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SkinWalker
Post  Post subject: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 4:46 am
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ImageVery near my home is the failed construction of the Supercollider, which was partially built in Waxahachie, Texas. Congress, under the Clinton administration, pulled the plug on the Superconducting Supercollider in 1993 after we already invested $2 billion in taxpayer dollars. The final cost of the project would have ultimately reached $8.25 billion -about the same as the final cost of the International Space Station. As I understand it, the capabilities of this collider would have exceeded that of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland and the advances that the physics community might have achieved are now left to the imagination. Undoubtedly, it would have kept the United States on the cutting edge of physics in the world and it would have inspired many, many students to seek higher education.

More recently, funding for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was affected by political wrangling. "On 6 July 2011, the United States House of Representatives' appropriations committee on Commerce, Justice, and Science moved to cancel the James Webb project by proposing an FY2012 budget that removed $1.9bn from NASA's overall budget, of which roughly one quarter was for JWST" (Wikipedia)

Politicians get involved with stem cell research, questions related to when life begins, when life should end, population, economics, research funding, and so on.

And yet they continually demonstrate themselves to be the least qualified, the least capable of understanding, what it is that science actually does and why.

Douglass Fields, a neuroscientist and gifted speaker (see the video below), describes his perspective on the question of politics and science in the Scientific American online article, Can Politicians be Trusted with Science?. He describes an NPR interview with several politicians, among them Mike Huckabee, who spent their time on the show ridiculing science and scientists. From the NPR article that augments the segment titled, 'Shrimp On A Treadmill': The Politics Of 'Silly' Studies: "Lawmakers and political groups like to point to government spending that seems wasteful — especially in tough economic times. And one popular target has been scientific studies that either sound silly or involve foreign countries or have to do with sex."

Politicians care about being re-elected. If a particular bit of science helps that, they get behind it. If they can make themselves look down-to-earth and as if they are overflowing with common sense by ridiculing that which they have no understanding, they'll do it in a heartbeat.

As Fields points out, politicians are quick to point out that if scientists don't want politicians questioning scrutinizing their research, then they shouldn't ask for funding. But the larger point Fields raises is who should do the scrutinizing? Politicians don't break out their slide rules and calipers to examine a new bridge. This oversight is left to qualified inspectors.


[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y871I-snvI&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]


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iNow
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 11:45 pm
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I think there are two parallel questions here. One, should only those politicians who have adequate training in and knowledge of science be trusted to oversee it? And two, is the nature of being a politician such that one's background training and ideals are no longer adequate for such oversight?

I fear that, too often, a politician's background ceases to matter once they're elected and are forced to find ways to get re-elected. They must cater to the demands of a voting populace who may not themselves be educated in or trusting of science.

I'd probably answer this by addressing the anti-science anti-intellectual strain which has taken such profound hold of our populace. If our citizens were properly educated and cared about science, you can damn well bet that the politicians they elect to office as their representatives would properly respect and protect science in their decisions. The politicians are merely representing an anti-science populace, are they not?

(cool talk in the video)

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Falconer360
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Sun Sep 04, 2011 5:44 pm
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iNow wrote:
I'd probably answer this by addressing the anti-science anti-intellectual strain which has taken such profound hold of our populace. If our citizens were properly educated and cared about science, you can damn well bet that the politicians they elect to office as their representatives would properly respect and protect science in their decisions. The politicians are merely representing an anti-science populace, are they not?


I have to agree with you, I think this whole anti-science/anti-intellectual mindset that has affected so many people is largely to blame. I know many people who would rather scientific research get funding cuts than their favorite college football teams. These people value the NFL and NASCAR more than they do science and intellect. I know neither of those two get government funding but that was just an example of where these people's priorities lie. Politicians most definitely seem to be representing an anti-science population, whether they truly believe it or not. They just say what's going to help them get elected or reelected. If more of our populace gave a damn about science and whats actually important, politicians would too. Now obviously some politicians are anti-science purely because of religious beliefs.

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GiantEvil
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Sun Sep 04, 2011 7:53 pm
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This issue of rampant anti-intellectualism, anti-science speaks to the power of propaganda and the anthropic tendency of bias. People have been convinced that science and knowledge have no direct benefit to their daily existence, an opinion which is in direct contradiction to reality. Even individuals with a strong scientific background can be biased toward opinion's that have dubious factual basis.
Such a situation might arise from general human tendency, it might also be intentionally driven by an elite with an interest in a non educate populace.

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padren
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Sun Sep 04, 2011 7:59 pm

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Most of the people who claim to be pro-science aren't even pro-science. They'll criticize global warming deniers and creationists as mouth-breathing anti-science denialists, but they only believe in global warming research because it already fits with their "Gaia philosophy" and are only too happy to believe any research that supports their core belief that humans have always been the ruiners of the natural world.

