Science and Politics

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Bowser, May 28, 2016.

  1. Bowser Right Here, Right Now Valued Senior Member

    Does science have a political identity/agenda? I understand that science is often used to further political agendas, but I'm curious if science, in general, is political. Is it, or should it be, apolitical?
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  3. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I do not see how the study of nature can itself be political.

    However the study of nature can lead to findings which have political implications, from climate change to a cure for AIDS, or the atom bomb.

    And of course politicians sometimes try to co-opt science to further their own ends, because of of its air of dispassionate authority, as far as the public is concerned.
    Last edited: May 28, 2016
    Billy T and Yazata like this.
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  5. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Physical science doesn't. (Or at least it shouldn't.) It should be based around the application of logic and epistemology to objective physical facts.

    But "social sciences" oftentimes seemingly do. (Sociology in particular.) The social sciences were created in the 19th century as part of an Enlightenment-inspired faith that if the methods that the Newtonians were using so successfully in physics could just be applied to society and to social problems, all forms of obscurantism might be swept away and all manner of social problems solved. So from its outset, social science has has an implicit utopian social change agenda, along with the conviction that certain kinds of ideas are obscurantist and certain kinds of goals "progressive".

    But sadly, it has never worked out as intended. Perhaps one of the biggest problems that the social sciences have faced is that there apparently aren't any simple mathematical "laws" of history and social interactions analogous to the laws of physics. So the whole idea of applying "the scientific method" in the social sciences (always a procrustean bed from the outset) seems to have been misconceived. But now that careers and university departments ride atop these subjects, they have institutional mass and aren't going away any time soon. (It's reminiscent of theology in that respect, perhaps.)

    There's the descriptive/prescriptive distinction. Science seems to me to be largely be a descriptive pursuit. That would seemingly make it essentially apolitical. It describes how physical reality behaves. It doesn't necessarily tell us how things should be. To arrive at those kind of conclusions we would need to apply all kinds of moral and psychological values to the raw data of science. And science doesn't seem to be in any position to tell us what we should desire, how the future should unfold, or how we should behave. (Science might be on firmer ground telling us how we should behave as to achieve a particular end, but it doesn't seem to be in the position to tell us what our ends should be.)

    Ethics has tried to generate no end of metaethical theories that purport to explain how we should make moral judgements (by considering consequences? by maximizing virtues? by the application of deontological logic to moral rules?) but that's philosophy as opposed to science and it remains controversial.
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  7. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    With the way politicians use virtually anything to bolster their fan club, it wouldn't be surprising if they find ways to exploit science for their own agendas. It would be unfortunate if the general public couldn't tell the difference between a politician's spin on science, and what science is actually trying to ''tell us.''
  8. PhysBang Valued Senior Member

    The science that we have access to can only be done by humans. As such, it must be influenced by politics. What gets researched, how it gets researched, these are political decisions.

    That being said, it can be politically expedient to be "as objective as possible". What is "objective" is something that is not always the pure ideal we imagine and is always tainted by subjectivity. However, that doesn't mean that science is a lost cause or "merely" the product of politics.

    People who try to make science apolitical are really just trying to get science to support the political status quo and are thus advocating conservative politics. For example, see all the people who advocate for apolitical science in the field of climate change.
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Politics, social concerns generally, sometimes also affects scientists in their evaluation of the state or current role of some field of science - even their own, in which they are expert. Especially their own, in some common situations. This is especially noticeable in new fields of great practical import and heroic social possibility, that are technologically "sweet" in some sense and/or offer great rewards to somebody, but it occurs generally.

    One cannot get a reasonable evaluation of the safety and benefits of deepwater or Arctic fossil fuel drilling from the cutting edge researchers in the field, for example. Similar considerations apply to nuclear power, "food science" and other agricultural innovations, high-tech medical advances (especially surgical), genetic engineering, new software and other aspects of computerization, and the like.

    A surprising thing, for the newcomer to a field, is the nature of the errors and delusions that can - and commonly do - afflict scientific experts in such situations. They are not misjudgments of deeply subtle matters - the pros are good at those, and properly humble etc. They are intellectual pratfalls. They are the best and the brightest using chunks of this funny new stuff they made - plutonium - for doorstops and paperweights, curiosities they hand to visitors to feel the odd warmth given off. They are the consensus of the best and brightest in the field approving the adulteration of the entire food supply of a continent with engineered transfats and artificial sweeteners without having checked their effects on metabolism. They are collections of the very best and brightest scientists on the planet endorsing, in public, the following statement: "It is the scientific consensus that GMOs are safe".

