When did political science become an oxymoron?
“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” ~Plato
The November issue of Scientific American has a marvelous article, “Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy.” The article reminds us that our founding fathers were science enthusiasts and how science has been a preeminent force in American politics for two centuries, “Yet despite its history and today's unprecedented riches from science, the U.S. has begun to slip off of its science foundation. Indeed, in this election cycle, some 236 years after Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, several major party contenders for political office took positions that can only be described as 'antiscience': against evolution, human-induced climate change, vaccines, stem cell research, and more.”
The article goes on to say that, “Such positions could typically be dismissed as nothing more than election-year posturing except that they reflect an anti-intellectual conformity that is gaining strength in the U.S. at precisely the moment that most of the important opportunities for economic growth, and serious threats to the well-being of the nation, require a better grasp of scientific issues.”
As an environmental scientist and public administrator currently employed by a for-profit education corporation, I couldn’t agree more. The Scientific American article describes the evolution of American science denialism and lists a number of contributing factors, from religious fundamentalism to postmodernism. To these, I would add one more: The undue influence of select powerful corporations—many tied to fossil fuels—on elections and policy.
Satirist Ambrose Bierce, in his scathing-but-often-spot-on The Devil's Dictionary (1911), defined politics as follows: “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” Modern America is more plutocracy than democracy.
The irony is that a few dominant corporations, acting purely in their own best interests, are sabotaging not only the U.S. economy but the very future of life on our planet. How ironic that these few businesses, so careful with their own business capital, are profiteering by depleting the irreplaceable shared natural capital of our planet. A few folks are getting rich on a “fire sale” enhanced by campaign-financed “scorched earth” policies that ultimately will leave all of us holding a smoking bag.
In another article in the same issue, Scientific American proclaims that “Future Jobs Depend on a Science-Based Economy.” Again, as a trained policy analyst and manager at America’s first Ecotech Institute, I couldn’t agree more. As the article relates, “A high-tech economy needs the best scientists and engineers, yet in science and math, U.S. students are middling. The Obama administration has had some success by tying grants for K–12 schools to Common Core math standards, but neither candidate has come out in support of the Next Generation Science Standards recommended by the National Research Council.” Surely we can find a little money amidst our military expenditures that exceed the next 14 countries’ combined military spending to fund this form of national security?
In the words of Charles de Gaulle, “I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” We need leaders who understand science, not politicians who scorn it.
“Mankind will never see an end of trouble until... lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power... become lovers of wisdom.” ~Plato, The Republic
“Truth is not determined by majority vote.” ~Doug Gwyn
Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at email@example.com. Twitter: @kylecrider
image: Argonne National Laboratory via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)