Politicized Science Loses Credibility

obamathemadscientistsScience has ceased to be a search for truth, and has instead become a tool of politics. Gone are the days of solitary researchers toiling away for years in their garages. Now, the vast majority of studies are conducted for the pleasure – and profit – of wealthy patrons. The wealthiest of all patrons is, of course, the government, and as government takes over the funding of more and more research, the politicization of science is only getting worse.

We are told that this is necessary for science to be impartial, but the government is far from impartial. Bureaucrats and politicians are motivated by self-interest and, like everyone else, they have an agenda. Scientists are self-interested too, and they are not stupid. They know that failing to produce the results the government wants will result in a loss of funding, so they will do whatever is necessary to massage data and fool themselves into thinking they are being rigorous when in fact they are being sloppy.

Granted, science funded by private companies faces a similar problem, but everyone is aware of it. If McDonald’s sponsors a study concluding that hamburgers are good for you, everyone is going to consider the source and it is doubtful that such research will be taken seriously. When studies are privately funded, however, at least there is competition. Since every player in a market wants their viewpoint represented, the resulting diversity of research helps keep people honest and weed out the most flawed studies.

People are widely skeptical of corporate research, and these studies are rarely used to influence major changes in public policy. Government research, on the other hand, gives the impression of legitimacy and non-partisanship. People trust government research for the same reason they trust PBS. It’s publicly funded, and we are the public, so it must represent us, right?

The faux-legitimacy of government funding can be used as a tool in politics to advance a particular agenda. If “science” can be said to dictate a particular course of action, how can anyone disagree without appearing to be “anti-science?” The battle to use science to influence policy can be seen on constant display in the nutrition industry, with activists clamoring to get certain foods banned and other special interests fighting to preserve their legality. Fortunately, the people who want to ban food have so far been beaten back by a complete paucity of evidence to support their position, but there’s no telling how long that will last. A scarier and more immediate problem comes from the government recent attempts to assume the role of de facto climate scientist.

Now that the climate change narrative is falling apart, those invested in the story of humanity’s destruction of the planet are doing everything they can to prop it up. President Obama is creating Climate Hubs to study the effects of climate change, and he’s asking Congress to create a $1 billion climate fund. He’s sinking more and more taxpayer dollars into promoting the idea that, unless we take drastic, expensive and economically devastating actions to promote administration favorites like green energy and carbon taxes, we will all be living underwater soon. Even Secretary of State John Kerry took time to step outside his usual role as diplomat to engage in some hyperbolic scare-mongering, claiming that climate change is as great a danger to the world as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The politicization of science has dangerous consequences, not just for our wallets, but for the perception of science as a whole. The Australian literary journal Quadrant warns of a scientific dark age, where all research is marked by suspicion and distrust. If people begin to view the scientific method as hopelessly tainted by politics, the consequences on future innovation and the spread of knowledge will be dire.

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One Response to “Politicized Science Loses Credibility”

  1. DemocracyPleade says:

    The idea here is that government research is inherently political, and private is inherently competitive.

    Neither has the monopoly on either trait. In fact private research tends to be extremely political – the wants of the benefactor are usually quite explicit. That's why the public finds it so suspect.

    At the same time, scientists have to, and do, compete for public research grants. So again, you're just using flawed ideology to blanket scientists as yet another group of public good-for-nothings.

    The problem with a privitized science is that it limits science in the same way commerce is already limited, it all becomes about immediate commercial payoffs. Public research is very often a much longer term investment than the private sector is willing to make.

    So while yes, science needs to be objective and not politicized, the suggestion that it needs to be fully privatized in order to accomplish those ends is suspect. Science is truth and truth is political by nature. You say Obama is politicized science by addressing climate change and then state this is a bad idea because of how expensive environmental stewardship is – a political argument.

    It's pretty clear that it's not politics in science you're against, it's politics in science that don't happen to be your own.

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