    This is the reason for the existence of the overriding and central proscription of the Hippocratic Oath: "First, Do No Harm". An inexperienced person might wonder at the necessity of making such a big deal of something so obvious - older people do not.
  10. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Wandering Reflections

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    Click for incongruity.

    Perhaps strangely, religion makes for an excellent juxtaposition.

    There is in human behavior and psychology a basic brain impulse, having to do with creativity and comparison and the prevalence of basic living priorities, that we would describe as a religious impulse.

    Kharkovli, for instance, explains―

    The conception that "Sufism is the inner component of religion", too, should be acceptable enough if it is seen from enough examples that religion is often mainly an accretion of superficialities around an ancient core which may be reclaimed ....


    ―and this is well enough if we leave it solely to the interpretation of religious belief. More objective consideration would question the "ancient core which may be reclaimed", both in the context of the core itself for detail of its composition, and also what constitutes a reclamation.

    The ancient core, as such, seems to simply be a useful cognitive and behavioral adaptation. That set of cognitive processes and behavioral traits is at least partially, though not likely wholly, within our capacity to control. The outcomes of that shaping and controlling are what we tend to think of as religion.

    There are the basic "religious" impulses and behaviors, and then there is "religion" as we contextualize it whenever we use the word.

    And this is the juxtaposition.

    Science simply is. The basic concept of science represents a fundamental means of inquiry; the only grounds for doubt at this point would be to complain that inquiry, in and of itself, is inherently extraneous, though the evolutionary context of the simple, basic fact that the human species and its concomitant societal endeavor still exists would proscribe the range of extraneity in such a manner as to preclude inherentness.

    Rarely do people use the word in this context. Everything else is accretion.

    We all get what the question means; the point is not to doubt the question.

    But the basic concept of science precludes a political identity or agenda. Identity and agenda are subordinate to external influence.

    To wit, in the private sector science is intended to make money. That's it. That's all there is to it. That is what sets the priority for what gets explored and pursued.

    In other settings, science is ostensibly attuned to this or that purpose―curing cancer, developing clean energy, figuring out what is taking place at the leading edge of an expanding Universe, &c.―but even then is subject to the people deciding what gets explored and pursued. At a very basic level, perhaps you and I perform an experiment; the result is hardly a world-changing outcome, but what do we do next? Perhaps we propose different subsequent experiments; these proposals would be subject to our own priorities. Perhaps we leave it alone and go do other things, either together or separately, and those decisions would be subject to our own priorities.

    Somewhere in between "curing cancer" and collaborators looking at their results and figuring out what to do next is a context or valence corresponding to the question of whether science has a political identity or agenda. It's a fairly specific context, but remains somewhat undefined.

    Generally speaking, "science should be apolitical", but insofar as what we know and what we learn affects the decisions we make, "science becomes inherently political".

    The important thing is the becoming.

    Because that, too, is us. Not just you and me. People.

    Much of the politics about science are assigned. Some of the seemingly inherent questions present themselves as obvious; if we thought we could pursue a gun big enough to shatter a planet that would have to be installed in a space station the size of a small moon, should we? There's a pretty good argument against.

    To the other, there are some traditional ideas in our society that keep running up against stubborn reality, and science often seems an easy scapegoat. Even the observable is subject to doubt among some of these.

    Science becomes political because we perceive a stake in defining it so.

    The question does arise; we need not doubt the question.

    Look, humans have creative and comparative faculties; we tell stories; a mythic comparison to abstract perfection is inevitable. There is, however, reasonable question whether using that comparison to ... er ... ah ... well, there are a bunch of issues that could fill that slot.

    But it's true. If carbon dating was as wrong as my daughter's maternal grandfather needs it to be in order to accommodate his belief, your mobile phone wouldn't work. Masturbation doesn't really grow hair on your palms or make you go blind. I mean, sure, I guess the latter if your vascular condition is poor enough to stroke out while stroking off, but generally speaking, no. There really are genotypic XY human beings displaying XX phenotype; it is true that our traditional roles for people do not find scientific support. It is true that according to science, there is no reason marijuana should have been Schedule I while methamphetamine was Schedule II; there is no scientific support for the disparity in the former five-for-five federal crack standard.