Often the same people who defend climate scientists and ridicule anyone who claims researchers are only out to make money very often hold the exact same view about scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry.


One of the most valuable properties of science is that it can powerfully illuminate realities we really do not want to accept - but it requires some effort from the observer to both grasp and validate the claims that lead to a conclusion.


If scientific topics are going to end up as more than fodder for standard political bs-speak, then constituents will have to be at least somewhat engaged. Anything else is just another game of follow the leader, for good or bad.


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iNow
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Sun Sep 04, 2011 9:18 pm
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Here's an interesting article which reminded me of your thread. It discusses a little of the potential "why" behind the political rejection of science.


http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news ... cience.ars
Quote:
Agreeing with the scientific community has become a key issue in recent presidential campaigns. Evolution came up at a debate during the previous Republican primary season, and Rick Perry, the current front runner, was put on the spot about it at a recent campaign event (he flubbed his answer on several levels). And, as Huntsman's tweet suggests, the reality of climate change has been a hot topic.

How did science become such a prominent political football? It really hasn't. The candidates' responses to questions on scientific information have become a proxy for other things, and people across the political spectrum are listening to what those responses say about the candidates' way of thinking.

<snip>

So, what have we learned from this? With the exception of Huntsman, the candidates don't know science, haven't bothered to ask someone who does, and, in several cases, don't even know anything about the settled policy issues (judicial precedent and investigation of claims about fraud). Why would we want these traits in a president?

Actually, some people do

However, the fact is that Huntsman is barely registering in most polls, and the leading candidates in the Republican party are successful in part precisely because they are voicing an opinion that runs counter to expertise. For many in the US, expertise has taken on a negative cultural value; experts are part of an elite that thinks it knows better than the average citizen. (This is accurate, for what it's worth.) Very few object to that sort of expertise when it comes time to, say, put the space shuttle into orbit, but expertise can become a problem when the experts have reached a consensus that runs against cultural values.

And, for many in our society, scientific expertise has done just that. Abstinence-only sex education has been largely ineffective. Carbon emissions are creating a risk of climate change. Humanity originated via an evolutionary process. All of these findings have threatened various aspects of people's cultural identity. By rejecting both the science and the expertise behind it, candidates can essentially send a signal that says, "I'm one of you, and I'm with you where it counts."

<snip>

Besides, a candidate who rejects science can apparently use that position to attract the support of somewhere above a quarter of the electorate. That's not a bad start for a presidential campaign.

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SkinWalker
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Sat Sep 10, 2011 7:36 pm
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Here are some interesting quotes. The first is to put the rest in context.

Quote:
Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.
— Statement on climate change from 18 scientific associations

Quote:
Carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas; it is a harmless gas ... And yet we're being told that we have to reduce this natural substance and reduce the American standard of living to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occurring in the Earth.

— Michelle Bachman, House floor speech, April 22, 2009

Quote:
I think all these issues have to be settled on the base of real science, not manufactured science.
— Michelle Bachman, When asked about the "man-made climate change myth" and "green jobs"
at a campaign event in Spartanburg, S.C., Aug. 16, 2011

Quote:
I don't believe ... global warming is real. Do we have climate change? Yes. Is it a crisis? No. ... Because the science, the real science, doesn't say that we have any major crisis or threat when it comes to climate change.
— Herman Cain, CBS News, June 9, 2011

Quote:
While it is evident that the human right to produce and use energy does not extend to activities that actually endanger the climate of the Earth upon which we all depend, bogus claims about climate dangers should not be used as a justification to further limit the American people's freedom.

— Ron Paul, Speech on House floor opposing cap-and-trade legislation, June 4, 2009

Quote:
I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects. I think we're seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.
— Rick Perry, Campaign stop in New Hampshire, Aug. 17, 2011

Quote:
I believe the Earth gets warmer, and I also believe the Earth gets cooler. And I think history points out that it does that, and that the idea that man, through the production of CO2 — which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas — is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all the other factors, El Niño, La Niña, sunspots, moisture in the air. ... To me, this is an opportunity for the left to create — it's really a beautifully concocted scheme because they know that the Earth is gonna cool and warm.

