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!

4 Responses to “Science and Politics”

  1. jeuann says:

    Haha, I love that picture! Didn’t see the word in that petri dish until after I read your post.. Cool huh!?

  2. Jenny Martin says:

    Thanks for two excellent suggestions Tze – I absolutely agree with both of them! It would be great if more people got involved with commenting on the blog (I had hoped that would happen without the need to make it compulsory!!)

  3. Tze Yang Chin says:

    Just read the article. Very interesting indeed! The second half should be recommended reading for this subject!

    Very few people seem to be commenting on the blog. Maybe for next year, make 1 comment per week the assessment requirement. Just saying.

    Another suggestion just in case I forget to put it in the QOT, you could use “politicians” instead of “primary school teachers” in the future!

  4. Jenny Martin says:

    Tze, I’m SO glad you raised this topic, and I hope EVERYONE will get involved and comment. How scientists could more successfully communicate with politicians is an area that, despite my best efforts, we aren’t going to get to cover in this course this year. But that doesn’t mean we don’t think it is very important.

    There is a fascinating article called “Science and Politics – speaking truth to power” by Peter Cullen which I’ll post on the LMS (in the Resources section) and would encourage everyone to read. Peter Cullen was a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists before he sadly passed away in 2008. In the article he considers how and why the Wentworth group managed to have a real influence on Government policy when it came to returning flow to the Murray River and achieving water reform.