    Here's a controversial one: It is true science clearly indicates it is unwise for the health of a general population to entertain wilful abstention from vaccination without specific medical necessity. The political question there essentially considers one's right to assert oneself as a dinosaur as well as require that of everyone else as well. The science says what the science says, and if the question, "How do we live longer, less suffering lives?" is somehow "political", we must also recognize that at some point the politics oppose the human endeavor itself. It seems easier to simply disregard that valence of politics. Probably safer, too.

    Science is science. What we do with it introduces the question of political identity and agenda.


    Kharkovli, Adilbai. "Those Astonishing Sufis". Sufi Thought and Action. Ed. Idries Shah. London: Octagon Press, 1990.
  11. wellwisher Banned Banned

    To publish in science you need lots of resources. This is why more studies will get published from the prestigious places with deep pockets. The problem with this is, science is not self sufficient, when it comes to resources. It needs the assistance of outside agencies for funding; business, government and private. This means science and the right to publish, can make one beholden, to those who provide the needed resources to allow one to close the science deal.

    Those who provide resources are happier if the money spent, agrees with their POV. They are not happy of the research purposely makes them look bad or stupid. Nobody who believes in manmade global warming, and has money to spend, will give that money to anyone who is trying to refute this. The opposite is also true. If the money is not there, then scientists can't work and publish. If you are denied resources, this research will never be taken serious or publish in the best journals.

    If you were a billionaire and had money to spend on science research, you will try to spend it on things you like, you believe in, or you see as a potential money maker. You will not invest in things that go against your principles, undermine your opinions or make you lose money. This has the impact of stacking the preponderance of the data and publications, in the direction of funder's choice. A cigarette company will invest in science, but it will not pay for research and publications, than shoots their company or industry in the foot.

    Science would be better served if it had access to its own money, that had no strings. This way mercenary science would not be a necessary default to earn a good living. The other way is, science could be modified, not to need as much resources to do science and publish. This minimizes the impact of deep pockets. This would take more competence that does high resource requirements. Anyone can do science when you has lots of resources. Fewer can do good science with far less.

    Science that is less political, will tend to have more freedom to pursue all paths. This will be more balanced science. But once you see a political divide connected to any area of science, assume a stacked deck, based on who has deep pockets, and what they wish to hear.

    In another forum, there was a topic about the human race and species. In biological cataloging, humans are treated differently than other animals in terms of cataloging, such as species and sub-species. One can go to the web site and do a DNA test that will tell you your ethnic make-up. Humans have regional genetic differences, like birds that have been brought to the new world. The dual standard is based on the impact of PC deep pockets and not science consistency. Such studies are not important to business, since there is no money to be made. These resources tend to come from government; PC science.

    The human standard is subjectivity better for appeasing racial tensions, while the animal standard makes evolution subjectively appear more clear cut due to the greater variety of distinctions. If you had one standard, classes of birds may be lumped into one species, like humans, making evolution harder to see. Or it can make differences between humans be defined as subspecies, like with birds, which is taboo for those who need demographic based votes, based on current sales pitches.

    Science is afraid to step in and settle this, since it needs funding and knows how deeper pockets, if disappointed, will react; paid demonstrators and the black ball list.
    Last edited: May 30, 2016
  12. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    That's true for experimental work, especially in resource intensive areas of inquiry. But I think that a lot can be done, provided that experimentalists and observers make their data sets publicly available. (Complete raw data sets, not 'adjusted' data sets that already have thumbs pressing with unknown force on the scale.) I know of a researcher at one of my old universities, who published some papers on gravity waves using data made available by Ligo. NASA's orbiting Kepler observatory has made huge data sets available to extra-solar planet researchers all around the world. enabling them to make analyses and propound hypotheses based on Kepler data.

