Impolitical science

Last week’s _Economist_ “featured”: “three”: “articles”: detailing how domestic politics has held America back in the space race. The punditocracy maintains that we may be headed into a Cold War 2, and the issue for those interested in science is whether or not the US will champion scientific research and science education as it did during the first cold war. The scientific debate in US politics has fallen victim to the culture wars. Over the past 15 years we have seen a decline of the scientific American. It has been predicted that by 2010, 90% of PhDs in the physical sciences and engineering will be Asians.

The current US election is a reflection of the lack of appreciation for science. Candidates have been using the latest communications technologies to generate cash, organize volunteers and get the vote out. However, no candidate wants to talk about the science enabling their campaigns — not to mention the science that will improve the economy, solve the energy crisis, and save the environment.

ScienceDebate 2008 “never happened”: It was cancelled. Meanwhile, both candidates took the time to pander to Pastor Rick at SaddleBack, a worrying — if continuing — trend of electoral politics in the US. The last eight years weren’t necessarily friendly to science and science education, but now we find that McCain’s runningmate Sarah Palin wants “creationism taught in schools”:

Is science too difficult a topic? To obscure to debate? Or is it taken for granted? Perhaps everyone knows that despite the electioneering, science will always be there to fall back on. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be much more productive to discuss science upfront and develop solid policies rather than simply praying and failing, only to have to start all over again?

*(Sept 1) UPDATE:* “Obama just answered”: the policy questionnaire from ScienceDebate 2008. More at “Slashdot”: Mr Obama, if you are reading ComingAnarchy, may I suggest you drop your protectionist economic policies? Cheers – YH

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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11 Responses to Impolitical science

  1. James says:

    Rational decision-making based on evidence doesn’t appeal to religious voters.

  2. ElamBend says:

    There is more interest in technology than for science from the public, gadgets over ideas.

    It could also be that the nations decision makers aren’t making a good enough “sell” on such things.

    In the universities, the majority of engineering majors, take lucrative jobs after earning their bachelors and then never pursue their Masters or Phds.

    Finally, don’t forget, there are many viable private space programs occurring right now. Perhaps, they are the preferred way forward.

  3. Selil says:

    Science, technology, engineering and math as silos of the University education system continue to be eroded by little to no interest by American high schoolers. The American University education system unlike about any other country on the planet is competitive at an international level. NO, other country has the preponderance of foreign students that are found in the American system. This is not necessarily bad. It creates some of the best students in the world.

    The issues are that American students exiting the k-12 system are woefully unprepared. The National Academies of Science have prepared and delivered dozens of documents on how to fix this problem. From political solutions with no cost, to extravagant dismantling of the mega-school, to curricula change with little response. Unfortunately like some economists would say the school systems are compensated or incentivized to maintain the status quo.

    Neither candidate or party has a real platform for science. Senator McCain has been uninterested in discussing science as it might disrupt his “evolution” constituency. In a specific case Senator Obama visited a University to discuss cyber space security and “forgot” to even invite the resident world expert and advisor to the last three presidents. Instead filling his panel with political hacks and henchmen.

    The have a phrase to describe when religious fervance creates a period of intolerance and intellectual despotism is cloaked in the abject respectability of fear and loathing. We have entered the intellectual dark ages and the first casualty in this remarkable dimming of the information enlightenment period is the foundations and considerations of science, technology, engineering and math.

    For your consideration

  4. Younghusband says:

    Thanks selil, I was hoping an educator like you or Mark would stop by.

    bq. American students exiting the k-12 system are woefully unprepared.

    Absolutely agree with that. Also, from “your post”:

    bq. I have met many junior faculty and professionals who have a master’s degree in a liberal art and another masters degree in a science or engineering discipline. These are the hope of Lazarus rising and the rebirth of the Renaissance man. Yet in academia they are pushed aside as not having focus or depth.

    You describe me. Though I don’t think specialization is what has killed the education system, I do think there is a lack of interdisciplinary work done (and I don’t mean there should be more “Interdisciplinary Studies” courses for undergrads).

    Anywho… thinking about science in national politics.

    Japan is an example of a country where science has been at the forefront of politics. For example, after the Taepodong Shock, Japan rushed to get its own satellites in orbit. During the oil crises of the 1970s Japan began a national effort to move from “energy-intensive” industry to “knowledge-intensive” industry: “Instead of using the resources in the ground, we [will] use the resources in our head.”

    From these examples we can see the common factor is crisis. For the US I think the economy, energy and the environment all count.

    With the stability of the 1990s America became complacent, distracted by the culture wars while Chinese and Indian exchange students used the advanced American university education system.

    The US needs a leader like Reagan or JFK to spark interest in science once again. It doesn’t look like Obama or McCain are going to be that leader.

  5. Selil says:

    As well as myself with a BA, and BS, and my spouse with a MA, MS. There is so much that can be done, and woefully little that has been done. My hope is that authors such as yourself and others create a memetic event horizon to push this idea as a grass roots change since political leadership seems woefully incompetent.

    I keep hoping that as the Lions of academia find hallowed ground in retirement there may be hope to bring change to the University, the k-12 education system and the governmental processes. I was hoping that this election cycle would bring a visionary to the oval office, but the expediency of meeting the fundamentalist bread bowl politics of the electorate can not be ignored by either party. In reality it is as much a people problem as it is a politician problem.

  6. Younghusband says:

    Via Slashdot I just saw this interview from NPR two weeks ago:

    “Candidates Vow To Keep Politics Out Of Science”:

  7. DJ says:

    Younghusband, that wired article is incorrect. Palin does not support banning creationism. She supports allowing schools and communities to teach both if they choose. She is on record saying she would never force anyone to teach it.

    Wired choose to quote her out of context. Not a surprise considering the editorial slant of that organization.

  8. Younghusband says:

    Thanks for that DJ, that does make me feel better. I would like to point out that:

    bq. Members of the state school board, which sets minimum requirements, are *appointed by the governor* and confirmed by the Legislature.

    [my emphasis] and:

    bq. The Republican Party of Alaska platform says, in its section on education: “We support giving Creation Science equal representation with other theories of the origin of life. If evolution is taught, it should be presented as only a theory.”

  9. tdaxp says:

    Obama’s answered displayed a 19th century view of science. They were very disturbing.

  10. Yours Truly says:

    To Selil :

    I know very little ’bout science or engineering. Math is beyond yours truly (can’t count beyond a hundred thousand). But if this is the rate the U.S. of A is goin’, it’s gonna be a real disaster for Americans in the long run.

    Scenario : what if a major no. of math & physics guys from India & china were to leave the U.S.? What then? The U.S. is NOT the only place where they can make their green, no matter how absurd the notion of above scenario.

    Just my two cents.