On Playing Politics With Science


The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine stressed the importance of science knowledge on Thursday, in the wake of the presidential election, which has sparked concern by scientists over the perception that the new administration would defund some science research funding.

The American Museum of Natural History held a conference to present a report on science literacy,  a knowledge of basic facts as well as an understanding of how scientists work, how they use their research and how science exists as a social process that can be valuable to individuals. Noah Feinstein, a writer of the report gave an overview to a filled audience.

“If people knew more science they would, A, like science more, and B, make better personal and civic decisions,” he said after a long pause and looked at the audience that resulted in a large laugh from the crowd of mostly scientists and educators.

Some of the scientific community has concerns that a Trump Administration would threaten to eliminate climate change research.  The scientists cite a Guardian article on Nov. 23 conjecturing that the Trump team would shift funds from such research to  deep pace exploration. 

“Obviously something is not working,” Sheila Jasanoff, professor of science and technology studies at Harvard Kennedy School said. She contended that there were many ways that political institutions shape science knowledge.

“If we’re doing democracy well, we will also be doing science well,” she asserted. Concerning the election, she said that people do not always vote in their best interests. “Many of us may have wanted different results confronting us in January that the ones that we’re going to see,” she said.

Throughout his campaign, Trump branded climate change “a hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese. He later  switched gears, telling the New York Times on Nov. 23 that he had an open mind about it.  In March there were 182 climate deniers in the Congress, according to a research from the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Bruce Lewenstein, professor of science communications at Cornell University said that politics shape what we know about the world, citing Nasa’s creation as a Cold War product. According to Lewenstein, scientists need to understand cultural context, why a person could possess science knowledge but act in the opposite way.

“We need to take a look at our own lives…we have a lot of reasons for eating what we do, taking the medicine that we do, voting the way that we do and knowing what we know about science is only one of those reasons,” Feinstein said. According to Feinstein, there is a battle between knowledge and attitude, and attitude is often driven by worldview and culture that override knowledge of facts.

Photo by Paul Frangipane

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply