Science and Politics

Science is knowledge. Knowledge is power. And power is inherently political.

I am currently reading Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, by Shawn Lawrence Otto, which has been on my bookshelf for a couple years. I should have read it two years ago. Otto doesn’t fail to deliver dozens of quotable moments. Nor does he pull any punches.

In the years following Sagan’s drubbing by the very National Academy whose president had called for increased science outreach, the public’s one-shining perception of science continued to erode. By 1999, less than half of all Americans–just 47 percent–said that scientific advances were one of the country’s most important achievements. By 2009 that number had fallen to only 27 percent.

Sagan’s rejection became a poignant and symbolic example of how scientists had lost a sense of the value of their relationship to the society around the, a relationship that was critical to their future and the future of the country–but that was slipping through their fingers even as they voted against him…

Science has delivered more than half of US economic growth since the end of WWII, and has contributed to solving important global challenges, including global health and feeding the world. Moreover, today science plays a central role in solving the world’s most important challenges, including global climate change and destruction of the oceans (acidification and overfishing). Meanwhile, US Congress as scientifically deficient as ever in history.

Tempting as it is to blame this horrendous situation on religious leaders, lawyers, economists, politicians, and corporate executives, scientists have to direct some of the blame at themselves.