Tuesday, November 12, 2013

MUST READ: Science and Politics in America

A sterling piece from The Atlantic Online:

NEWS FLASH: GOP no more anti-science than Democrats

Take home points of this article:

  • Republicans and Democrats have an equal likelihood of believing irrational things, they just choose different areas about which to be irrational, and the media deems the GOP's irrationality to be eviler than the Democrats' versions, which are portrayed generally as quirky or amusing, rather than dangerous.
  • Generally speaking, most within the GOP believe 90% of the narratives being pushed by the left regarding all key scientific questions - EVEN the ones about which the GOP has significant partisan disagreements.  For example, on global warming, the party's position is not that global warming does not exist or even that we're not doing anything to contribute to global warming, but that efforts to ameliorate human contributions to global warming will not succeed (because we can't control other, far more carboniferous economies or because there are also contributing natural factors), the expected warming is overestimated by unreliable models, and the economic cost of left-wing climate policy is way too high.
  • The GOP does a better job funding scientific research than do Democrats.  Dems approach science funding under the mistaken belief that paying companies to deploy scientific ideas is more important than paying think tanks and research facilities to come up with new ideas.  Republicans would fund the research centers at higher levels and cut funding to boondoggle grants to companies.
  • There are big-picture science issues about which Democrats are far more irrational than anything uttered by rank and file Republicans.  Such as nuclear energy.
  • The cost of allowing the media to continue to portray one side as evil and the other side as righteous in the pursuit of science is nothing less than the death of public financing for scientific research.  Becausse as our debt load grows, the sequester is going to be repeated ad infinitum, and the loser will always be small coalitions like public science.  We need to grow the base of enthusiastic supporters of public science research, not shrink it by labeling half the country as our enemies.
Could not agree more with this article.

Bravo.

7 comments:

  1. I essentially agree that funding basic research is essential. I do wonder, though, if it would be better for scientists to operate under patronage. The problem with public funding is that it puts research at the mercy of people - i.e., politicians - who aren't experts in your field and may not appreciate what you're trying to accomplish. Which is more realistic? Seeking out a wealthy individual who's genuinely excited about your study? Or expecting all voters and their representatives to be scientifically literate?

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  2. PS: I would submit that irrationality about evolution is actually far less harmful than irrationality about GMO's or vaccines. Evidently, being a creationist does not prevent one from, say, becoming a world-class neurosurgeon (see also: Ben Carson). Irrationality about GMO's and vaccines, on the other hand, threatens lives and livelihoods. [Just a note: SABR Matt is allergic to the pertussis vaccine. In order for him to be safe, the rest of us must be vaccinated to ensure herd immunity. The fact that people are opting out for pseudoscientific reasons scares the heck out of me.]

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    1. The problem with patronage is that you are at the mercy of the goals and desires of the patron. If your conclusions do not jive with what that ONE guy believes, he will cut you off. If your conclusions don't benefit him financially...he will cut you off. If he thinks someone else can do what you're doing but will charge him less for equipment, he will cut you off.

      Of course, the government is still playing a patron's role in many areas of science where the conclusion of your current study will influence whether the ruling class likes you when the next one gets funded...depending on whether your conclusions help the governing class push policy.

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    2. Yep. The threat that you will lose funding is there in any case. But if you're being supported in the private sector and your patron gets pissed and cuts you off, you can find someone else. The rich are pretty diverse.

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    3. Also, what about crowd-funding? I just saw Larry Correia amass over $100,000 for his Monster Hunter challenge coin project in the space of a few weeks -- and that was mostly people like me making small donations.

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    4. The Mars One projet is crowd sorcing on an enormous scale with a touch of commercialism thrown in at the end. I have considered attempting to crowd source some of my independent work...but you need to have people know who you are first. Crowd sourcing in science is challenging at best until you're already famous.

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    5. "Crowd sourcing in science is challenging at best until you're already famous."

      True. But it's something to consider for the long term.

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