Throwback Thursday: You NEED more science in your politics (Synopsis)

“One of my favorite philosophical tenets is that people will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people’s minds.”  -Frank Zappa

I want you to think about your deep, personal convictions. Think about your values, the issues that you feel define you at your core, and your most strongly held beliefs. What, if anything, would compel you to change them?

Is there any evidence that you could be presented with that would sway you?

Honestly, I sure hope so! Because when we make decisions that affect this world, I very much think that all of our decisions would be better if we understood -- to the best of scientific understanding -- what reality is actually telling us about itself.

Image credit: © 2005/2011 Pearson Education / Prentice Hall, Inc. Image credit: © 2005/2011 Pearson Education / Prentice Hall, Inc.

And even though I hate writing about politics, I think it'd be a better world for us all if, regardless of what your political beliefs were, we all agreed to inform our politics with science.

Do you agree? Go and read the whole thing here.


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I think this is a great article Ethan except for the fact that some of the contentious topics that you mentioned do not always have black and white consensus views from scientists, there can be shades of grey involved and also scientists are human beings that occasionally suffer from a groupthink mentality on occasions. For example, genetically modifying plants to make them more drought resistant to feed an exploding human population makes a lot of sense however genetically modifying plants to make them glysophate resistant might make less sense if the people who are eating these plants are also ingesting the chemical glysophate that has inevitably infiltrated their food and water supplies and some are then suffering unforeseen health consequences. I just watched this youtube video today interviewing a scientist about possible health consequences resulting from ingesting GMO foods that have been sprayed with glysophate and although she appears to be defying scientific consensus a lot of what she says makes a lot of sense to me. As a result I want to have GMO labeling simply so that I can avoid eating glysophate resistant GMO plants.

By Helen Barratt (not verified) on 24 Apr 2014 #permalink

Something you should know about toll-free phone numbers, such as Vaccine "Truth" at 1-888-249-1421:

The company that has the phone number (in this case Vaccine "Truth") pays for every call, by the minute.

The more you call those anti-vax quacks, and the longer you stay on the phone, the more they pay.

The other thing you should know is that their phone bill will list every phone number that has called their toll-free number that month, including your phone number after you call them.

Therefore, be nice, and ask lots of questions.

On a more serious note, and in reply to the main issue here:

There's another reason why scientists don't get involved in politics.

Watch the videos of the physics conferences where the discovery of the scalar boson (Prof. Higgs prefers we call it that, rather than naming it after him) was announced. Watch very closely for the emotional and social tone in those meetings.

Then watch the politicos on any mainstream news broadcast.

From the perspective of the culture of science, politics is an inherently dirty nasty business, that usually boils down to fighting over power and money. Compared to making new discoveries about nature, fighting over power and money is as distasteful as wading into a cesspool with nothing on but a bathing suit. "It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it" acknowledges the fact but does not solve the problem.


Changing opinions based on evidence is painless as long as one holds, as a primary value, that reality is what it is, not what we wish it is.

After reading the first EPA report on climate change in the early 1980s (four volumes) I changed my opinion on nuclear power from against (waste disposal issue) to in favor (climate emergency requires use of all available non-carbon energy sources).

I changed my position about the yearly flu vaccine when I learned about herd immunity: from "I'm healthy so I don't need it" to "it's a civic responsibility for everyone to get it, even healthy people."

Also, very often, when one's preferred hypotheses are falsified, it's because nature is _far more interesting_ than one expected.

Again, extremism is not the answer. The one who wins an argument with me can see my point of view as well. Here we see no mention of Mercury, which you have, somewhat surreptitiously, admitted as deletrious for some people. The facts do not change when the facts are presented, or, when omitted. Mercury is just as hot as Venus.

By Paul Kestyn (not verified) on 25 Apr 2014 #permalink

"Mercury is just as hot as Venus."

This ain't entirely true, the surface of Venus is hotter than the daylight side of Mercury.

With an average temperature of 460 Centigrade for Venus with a 427 C maximum on the daylight side of Mercury.

The main difference is that the temperature of Venus does not vary that much on the day or night side of the planet.
Because that thick atmosphere is excellent at keeping the heat in.

Where as the night side of Mercury gets very cold. (-170 C or so)

To answer Frank Zappa's observation, the object should not be to change a person's mind, but to create cognitive dissonance. If a person is very set in their beliefs then you can't convince them that they're wrong, but you can create cognitive dissonance. After that, they are much more reluctant to debate that particular topic and perhaps much less likely to attempt to defend their old position. In the future they may abandon their untenable position, maybe. That's as good as it will get for someone with deep-seated beliefs, though.

Unfortunately as people we are contradictory and to view all topics objectively is not always possible. One must remember that people come from different cultural and ideological backgrounds and some preconceived ideas are implanted more deeply than others. In an ideal world Science and Politics could work perfectly together to better humanity, but as this is not an ideal world our inconsistency defers such an ideal system. Politics is not objective, Science is and this clash would make it very difficult for them to work together coherently. 12116620