Politics and Science

By Joanna Sax

On April 29, Scott Burris blogged about a new bill that would allow Congress to set the scientific agenda, which would replace the traditional peer review process.  I echo his expressed concerns, but want to add more.  The idea that politicians, and not scientists, could determine the advancement of science is, frankly, a disaster.  In the past we have seen political leaders spar with scientists over many things – such as whether the earth is round, whether the earth is the center of the universe, etc.  If scientists did not or could not answer those questions, we might think we are walking on a flat earth.

Even now, there is a strong interaction between politics and science.  Evolution, a scientific theory with unequivocal consensus among the scientific community, still faces political opposition.  Recently, I’ve been thinking and writing in this area, that is, the interaction of politics and science.  Questions for scientific inquiry should be determined by scientists.  How we allocate and manage our resources requires, as others have argued, experts in many areas, including economics, management, and public policy.

To look at the interaction of science and politics, I conducted an empirical analysis comparing the type of information communicated to the public versus the consensus in the scientific community to determine whether politics is playing a role in scientific inquiry.  The study centers on the debate regarding the funding of embryonic stem cell research.  If you are interested in this area, please check out a recent draft here.  It’s an early draft and I welcome comments – you can email comments to me at jsax@cwsl.edu