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Science Not Silence

Can you imagine a world without politics?

Would the world be a better place without politics? 

Or would humans invent politics anyway, if it didn't exist? 
I try to stay away from politics as much as possible because it's a definite prescription for stress and fluctuating blood pressure. But when it coincides with your life and career, you can't ignore it. Especially when science collides with politics. Both divisions are not exclusive, they both affect the economy, education and healthcare. 

During my search through the internet on the connection between science and politics, I found a quote from an article that summarises the link in one simple sentence: "Science is the pursuit of knowledge, knowledge is power, and power is politics" [10]

Politicians play a big role in the funding of scientific research and how big a budget is set up for each specific research area. But it's not always about restrictions, sometimes politics can play a good role in science, whereby the leading government will increase the budget for certain scientific bodies for research and development purposes. 

Simple concept, complex execution?

Even if it is a difficult concept to accept, scientists and politicians need to work together. They need to collaborate on whatever issues need to be discussed such as epidemics or environmental issues. 

One good example of politics and science working together is the Paris Agreement. Each of the participating countries creates plans and regularly reports their own contribution to try to reduce global warming. There are no specific targets for each country to reach by a certain date, but each country sets a contribution to work on alleviating global warming.

Yet some scientists still feel there is a deficiency in the relationship between scientists and politicians and they went out to express this in the march for science... 

March for Science...

Scientists worldwide marched on April 22nd, the day that coincides with Earth Day. Scientists from across the world gathered together to march for science and challenge policies the government has made which negatively affect science and society. From London to Washington to Tokyo to Sydney, advocates of STEM protested and marched across their respective cities. Caroline Weinberg, co-founder of the March for Science commented on the day in For Science Supporters, an Earth Day on Washington.”
“The march itself, we hope, is going to encourage politicians and people watching to understand that people really do care about science, and think that evidence-based policy should exist in government.”
What were the goals of the science march?
  1. To strengthen the role of science in policy making
  2. To improve science communication and outreach
  3. To foster a diverse and inclusive scientific community 
  4. ...To Champion Science For the Common Good (imagine that being said with a superhero pose and a booming voice)
Scientists aim to create a campaign for evidence-based research and policy change. The aim is to protect long-term scientific research and to create a platform where scientists can give insight to the public of their research and how it affects everyone's lives. 

Why didn't some scientists march?

The march for science received a degree of backlash and some people were sceptical of the aims and the results of the march. Some of the reasons why scientists refused to participate in the march were because:
  • They felt that the march did not have any direction. If the march had clearer goals, more specifically a specific end goal,  they would have attended.
  • Some did not attend due to old age
  • Others did not agree with the way the march was planned out 
  • Some were "afraid that it’s going to be perceived as just another liberal-democrat progressive’s complaining-fest"
  • Some scientists were "sitting on the fence"
  • Other scientists felt that other issues are more deserving of attention
What scientists need from politicians...

Politicians need to listen to scientists more before creating new policies which affect the country (this isn't restricted to one country, it's the entire world). Scientists also want to make sure that their research reaches the public so there is no risk of incorrect science communication that could negatively affect the future. Politicians and scientists need to work together to make sure research is made publicly available and there is freedom of discussion of research.  

What happens when politicians try to control the communication of science?

Purdah. When the British general election took place last month, scientists were restricted to purdah. They were silenced during the pre-election period. Scientists could not speak freely of their research during the elections, even if what they wanted to say was apolitical from their point of view. 
For example, during purdah, Buzzfeed tried to contact the Met Office, to receive some information about the "global warming hiatus" but they were told by their Press office that "climate sceptics could view a civil servant’s comment about climate change as political."
Anything related to the environment was subject to purdah during election time, so as not to affect the public vote - even if the aim was to ensure that the public receives the "best evidence on topical issues". 

Merchants of doubt...
I am currently reading the book:  Merchants of Doubt by two Historians of Science (Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway), it has been such an eye-opener for me. It has made me realise that science and politics have always been hand-in-hand and that politics has the upper hand in this relationship. Scientists who were also involved in politics were able to control the scientific messages that were reaching the public and even delaying the right actions that needed to take place. 

This book is a must-read for everyone and there will be a more detailed review on my blog of this book. 

I have only dipped my toe in the deep sea of science and politics so to conclude this blog post I will end it by agreeing with the fact that science and politics will always be connected, after all,  "science is the pursuit of knowledge, knowledge is power and power is politics". 
After the march for science, hopefully, the scientists' messages have reached the right target audience and suitable actions are to be taken in response to each issue they protested for. There needs to be a revolution in the relationship between science and politics where nothing hides behind closed doors and everyone is in the know of important issues that affect their lives.

References and useful links

After discussing the need for public science communication, here is a little food for thought for you to discuss in the comments section below and let me know your thoughts 😉