Matthew Christopher Whitehill
Political landscapes are constantly changing particularly in the United States where the President’s 2015 Budget proposes an increased $135.4 billion Research & Development fund. While this is promising for science, the lack of actual scientific evidence sometimes used by politicians to gain votes and popularity is worrying. The involvement of Science can be a valuable asset to a politician and play a significant role in many aspects of decision-making.
Traditionally scientists have been thought to be the cornerstone of fact and rational logic which when used correctly can produce life-changing results. Politicians don’t have this luxury so have mastered the art of ‘framing’. This plays upon people’s inherent desire to make the most rational choice and therefore influences the way voters make their decisions by presenting only desirable ‘frames’.
This has led to a storm of competing claims that may be economical with the truth and can be manipulated to highlight the leading scientific pros or cons to change a voter’s mindset. These may also be ‘sugar-coated’ to strike a chord with the masses. Recently topics such as climate change and stem cell research have been at the forefront of conflicting interests.
President J.F. Kennedy proposed the ambitious objective to send an American to the Moon before the end of the 1960’s. This move was supported as much by the politicians as by the scientific community. There was extreme pressure to reinstate the USA as the dominant force in the Cold War. In 1969 his aspiration became reality and subsequently reached out to American voters’ sense of national pride. There is no denying that the by-products of their work have led to significant technological advances throughout modern society that could not have been foreseen.
Politics is a competition for the allocation of resources and can put extra strain on governments to decide where available assets should go; consequently this has created a need for scientific organisations to use lobbyists and large public relation campaigns involving high profile public figures.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) have issued a report named ‘Scientific Integrity in Policymaking’ to challenge the way in which George W. Bush’s administration had apparently distorted and disregarded scientific evidence to support its’ own political agenda. Furthermore there have been bills and amendments, which passed the review process, but were quashed and never gained a recorded vote. This begs the question what other deals and back channeling take place behind closed doors at the expense of the science.
Science through no fault of its own has been brought into the political arena. Scientific advice can and should be used for effective policymaking; unfortunately the democratic system has a vast array of political influences and self interest which reign supreme, keeping science in ‘check’.