We should bring scientists to the political table

Have you ever wondered why society is happy to pay a pilot, a footballer, an accountant, even a real estate agent, but decry few well-paid engineers and scientists? Or why do lawyers study for roughly the same number of years as scientists, work as many hours, and sometimes take on the same kind of responsibility, but are paid terribly more?

This amounts to assuming that scientific conversations should have no place in political debates or that scientific research can take place in a vacuum; without the blessing of society. And that science is not a political institution, governed by society and beholden to its political will.

The truth is that society has historically wielded the power to select who is allowed to become a scientist. There is also the question of society’s control over scientific research. Scientists, like everyone else, are susceptible to being carried away by the cultural currents of their society.

When they vote in elections, part of what they do is decide which scientific research will take priority. Society also determines the type of knowledge that scientists are allowed to acquire and disseminate. For example, the Vatican imprisoned Galileo and forced him to backtrack on his scientific claims that the Earth orbits the Sun to avoid being burned at the stake.

In a thriving democracy, society shapes politics, politics shapes science, and science influences both society and politics. And there are socio-economic implications to this association. Understanding and applying science is vital to the fortunes of modern nations. Perhaps that’s why, in the Ipsos Global Trustworthiness Index 2021, scientists were voted the second most trustworthy people, at 61%. Even so, the line between science and politics is blurred. There are scientific concepts, backed by a solid body of evidence, that are now inherently politicized, not because of controversy, but because they threaten a political agenda.

In the upcoming elections, let us strive to increase the participation of scientists in governance and public policy. As a budding life scientist, I believe that politics and government work best when institutions value diversity and include members from a wide range.

It is misguided to exclude scientists from traditional considerations and debates. We have everything to gain from the involvement of scientists at all levels of policy. In political and societal arenas, they offer a unique perspective.

Perhaps the most obvious need is that they are best placed to advocate for research funding. They recognize the importance of basic research and that without it, industries risk losing their competitive advantage. They are aware and can explain how drastic budget cuts can make potentially game-changing companies less likely to succeed. Scientists use evidence to formulate assertions and conclusions about the importance and direction of their work in experiments and projects.

They are oblivious to anything unless they see it for themselves, so any claims without supporting evidence are instantly ignored.

Evidence-based decisions have the power to cut wasteful spending and create productive agendas in politics. However, many in government overlook facts and evidence.

Politicians who are scientists have the power to change these mindsets. In the current political climate, the ability to maintain objectivity and make informed decisions based on hard data will be extremely valuable.

Although the transition from science to government can seem daunting, the ability of scientists to represent the public at all levels has never been more important.

The author is a life scientist and global researcher at the Moving Worlds Institute. [email protected]

About Florence L. Silvia

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