Science and Politics: A Difficult Relationship

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Science and Politics: A Difficult Relationship

By Alexander Pralea, Editor

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To an extent, science is the antithesis of politics. Politics, first and foremost, is based on morals and values – one’s solidified views on human nature based on one’s cultural upbringing, religion, and personal experiences. Science, on the other hand, is refreshingly impersonal; it cares little for specific individuals but for reproducible statistical studies attained through years of collaboration and discovery. Given that their domains feature key overlaps yet differing worldviews, science should and must be political (but not partisan) if it wishes to return objectivity and progress to politics.

Nowhere is this assertion truer than in the field of climate science, which has taken hold of the polarized American psyche. As climate reports grow increasingly dire and realistic, climate scientists are frightened; yet in the lay world, climate change has been misconstrued as “their” issue (much like minority, indigenous, and women’s rights in the past). With a disdain for factual evidence, public figures continue to espouse lies about its veracity. Considering this vacuum, it is no surprise that the anti-Vax movement has emerged to imperil the health of the entire country. Misinformation abounds, in spite of scientific data.

More worrisome is the fact that elected politicians have captivated audiences with their anti-science rhetoric – and people have been brainwashed. On a psychological level, climate change thrusts us into a situation for which we are not evolutionarily prepared that economists refer to as discounting. Issues like terrorism, immigration, and poverty grab the public attention far more because they are occurring, to a more visible extent, right now (animals are already going extinct, like the mosaic-tailed rat of Australia). In contrast, climate change presents us with a long-term issue. For those struggling to survive and pay for basic necessities, the political focus on climate change might seem hypocritical, indicative of a coastal elite that neither understands nor cares to understand the common person. Even when exposed to increased temperatures, the so-called common people deflect the extreme weather conditions wrought by climate change as the norm, as an exhaustive analysis of over two billion tweets revealed.

To address this situation, science must ensure that it does not come off as patronizing or condescending. It must approach common people from their level, adapting communication to their religions and culture. In the issue of climate change, scientific educators need to convey climate change as a life-threatening issue that will threaten Americans. Nonetheless, the response cannot be one-sided. Citizens must take action into their own hands through their votes and advocacy. Citizens must both vote for untraditional candidates who both recognize the importance of scientifically derived policy and support candidates from more diverse, scientific backgrounds. As scientists themselves continue to voice their concerns through the spotlight of social media, more people will realize the urgency of a response.  Science and politics may be different, but for public policy to be efficacious, it must incorporate a broad range of empirical data, or it will cease to hold any value.

 

 

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