In the world of politics, there are many factors that make its nature so controversial. The sciences in particular, offer new arguments, and are gaining more attention as they enter the realm of political debate. Take climate change, space exploration, vaccinations, abortions, and agriculture for example. All of these issues present both the evidence and data from scientists along with decisions and opinions by politicians. The issue with this, however, is that the two should never have been related in the first place.
The controversial nature of science and politics is seen through the fact that science is more or less based upon facts and evidence, whereas politics are focused on people’s beliefs. This leads many to question exactly why the sciences should be associated so much with specific political parties or campaigns, when one deals with actual proven “stuff,” and the other is centered around those who push their own agenda.
The scientific process itself consists of one generating a hypothesis, carrying out that hypothesis through tests or experiments, and then accumulating the results in order to create some sort of shared knowledge or finding. This scientific method comes with the ideology of empiricism, in which the world that scientists so closely look at, is in fact the real world.
However, politicians who have the ability to pick and choose which facts or evidence works with their version of the world, can blur the line between what is known and merely what is accepted.
Take climate change for example, many associate government intervention on this issue as a generally Liberal belief, while Conservatives are typically known to not prioritize it.
“Partisanship is taking over politics. Over time, certain issues have come to be seen as more favorable to the right or the left. Back in the early 1990’s, the Republican Party made a conscious decision to step away from environmental issues because they did not see it as a winning issue for them. Republicans started to look at the environmental regulations as hurtful to Americans instead of as helping Americans.
The GOP has made it their mission to reduce as many government regulations as they can and many regulations are designed to protect the environment. Therefore, climate change is seen as a Democratic party issue so the Republicans are not going to support anything to do with climate change because they might be seen as a traitor to their own party,” Newtown High School Science teacher Karolyn Baumgartner said.
Of course, surrounding the scientific method is another powerful force: money. Most of American sciences, like those that lead to advances in cancer research, are funded by the government. Branches like the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the National Science foundation, are some of the biggest funders of American based science. However, the decisions about allocating funding are made by politicians. Therefore choosing what sciences are deemed as important is has become a political decision, not a scientific one.
“What is different today as opposed to the past is that while scientists used to be seen as above politics, as seekers of the truth, they are viewed with suspicion by some members of the public. They are viewed as just trying to get grant money or trying to forward an agenda,” Baumgartner said. Politicians may prioritize spending on national defense rather than ways to combat climate change, because they too, rely on funding from big companies in order to maintain their positions.
If a politician feels as though rejecting certain sciences will gain them more monetary support, then they will. The issue raised in this, however, is whether or not evidence that may be of critical value to the American people is being withheld due to politics.
“If most Republican politicians are getting funded by Big Oil and Big Oil sees new regulations limiting CO2 as burdensome, then those Republican politicians will vote to reduce or not implement regulations limiting CO2. They will be more likely to deny that CO2 is a problem because their source of funding demands it,” Baumgartner said.
In addition to this, the Trump administration has also stirred the science world when it stopped the sharing of certain scientific information, including the removal of many facts/statistics in regards to climate change on the White House’s website. Take this as you will, but some may see this as the Trump administration’s way to continue receiving donations from large oil companies. The association of science with politics generates many concerns amongst both the American people and scientists.
Determining whether or not air pollution is bad for the environment and people’s health is a science judgment, but what to do in response to that information is a political judgement.
It is difficult to predict exactly where science is going to go in this country so long as political leaders are the ones making the final decisions about what the American people should and should not know.