. What he doesn’t point out is that this demonstrates these institutions have become political first, scientific second — and that means they aren’t “science” associations anymore and therein lies the problem. Is it worth trying to save them?
Statements like, “science has become aligned with the Democratic party” are a part of the problem. It’s not “science” that’s aligned with any party, it’s the bureaucracy of science that has aligned itself with the Democrats.
The only way to keep politics out of science is to make the science in Science stronger, not the politics. The best way to do this is through the power of reputation and shame. Scientists who use ad hominem attacks or argue from authority ought be shamed by colleagues for being illogical and unscientific. Likewise science journalists ought to know they will be laughed at if they resort to such anti-science posturing. Instead science associations themselves break laws of reason, and use name-calling to put down independent scientists and whistleblowers. “Denier” has no place in science, and praise for “consensus” science is something only a political activist would do, never a scientist. Where are the associations calling for scientists to speak accurately?
If the public lose respect for science associations it’s because the public are smart enough to spot the fakes. When science associations start acting scientifically they’ll earn respect. Until then, stacking panels with fake scientists of two political extremes will only prolong the mess.
Since the institutions of science will always lean towards big-government, ask yourself what force counteracts that? It ought to be the media, it ought to be good science journalists who expose the charlatans, but they are rare. What’s left? An unfunded rabble of independent thinkers. Thank God for the Internet. Perhaps it’s time we figured out a way to support a bigger pool of independent thinkers — they’re the only thing standing in the way of the unholy-anti-science-alignment of Bad-Science, Bad-Politics, and Bad-Journalists.
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