Thinking Beyond Science Debate 2008

Science Debate 2008

Science Debate 2008

The Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Federation of American Scientists, the Scientists & Engineers for America, AudubonWorld Wildlife Fund… the Society for Amateur Scientists… the Sierra Club… The list of activist organizations representing the multitude of issues important to Scientists and the Scientifically aware goes on and on and on.

Now there’s Science Debate 2008, which I completely support and believe everyone should get behind.

At the same time, I have to wonder, is this only watering down the field even more? I realize this is an effort focused around a single goal, getting the candidates to acknowledge and speak to those issues of interest to the Scientifically Aware community, but why did Mooney, Kirshenbaum, Chapman and others have to set things in motion? Why didn’t one of the established organizations listed above take the initiative? Why don’t we have an organization that stands out in assuming responsibility for organizing all Science-minded people around political issues all the time?

The Science-focused community is fiercely independent, making it a big tent and giving it the power to forge its individual perspectives in the fires of honest, constructive debate. At the same time, this independence means that we don’t form a cohesive voting block. Oddly enough, the fact that we can’t be stereotyped politically, like African Americans, Evangelicals, Hispanics, Feminists, Dittoheads, or Unions means the political world need not acknowledge us at all.

What unites Scientists ideologically? I was surprised to learn that several Scientists I met at NCNBC 2008 specifically stated they were not Environmentalists. I had always assumed Biodiversity and Sustainability would be lock step with a Scientific Worldview, but this was not so. Scientists and Enlightenment ideologues believe in science funding, science education, and prohibition of political interference in science, but they don’t necessarily agree on what science has to say about anything. Go figure… constructive disputation is the nature of science.

We tend to think of Science as above the fray, and it is and it needs to be above the fray to maintain its intellectual integrity. But you know what? The pundits don’t care!!! They don’t acknowledge any integrity. As far as politics is concerned, Scientists are all ready a self-serving special interest of cosseted, pussified academics who over hype the importance of species extinction, global warming, and pollution because they’re trying to scare people into giving them more taxpayer money.

Scientists can ignore the political world all they want, but the political world will demonize them regardless.

The reality is that Science needs a platform. Science must begin endorsing candidates. They must get active in politics. In 1983 Carl Sagan single-handedly convinced Senator Proxmire to drop his campaign against SETI funding, and Congress went on to vote in $1.5 million for SETI projects as a result. That’s what one rational mind engaging politics was able to accomplish. Imagine what a few hundred thousand could do.

What political business model works right now? In their coverage of the Nevada Caucuses, the mainstream media focused strongly on the Labor Union vote, an organization powerful in numbers and united in purpose so that whoever runs for office must obtain their stamp of approval.

Scientists have enough obligations eating up their time without politics. This is why Scientists, Educators, and Science Proponents need the equivalent of a Labor Union, to speak with Candidates on our behalf, secure promises from them to support our special interests, evaluate how they serve those interests, and either reward those politicians or hold them accountable. They’re our public servants; let’s get Pavlovian on them.

Scientists and Enlightenment Scholars do share a stereotype. We are highly-educated, inquisitive, regularly challenge our ideas, and we are also fun-loving people, who genuinely enjoy our intellectual pursuits for their own sake, rather than solely as a means to an end. Give us a convenient organization we can send $20 a month that will e-mail us when to write our Representatives and recommend who we should vote for.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the media had to factor in the “Science and Enlightenment Vote” when discussing election strategies?

Currently, I feel the Union of Concerned Scientists is the organization best serving this need, but I’m open to running with the herd if we could all get behind just one organization.