The Dangerous Interplay of Science and Politics

The stakes have never been higher

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Science is becoming more and more contested in today’s age because, unfortunately, it is becoming tossed into the same playing field as politics.

This is certainly not what scientists want, nor what they deserve. More to this point, politicians may not deserve this either; the repercussions of cross-pollinating disciplines are likely beyond their political expertise.

Politics, if it could be described as a game with certain parameters, involves a great deal of personal philosophies rooted in upbringing, socioeconomic background, race, gender, geography, family history, and more. There are push factors and pull factors that sway individuals and parties like grass in the wind.

Political views can be difficult to parse apart from someone’s individuality and core values, which is neither good nor bad, but this makes them unequivocally subjective and nuanced.

All this is to say, in short: politics is far from an objective game.

But this is precisely what makes our current predicament so dire: mixing objective science into the non-objective game of politics actually does a disservice to both fields.

A politician may believe themself to be benefitting in the short-term (through savvy rhetoric, campaigning, or specious policy) but when the long-term consequences come to fruition, things will not look good.

In the same vein, a scientist who comes to play the political game, prioritizing their role as a political actor rather than field expert, will also be unacquainted with the potential repercussions in social engineering, policy, and public relations.

Science, unfortunately, has become subject to the whims of belief and debate (i.e. “I don’t believe in this or that” vs. “the science says ___, whether I believe it or not”).

That is to say, science has become politicized, much to our peril as a people.

The point of science is to provide a set of data, facts, and projections for politicians to consult, for political parties to center themselves upon. Scientists aren’t the ones with agendas; they do not build campaigns with a predetermined goal.

Politicians, of course, are the ones who have agendas and engage in campaigning. That’s part of their job.

What is not part of their job, however, is to bend and twist science to align with their party ideology, or to manipulate scientists to deliver suspect data.

The playing field of science and politics is mingling, and both games have suffered as a result.

Science journalists and writers spend their careers translating the complexities of science into language for everyday audiences. Somewhere along the line, however, the political game and the science overlapped. Scientists suffer from this interplay just as much as their audiences.

Politicians can play their political game and treat science as a flippant rhetorical device, yet this too will result in long-term peril for all parties involved.

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Written by

Bestselling travel writer. Columnist. Author. USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

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