This Week’s Mtg: Is Science Political?

This one was my idea, although I kind of had Ron, our resident scientist, in mind.  I also hope we attract some people who work in scientific fields.  Ron and I agreed that I would give a 5-minute introduction to frame the issue and then open it up.

Here’s what I meant by the topic.  By “science,” I meant mainly hard science (life sciences and physical sciences), more than social science (like economics, psychology and sociology).  It’s rather obvious, at least to me, how the social sciences are politicized and why.  Since they’re the study of why people do what they do, they’re easy ammunition for any political agenda.  This is especially true when a social science tries to get all predict-y, like economics.

By “political” I mean in two senses.  The first is how science gets sucked into our big political debates.  Evolution.  Climate science.  EPA regulations.  Tobacco.  Etc.  We’ve talked about these issues before, but never why (beyond “other side bad”) they’ve gotten so politicized.  How did climate science itself become a political football?  It seemed to happen so fast.  Why is the EPA a top target of conservatives?  “Because they’re all corporate shills” is not an adequate answer because their attacks have support from many GOP voters.  I think, “Why do political appeals based on suspicion of science work so well?” is a better question.

We need an answer because the assault on science and scientists seems to be escalating very fast.  Many states are passing abortion laws based on, let’s say, dubious science.  GOP governors and state legislatures are openly trying to intimidate scientists in Virginia and Michigan by subpoenaing their emails.  EPA is in the crosshairs, and so on. 

(BTW, I should point out that the Left is hardly immune to politicizing science — or anything else for that matter.   We’re just in a phase where the Right is doing way more of it.  Maybe we could discuss how the dismal state of U.S. science education helps create an ignorant public that’s vulnerable to such manipulation by whichever side happens to be engaged in it.)

Yet, I also had in mind a second type of “politicization” of science that I want to learn more about:  The day-to-day politics within the scientific enterprise itself.  After all, in one sense science is political as soon as the scientist starts caring about the outcome.  Scientists are people, too, and they care about getting published, as well as obtaining grants, patents, money, and even fame.  What’s it like to be in the scientific world?  How political is the grant-getting process and the research process and the publishing process?  I’d like to learn.


Politicizing Science —

  1. Abortion.  For our purposes, note how many of these state-level abortion restrictions are based on dubious science.
  2. Evolution:  Recent state-level efforts to restrict its teaching.  Only about one-quarter of high school biology teachers teach evolution as fact.
  3. Climate science denial.  You don’t really need links, right?

Science’s Inherently “Political” Nature —


One response

  1. I won’t get there until around 8:30 or so, but I’ve got a good story on this.

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