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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Wired on science at the recent political conventions

Wired has recently published two articles on science at the two recent US political conventions.

In the first article, there is an analysis, presented in easy-to-follow chart form, of how often various scientific and medical terms were mentioned in speeches. The result? Roughly even. You probably won't be surprised to note that Democratic speakers were more likely to mention "climate" and "climate change," or that Republican speakers were more likely to mention "energy" and "oil." Three Republican speakers used scientific terms that Democrats didn't mention at all.

The article says that the purpose of the conventions is not to talk about science, but points out that, in many cases, solutions, or at least partial solutions, to our problems are often found by applying the findings of science. The author was disappointed that more attention wasn't given to funding science, and talking about scientific priorities.

In the second article, the writer takes Hillary Clinton to task for saying "I believe in science." Why? Because, the author says, science is not a belief system. It is a way of finding things out. Clinton was using shorthand for something like "I believe that climate change is occurring, and that humans can do things to slow this down, or stop it, while my opponent claims that the climate is not changing." But that shorthand could be, and is, taken wrongly, and this leads to attempts to use scientific findings in ways that they should not be.

After a discussion of the mainstream position of scientists on climate change, and a rather sympathetic discussion of why some people might doubt the scientific findings on that subject, the article says:
To reinforce the idea of science as something you can believe or not believe, to force Americans into “pro-science” and “anti-science” camps, robs science of its power. It changes the practice of science from a method for understanding into a dangerous political weapon.

Unfortunately, both parties seem to use dangerous political weapons, and most of them have little to do with scientific findings.

Thanks for reading.

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