Politics of Science

Politics of Science



Politicians have a bigger impact on public understanding of science than they realize. I define the politics of science as really any way in which politics influences the production of science. It's not always a bad thing when politics influences science. For example, we expect that government funded science will be carried out in the public interest; will be oriented toward solving public problems. The problem of course with politics influencing science is when politicians or others try to bend or distort science in order to support their ideological agenda or some self-serving agenda. The reason why I think that science has become more politicized has everything to do with our politics and very little to do with our science. So first of all, as is well known the political parties have become polarized ideologically. At the same time our elections are being very closely contested with presidential races being very close, with Congress changing hands more than it used to. And all of this adds up to intensely fought elections with a lot at stake. Now, how do you win an election? Well one of the best ways to win an election is to make strong arguments. In that effort to make strong arguments politicians are often distorting facts to support those arguments. So, in a sense science becomes a weapon in an electoral context. You know, I think that we should distinguish between what goes on among politicians and what goes on among the public. Frankly, I think that a lot of politicians are strategically distorting science in order to support their policy agendas. I think that ordinary citizens are often more innocent in the process. Citizens face a pretty awful information environment out there. We know that there's been a lot of fake news about politics on the internet, on social media, etc. There's also an incredible amount of fake news out there with respect to science topics. And so faced with this uncertainty, faced with all of these alternative facts that are available, you can't blame citizens for gravitating toward facts that seem to support their political positions; facts that are stated by politicians they trust, etc. And it leads to unfortunately a lot of confusion.

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