Science and politics

I was gobsmacked by a link I followed from a Foresight Institute posting about a nanotechnologist running for the US Congress. From the Foresight posting (which was kept rigidly nonpartisan),

Bill McDonald brings to our attention the U.S. Congressional campaign of Mike Stopa, a Harvard nanotechnologist and physicist.

This is probably the first time that a nanotechnologist has run for Congress.

However, his profession may not get much attention, as his campaign is focusing on other issues.

I too am going to be rigidly nonpartisan as my interest here is in a kind of thought experiment: What happens if you read the campaign literature and realize that the  scientist running for political office can’t manage a logical thought process or argument outside her or his own specialty?

I think there’s an assumption that because someone is a scientist that the individual will be able to present logical arguments and come to thoughtful decisions. I’m not saying that one has to agree with the scientist just that the thinking and decisionmaking process should be cohesive but that’s not fair. Humans are messy. We can hold competing and incompatible opinions and we rationalize them when challenged. Since scientists are human (for the near future anyway), then they too are prey to both the messiness of the human condition and, by extension, the democratic process.

I’m going to continue ruminating on science and politics as I am increasingly struck by a sense that there is a trend toward incorporating more and more voices into processes (public consultation on science issues, on housing issues, on cultural issues, etc.) that were the domain of experts or policymakers simultaneous with attempts to either suppress that participation by arranging consultations in situations that are already decided or to suggest that too much participation is taking us into a state of chaos and rendering democracy as per public consultations untenable. Well, that was a mouthful.

As scientists and politics in other countries, do take a look at this Pasco Phronesis posting,

The Conservative Party [UK], when it was still shadowing the Brown government, indicated that it would require all new Members of Parliament in the party to take some training in basic science concepts [emphases mine] as part of their new member training. This was back in 2008, and would take place after the next election (which was to happen at some unspecified point in the future when the announcement was made).

While there is a new person responsible for science for the Conservatives, the plan will be put into action…and expanded.

This notion is along the lines that Preston Manning (founder of the Reform Party and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance Party [now absorbed by the Conservative Party] in Canada and opposition science critic) has been suggesting. Since leaving the political life, Manning has founded the Manning Centre and continues with his commentary on science and other issues.

That’s it for today.

4 thoughts on “Science and politics

  1. Margaret Bergman

    Maybe it’s late and maybe as the writer says about HIS interpretation of a Stopa posting leaves him with the concession that politics is messy, people are messy and human and so are democratic elections. Which thought process is the commentor on this mixed up blog referring to? It’s my goad to find and weed out those that I perceive as “premeditated blog commentors whose design is about dismantling candidates who take a conservative stance. Usually, I can spot them because instead of simply disagreeing and stating their take, they go into a flowery, long-winded approach with no landing in sight. Such is the post by the commentor. My take on this candidate is that he was so good at lecturing and speaking effectively, and coherently, that the administration at Wesleyan University had him doing just that since the age of 24, and he’s been travelling the world making a living at it ever since, landing presently at Harvard University, where he is the Director of a National program. This process makes sense to me; the preceding commentor does not. The candidate’s insights are not limited to sound-bite topics though, which can throw some people off who are accustomed to career politicians.

  2. Margaret Bergman

    Maybe it’s late and maybe as the writer says about HIS interpretation of a Stopa posting leaves him with the concession that politics is messy, people are messy and human and so are democratic elections. Which thought process is the commentor on this mixed up blog referring to? It’s my goal, that is, to find and weed out those that I perceive as “premeditated blog commentors whose design is about dismantling candidates who take a conservative stance on anything”. Usually, I can spot them because instead of simply disagreeing and stating their take, they go into a flowery, long-winded approach with no landing in sight. Such is the post by the commentor. My take on this candidate is that he was so good at lecturing and speaking effectively, and coherently, that the administration at Wesleyan University had him doing just that since the age of 24, and he’s been travelling the world making a living at it ever since, landing presently at Harvard University, where he is the Director of a National program. This process makes sense to me; the preceding commentor does not. The candidate’s insights are not limited to sound-bite topics though, which can throw some people off who are accustomed to hearing only from seasoned career politicians.

  3. admin

    I have replied to this writer’s second posting which is an exact duplicate of this one.

  4. admin

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. I do agree that it was not the most coherent piece I’ve ever written but I’m in the process of forming an idea and so I performed what I’ve described as a ‘thought experiment’ although I’m not sure most scientists would agree with my claim to that term. A few other things I would like to point out. First, I’m Canadian so I have no direct vested interest in Mr. Stopa’s success or failure in this matter nor am I sufficiently familiar with the minutiae of US politics to offer an informed commentary on Mr. Stopa’s position on any of the issues relevant to his particular district (you call them districts, don’t you?). As for my comments about people and democracy being messy, I was trying to imagine how I would respond to having a scientist whose work I respect run for office in my riding and finding out that her or his stance on issues (not including science) are contrary or incompatible with my own. Finally, the correct pronouns when referring to me are ‘she’ and ‘her’. Thank you.

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