— Rick Santorum, The Rush Limbaugh Show, June 8, 2011


It's not all crazy talk...
Quote:
I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.
— Jon Huntsman, Twitter, Aug. 18, 2011

Quote:
The minute that the Republican Party becomes the ... anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people that would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.
— ABC News' "This Week," Aug. 21, 2011


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marnixR
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Sat Sep 10, 2011 7:57 pm
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most politicians not only aren't scientists, but totally fail to understand science
that's why they think that a majority view is proof of truth - unfortunately science facts don't bend themselves to the whim of politics or majorities
hence, people who deny the reality of global warming will continue to do so until their houses get flooded, or burnt in tinder dry conditions or blown apart by the umpteenth hurricane, and even then will maintain that it's something other than global warming that is the problem

in the meantime, there are some politicians who ARE willing to recognise there's a problem :

The Maldives man with a plan to save the world

and for year that hardly saw a summer to speak of in the UK, the ice cover at the north pole is comparable with 2007, until now acknowledged as the warmest year so far
i wonder what the reaction will be if the summer ice completely disappears, which could well easily happen in my lifetime

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iceaura
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Sat Sep 10, 2011 11:22 pm
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The faction of US society that has eaten the Republican Party should not be hidden under the label "politicians". It's not "politicians" that are the trouble, it's the ones that represent the underbelly of USA society, the heirs of the Klan, the living soul of the Confederacy, the Rep Party as a whole and a faction of the Dems.

Politicians should oversee science, so that the Edward Tellers of this world cannot just line up funding and use H-bombs to dig oil wells and blow subway tunnels under the entire continent. But you have to elect reasonable politicians, which means preventing people like the Koch brothers and Richard Scaife from vetoing all the reasonable people who try to run for office.

Until then, you can't trust "politicians" to oversee science for the same reasons you can't trust them to oversee highway construction or electricity generation or disaster response or military defense or anything else: they're not capable, sane, or honest people.


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wireless
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Sun Sep 11, 2011 11:05 am

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padren wrote:
Most of the people who claim to be pro-science aren't even pro-science. They'll criticize global warming deniers and creationists as mouth-breathing anti-science denialists, but they only believe in global warming research because it already fits with their "Gaia philosophy" and are only too happy to believe any research that supports their core belief that humans have always been the ruiners of the natural world.

Often the same people who defend climate scientists and ridicule anyone who claims researchers are only out to make money very often hold the exact same view about scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry.


One of the most valuable properties of science is that it can powerfully illuminate realities we really do not want to accept - but it requires some effort from the observer to both grasp and validate the claims that lead to a conclusion.


If scientific topics are going to end up as more than fodder for standard political bs-speak, then constituents will have to be at least somewhat engaged. Anything else is just another game of follow the leader, for good or bad.


Al Gore is the personification of a politician, whom bitter in his defeat by Bush, sets out to frighten the world in a very politically correct manner


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iceaura
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 5:07 am
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Quote:
Often the same people who defend climate scientists and ridicule anyone who claims researchers are only out to make money very often hold the exact same view about scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry.
So they're right twice.

Except there aren't any such people, or very many - the complaints about big pharma do not center on the venality of scientists, but the behavior of the corporations involved.
wireless wrote:
Al Gore is the personification of a politician, whom bitter in his defeat by Bush, sets out to frighten the world in a very politically correct manner
Al Gore was banging on about CO2 and the environment long before he lost a stolen election to the worst and most anti-scientific President of modern times.

And as a politician, he was one of the very best for overseeing scientific matters - his role in promoting and creating the legal infrastructure for the public internet alone would establish that.

Few politicians understand any scientific matter, but we only need a couple like Gore if the others are reasonable and sincere - when those others are battling for T Party cred, pushing for teaching "both sides" of things like evolutionary theory and trying to define lumps of cells as living people (granted that makes more sense than defining a bank account in the Cayman Islands as a US citizen), we probably need more than a couple of Gores for counterweight.


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wireless
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Mon Sep 12, 2011 6:20 pm

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I stand corrected. I see from Wiki, that Al Gore whilst at Harvard In his senior year, took a class with oceanographer and global warming theorist Roger Revelle. He also wrote a book in 1992 " Earth In The Balance " :shock:


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padren
Post  Post subject: Re: Should Politicians be Trusted to Oversee Science?  |  Posted: Tue Sep 13, 2011 5:45 am

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iceaura wrote:
Quote:
Often the same people who defend climate scientists and ridicule anyone who claims researchers are only out to make money very often hold the exact same view about scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry.
So they're right twice.

Only in as of much as a broken clock is right twice a day - my point is that most often, people's support/distrust of scientific work has far more to do with their personal views than the veracity of the scientific work in question.

I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of both supports and detractors of Al Gore would cite his reputation (whether as an intelligent, sincere person who knows the facts, or as an ideological blowhard trying to con us all) as the basis of their opinion.

They'll give a good list of instances justifying their opinion of his character, but very very very few will understand and cite the studies and reasoning that led him to his conclusions.


Maybe I am just especially jaded, but I don't think most people feel they have the time to understand the science (even on a moderate level) and instead focus on who to trust that is talking about the science.
As long as that's the case politicians will talk about science based on their opinions of specific scientific programs and activities... not on the science.

Too bad there isn't some "Science Advocate" lobby to handle PR and swing politicians. As much as I dislike lobbyist groups, the scientific community could use a hand in Washington.


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