Science & Future

Topics: 21st century, Science, Global warming Pages: 2 (819 words) Published: December 6, 2013
Science and politics
Much of what I’ve said would seem uncontroversial or even platitudinous to the scientifically-attuned audiences here in Newcastle this week. But there’s one thing that scientific advisors in any democratic system must not forget. When really big and long-term policies are in contention - whether about nuclear weapons, nuclear power, drug classification, or health risks - political decisions are seldom purely scientific: they involve ethics, economics and social policies as well. Such discussions should engage all of us, as citizens - and of course our elected representatives. Sometimes this has happened, and constructively too. The dialogue with parliamentarians led, despite divergent ethical stances, to a generally-admired legal framework on embryos and stem cells - a contrast to what happened in the US. And Lisa Jardine has chaired the HFEA, another fine precedent. But we’ve had failures too: the GM crop debate was left too late - to a time when opinion was already polarised between eco-campaigners on the one side and commercial interests on the other. Scientists have a special responsibility to engage – though they should accept that on the economic, social and ethical aspects of any policy they speak as citizens and not as experts. But despite many worthy efforts, there are habitual grumbles that such inputs don’t have much traction with politicians. For them, the urgent trumps the important. The local trumps the global. And getting re-elected trumps almost everything. Anything that gets headlined in the media, or makes their postbag bulge, will get attention. It’s volume not quality that counts. So scientists might have more leverage on politicians indirectly - by publicising their research and letting the media do the campaigning - rather than by more official and direct channels. This is one reason - over and above the general cultural value of our findings - why “outreach” by scientists is important. And there are special things...
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