Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Science in Politics (part one of infinity)

Firstly, my apologies for not posting for some time. I have been very busy and chose to let the blog slip rather than my work or personal relationships, I hope you understand.

I am a great believer in evidence, logic and reason as the basis for political decision making – that necessarily has to include the softer and less well defined sciences of sociology and psychology – but where possible the best evidence available should guide decision making rather than dogma or 'gut feeling'. It is therefore with some dismay that science and evidence being repeatedly sidelined in the name of political ideology or naked “lowest common denominator” approval seeking. Let me give a few examples from various parts of the political spectrum, the 'traditional' and religious right may carry the lions share of the guilt here, but the left and liberals are far from innocent.

The Liberals:

Generally my views (I hope generally guided by the best evidence and not just taste) would put me somewhere in the 'liberal' and slightly left position. However, there exists a substantial fraction, quite possibly a majority, in this camp who embrace pseudo-science, woolly post-modernist thinking and close their eyes to the evidence. This can probability trace its roots to the hippy and green movements, with some classic examples being organic foods, alternative 'medicine' (many of the Lib Dems in the UK signed up to an early day motion in support of homoeopathy - if your MP or candidate is on that list you could email them and see if they actually know what homoeopathy is and remind them there is an election coming up), extreme cultural relativism (eg, allowing religious groups to mistreat 'their own' children in the name of cultural equality and tolerance), and my personal greatest bug-bare; outright rejection of nuclear power without discussion.
If one examines the long term energy security situation, the environmental consequences of fossil fuel economy, growing demand for energy based on energy intensive economy coupled with continued population growth and the cost and practicalities of alternatives then it is obvious we can't sustain our lifestyle based on either conventional technology or solar / wind power. Short of nuclear fusion becoming a practical proposition very soon (appears unlikely despite good progress) nuclear fission looks to be the best hope we have of maintaining our lifestyle without unacceptable consequences for others around and after us. I would guess that this actually has much of its origins in the pre-1990s where the word 'nuclear' could not be used without conjuring up all too possible apocalyptic visions of WW3 or memories of accidents in early, badly designed and run power plants such as Chernobyl.
Either way, look up 4th Gen nuclear power plants. They are mostly 'safe' by design. I would certainly rather live down wind from a new nuclear power plant than a coal fired one. That's not to say nuclear power is risk free or a panacea, but it should not be absolutely ruled out of consideration as part of future energy policy.

“If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out”

The infamously named 'Nutt Sack' affair.

  • The Digital Economy Bill which I have commented on previously.

  • The Conservatives:
  • Extremely strict policies on personal drug use and internet 'piracy'.
  • Criminal justice system based on punishment rather than public protection and rehabilitation.
  • 'Trickle down' economics – all be it much watered down from the US neocon approach.
  • Legislative and economic promotion of 'Traditional' (actually Victorian) 'family values'.

  • These are just a very few examples picked off the top of my recent memory, there are doubtless other examples more deserving of inclusion. The point is that politics often totally fails to reflect the evidence and can lag 50 years behind the science (racial differences, smoking promotion, the information age, climate, drugs law, rehabilitation, transport policy, education techniques and content, health policy, fertility and abortion, etc). But why?
    I'll be giving my thoughts on that soon, but I'd like to hear what others think. Also feel free to post your 'favourite' recent example of anti-scientific policy...