    What makes me more concerned is when the 'peer-review' process weeds out papers expressing unpopular points of view. We've seen that with "climate science". There have even been attempts to black-list certain authors, threatening boycotts of particular journals if anything by those authors is printed.
    Last edited: May 30, 2016
  13. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    In idealized context it should be apolitical. Mediating agencies that convey "what _x_ scientific output means to the public" can be political or ideological. IOW, the interfaces between science and society abroad can dispense their own interpretations and prescriptions based on discoveries, research data, theories, etc. To the extreme of even a pseudoscience movement being born from such. Scientists themselves can be among those contributing to such transitional "border country". An historic example would Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, who was a founder of eugenics.

    Also, in personal life scientists can obviously be political, philosophical, religious, etc. Which might raise a peripheral question of can science truly outrun its human components, be distinct from their private passions and preferences. How "real" can such an abstract entity be if its activities cease without people, or are utterly dependent upon beings with similar functional characteristics? The answer would be dichotomization -- of personal interests being set aside in the workplace, of properly trained individuals being recruited to behave / operate according to the scheme and standards of a science.
    Last edited: May 30, 2016
  14. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    To those with a political agenda, peer review always looks like a conspiracy.

    When physical reality has a political bias, as during fascist movements or religious revivals or other mass delusions, science will appear to have one to the exact extent that it doesn't.
  15. wellwisher Banned Banned

    During the energy crisis of the Jimmy Carters years of the 1970's, there was a political clammer for the development of alternate energy, due to rising costs of oil. This was partially driven by environmentalist movements via the Administration. The government poured a lot of money into all types of energy R&D and development.

    In 20/20 hindsight, they could have just as well invested in alternate oil and gas explorations and some solar and achieve the modern status quo of 2016. However, there was a lot of money earmarked to do all types of blue sky energy science that made environmentalists, within in the masses, feel good. I did some of that research. I worked on coal liquefication via extrusion, high energy heat sink targets, and using low melting point waxes for passive solar energy storage.

    The bulk of that blue sky research may never had happened, if there was not this political carrot and stick. Much of that science, like government, was well intended, but useless since it was not economically feasible. Science does not care and protest, but will migrate, wherever the resources appear, to appease the needs of the deep pockets, and get a good job.

    I would like to see Congress allocate a lump sum to science. Once the money is allocated, the details of allocation will be off limits to the politicians; lawyers, practicing quid prop quo. The funds will be controlled by a council of scientists, chosen by their peers, whose job is to meter it out the resources, based on the principles of discovery and social need. They should set aside 10% for blue sky research since you never know when such discovery becomes timely. For example, in the auto industry, concept car designs, from 50 years ago, find new life, today.

    One way to do this is to determine the average funding used by those who win the Nobel prize. This is all any resources that should be needed to do pinnacle science. Any more than that is about politics and incompetence. This allocation limit will make the resources go farther, so more scientists have the front door to publication, via 360 science where all angles are looked at.
  16. billvon Valued Senior Member

    And it worked. From Wikipedia:
    Renewable energy in the United States accounted for 13.44 percent of the domestically produced electricity in 2015,and 11.1 percent of total energy generation. As of 2014, more than 143,000 people work in the solar industry and 43 states deploy net metering, where energy utilities buy back excess power generated by solar arrays.

    Renewable energy reached a major milestone in the first quarter of 2011, when it contributed 11.7 percent of total U.S. energy production (2.245 quadrillion BTU of energy), surpassing energy production from nuclear power (2.125 quadrillion BTU). 2011 was the first year since 1997 that renewables exceeded nuclear in US total energy production.
  17. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Multiplied by the number of available students and scientists, and the duration involved in the Nobel research (including of course the education received, publication support, teaching and other salaries involved, etc), and the resources employed (existing labs, facilities of one kind and another, etc). And directed toward the kinds of research, the categories, that produce Nobel prizes. Of course.

    Ok, but I don't think the US has enough money budgeted that way. That kind of wild and profligate boost in funding for non-military and economically useless research is going to be a hard sell in the current US Congress.
  18. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Impressive statistic, given the size of the US economy and its demand for energy. But tell me, was this "total energy production" the total of electricity generation only, or some more inclusive measure of energy produced?
  19. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Due to the unfortunate matter that reality is not quite so amenable to making all significant discoveries cost the same, this would be an utter failure due to making cheap science less efficient while making higher-priced science unachievable due to financial constraints.
    For example, how much do you think it has cost to discover the Higgs boson, given that CERN cost $4.75 billion to build and c.$1 billion to run each year?

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