Thursday, 27 October 2011

Climate science and politics make bad bedfellows

University of Kent sociology professor Frank Furedi, writing in the Australian, points out that science and politics make bad bedfellows. Furedi´s findings are directly applicable to the unhealthy relationship between climate science and government policy in most western countries:  

Most research carried out in universities is funded by government and often needs to take account of its policy priorities. Consequently science too often becomes subject to political influences and commercial pressures. In turn, scientists often use their research to promote their pet causes. They step outside of their laboratory and use their status to influence public life and demand that “something must be done” about problems they have uncovered.
All too often the distinction between science informing policy and science directing it becomes blurred. For their part, policymakers are often willing accomplices to allowing science to acquire such a prominent role. Politicians find it easier to hide behind science and justify their claim by stating “evidence shows” than to engage in the difficult business of convincing the electorate that their policy is right!
Whenever science acquires the role of directly authorising policy it tends to encourage paternalistic political management. It fosters a climate that is inhospitable to democratic accountability through assigning the power of agenda setting and decision-making to the experts at the expense of the citizen. Claiming a privileged access to the scientific truth, paternalistic policymakers often criticise people for not acting rationally and for failing to make healthy choices. That is why increasingly the refrain “research shows” or “science says” sounds suspiciously like a statement driven by a moralising imperative.
The current tendency to treat the findings of research as the truth violates the very meaning of scientific thinking. Research provides information that needs to be scrutinised and evaluated. However, it is not evident what a scientific discovery means for society. A scientific fact does not indicate its significance for the community. Scientists have every right to interpret the facts and to offer advice about what they think should be done. Although such advice is useful and important, it is up to policymakers to decide how to use it. Science should have no privileged role in evaluating its significance for society. Moreover, when it comes to interpreting such information the public also has a decisive role to play. The final decisions should be decided by the public and their political leaders through weighing up the significance of scientific advice in light of wider social, economic and cultural concerns.
Whatever was the case in the past, it is no longer possible to separate science from politics. As a result both science and public life are the worse for it. Good science depends on the disinterested pursuit of the truth. It needs to be open-ended and experimentative. Imposing a political agenda on it can only have a corrupting influence on the science.

Read the entire article here

How true!

1 comment:

A K Haart said...

I like the writings of Frank Furedi and he's absolutely spot on with this piece.