The Politicization of Science
There is a worrisome trend toward rejecting science over ideology that we, in this community, have been up against. Distrust over climate change, vaccines, evolution, stem cells, GMO, nuclear energy and most recently viral outbreaks such as Ebola. Public attitudes on these “hot button” issues is driven by political and religious beliefs, or by self-assigned pundits in the media, and not by scientific literacy. Take the jaw-dropping assertion by a Kentucky Senator that “the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here”, hence climate change is a fraud (http://goo.gl/nD4Enu).
But there is a lesson to be learned from history, from the story of a Communist Party loyalist named Trofim Lysenko. Read the Forbes article for the reference to Lysenkoism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysenkoism) and how it destroyed the agricultural system of the Soviet Union in the middle of the last century.
Fortunately, since then, scientists have self-assembled to form professional societies that police themselves to keep out the corrupting influence of politics and support the scientific method. They are not perfect, but they help keep politics at bay.
But things are changing: Vaccines are now considered more dangerous than the diseases they protect against. Fluoride in the water sparks conspiracy theories. Despite the assurances of virologists and epidemiologists, there is public hysteria over a patient with Ebola being brought back into his home country, the US, for treatment.
We need to remember: Science isn’t a belief system. It’s proven knowledge. It either knows the answer to a problem, or admits it doesn’t and keeps looking for it. Every time we ignore the scientific community, bad things generally happen.
Are we heading towards Lysenkoism? Was Mr. Obama warning against the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives?
H/T Pratik Mukherjee for sharing the link to #ScienceSunday .