Science and Politics
Reading reports on the recent Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, an annual meeting aimed at bringing Nobel Laureates and young researchers together, I came across this article. The article contains the answers of a few Nobel Laureates to the question:
Do you believe scientists are underrepresented in politics across the globe? If so, have established scientists a duty to become more active in politics and science policy?
This got me thinking. Not only do politicians constantly pass laws that require input from the scientific community, they also frequently implement policies that affect the work of scientists. Besides, most of the scientific research in Australia is funded by the government. Hence, communicating science to politicians is not something to be taken lightly. In fact, a survey of scientists and engineers in the UK by the Royal Society had 60% of respondents (the highest) identifying policy makers as the most important audience for science communication, way ahead of schools and school teachers (50%), industry (47%), and the even the media (33%).
Despite the importance of science in politics, did you know that Australia’s Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, has almost no scientific background? Neither, it seems, does our Shadow Minister for the same portfolio.
Nonetheless, you may have noticed that the laureate Osamu Shimomura, from the above linked article, stating science should steer clear of politics. This is not such a ridiculous suggestion at all, since political ideologies can and do often cloud scientific judgements. (Climate change and Creationism springs to mind.) After all, what is to say a replicable experimental result from a communist is worth less than one from a non-communist, all things considered?
So, dear readers, what do you think? Do we, as scientists, have a responsibility to be more active in policy decisions? Should there be a science literacy requirement for certain posts in government? How do you propose we keep politics out of science, lest it disrupts the fundamental building blocks of science? And if scientists do have a responsibility to be more active in politics, how do you propose we go about doing it? A regular forum for scientists to discuss issues with policy makers? Would verbal or written form be more effective? A more influential and publicly visible advisory role for scientists advising the government? I bet not many of you know that Australia and each of the states have a Chief Scientist responsible for advising the government.
To the comments! Or if this inspires you to write a whole blog post, I accept a variety of gifts, from cupcakes to Falls Festival tickets!