[quote author=“paleotn”][quote author=“Guest #2”]
BTW: I provided him/her with an explanation as to why scientist should NOT be political. I will amend that advice to say that if a scientist wants to go political, he or she had better be ready to devote full time to it. I have colleagues in my area (related strongly to the global warming problem) who have found themselves diminished as scientists when they opted to do some politiking. They now find they can only operate in the political sphere and its a damn shame. Several of them were top-rate scientists who now can no longer contribute to furthering the science behind GW.
First off, I agree with your original premise of having threads based upon science without the popular, political slant. But, I completely disagree with your statement that ALL scientists should stay clear of politics and how science relates to that politics. I apologize in advance if that was not the point you were making. Yes, moving into the popular / political arena has greatly reduced the amount of time some can devote to doing real science, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in all circumstances.
If scientists stay locked away in their ivory towers, simply doing their thing, we will shortly find our ability to do real science taken away (i.e. funding etc.) by the current rash of neo-witch doctors like W and his ilk. Those people would like nothing more than to repeal The Enlightenment, much less adequately fund real science. Science desperately needs those with technical understanding along with the ability to disseminate that understanding to the masses in a form they can understand and latch on too. After all, it’s the great, unwashed masses that make science possible in the first place. They are the ones who pay the taxes, attend the universities and / or fund the foundations and endowments. Many times that will mean wading into the muck and mire of politics in order to make it clear that the likes of GWB, our own resident religious crank and many others are dead wrong and their point of view is nothing but a throw back to the time of homo erectus.
I think the lack of real scientists who can make their case in the public arena is the reason why GWB and others are so emboldened to cram their idiotic, untested, unfalsifiable views on the society in general. Unless we are able to point out to the public how wrong the superstitious are those same superstitious numbskulls may very well put real science out of business.
The point I wanted to make is that the real problem is that scientists should have to enter into discussions of science as if they are debates. The truth of science isn’t determined by who wins a debate. In my perfect world, policy makers would be educated enough, and smart enought, that they would not inject ideology that attempts to trump science (as in the global warming topic). They would use the science as a basis for developing policy. The GW “debate” is due to ignorant (or willfully malicious) policy makers who “believe” in some economic model that enriches a few so much that they are willing to sell the planet and do so by trying to confuse the electorate. An educated policy maker need not be, indeed should not be a scientist. But they should be sufficiently educated in the sciences (qualitatively) so as to be able to appreciate and interpret the science for the benefit of policy making. They should also be knowledgeable enough to recognize a true condition of incomplete or uncertain understanding in science so as not to implement policies that will be destructive (essentially what Bush is doing in the area of GW, except he forgot to say that the science is not that uncertain!) The policies on health care and pharmaceutical (read FDA approval process) are examples of areas where the science is less settled, or worse yet, misrepresented by the business end of the pharmacy industry. A good policy maker would use science appropriately. Instead, we get debates over the teaching of intelligent design in schools.
Which brings me to the second part of my ideal world. The electorate would be educated enough so that they could appreciate science and recognize good candidate policy makers when they see them. The situation we are in right now - a president who questions evolution and the science of global warming because of his religious and ideological beliefs, respectively - is due to A) the president and his cadre are ignoramouses when it comes to science, and B) the electorate that put him there is also ignorant.
The failure is that of education. Or, is it that the average citizen in the US is just naturally ignorant. I would prefer to think it is the former.
Historically, very few scientists have been able to effectively communicate the concepts of the sciences to the general public. Notable exceptions such as Carl Sagan and Jared Diamond come to mind of course. But what do you want to bet that the president and his ilk have never read Cosmos or Why Sex is Fun or Guns, Germs and Steel or especially Collapse. The people who read these books (or Discover magazine or Scientific American) tend to vote democratic I’m betting (also supported by a survey several years ago). What are the odds that he and the christian right wing have read The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins)?
So, my point is that educators in the US need to pull out all stops and do a better job of educating the general population in biology (especially) and the sciences in general. They need to do a better job of pointing out the relationship between science and policy so that the ones who eventually become policy makers know what they are doing and the ones who elect policy makers know what they are voting for. Scientist (in general) should do science and publish it (as the IPCC did on GW) in a form that any sufficiently educated policy maker can understand. BTW: note that the policy makers in Europe and many other parts of the world, along with their average citizens, actually do a much better job when it comes to understanding science and its policy implications.