Back in December, Rees Kassen wrote an editorial for Nature arguing that if scientists want political decisions to reflect good science, they have to get involved.
scientists[…] think too highly of their own view of the world and fail to appreciate the complex, multifarious nature of decision making. Our mistake is to think that science will be given a privileged voice on an issue. This is almost always wrong. From a politician’s point of view, science is an interest group like any other.
As if to confirm this point, a response was published in the most recent issue of Nature by Brett Favaro, in which he asserts “Nuh uh!”
Scientists must be impartial arbiters of data, not political agents. They need to be able to negotiate with governments, irrespective of their political hue, and to advise politicians in a useful and timely way.
Scientists have been trying to play “impartial arbiters” for decades, and what has it gotten us? Half of the political spectrum in the US disputes the reality of evolution and climate change. We have a political system in the US that is happily fact free about the simple things, does anyone really still believe that impartial facts will convince someone on issues as complicated at global climate or public health? The public and even policy makers listen to people that are passionate, and the sad fact is, scientists are often afraid to rise above the data and actually advocate.
Favaro asserts that academic researchers can’t compete dollar-for-dollar with professional lobbyists, so we shouldn’t even try. I call bull-shit. If scientists are passionate and vocal about our issues we can make ourselves heard.
Update (2/28/2012): Brett Favaro weighed in below in the comments – check it out!
PS – To any graduates students reading this: if you’re interested in making yourself heard politically, check out the ASBMB’s Hill Day. It’s a free trip to DC where you learn about policy making and meet with your congress people to try to influence their votes. I did it last year and had a blast. Go apply!