Are scientists like everyone else?

Over the past several years (at least) the Pew Center has been polling AAAS scientists to better understand their politics.

Earlier this year, the Pew Center demonstrated the answer to this post's question is, "No... or rather, yes but they are not representative of everyone else."  

Scientists are, to be sure, members of the (potentially voting) public.  But on a host of key issues in American politics, scientists think differently than a random handful of US adults. A handy graph at the link shows quickly and easily how the groups differ.

Scientists themselves have been documenting the difference between scientists/experts and laymen for some time.  Especially, as it pertains to diverging risk perceptions and the value of information.
The notable Daniel Kahneman recently wrote a popular book that covered his work on the matter (and a bunch of his other work).

Whether or not it is a problem that scientists are overwhelmingly Democrats is debatable.  Concern arises given the active role in policy formulation that scientists have in recent decades and the potential for research/university institutions to become too ideological.    

This concern may have some weight given a growing controversy around unhappy college students that feel threatened by opposing ideas or more simply, non-supportive ideas  here and here.

Yet, the the Pew Center reports the public largely considers scientists as politically neutral, scientists seem to overwhelmingly feel confident about taking an active role in politics.  

One can participate in politics without necessarily taking a political position.  For instance, if an elected representative asks a question, one can provide a variety of relevant information. 

But, I think this easier said than done.  First, it takes a certain amount of self awareness, personal restraint and emotional maturity that, in my experience, most people- let alone academics- do not have.  

Second, it is practically difficult to provide a vast amount of information especially when a main purpose of coming to an expert in the first place is to simplify the process.  That is, anyone can access Google. 

Choice of information to provide becomes important.  What information is relevant largely depends on the person making those decisions and what they value.  Hence, self awareness, personal restraint, and emotional maturity become key factors in the fairness of offered information.

So, what to do...  

Is it better/easier to convince the public that their beloved scientists are not as objective and politically neutral as fable leads to believe?  Or is it better/easier to encourage scientists to own their place in the world as a value laden Everyman?  

Either direction leads to pulling the curtain back, revealing OZ, and dispelling the magic, mystery and, it would seem, the largely unnoticed political power of scientists.     


Popular posts from this blog

The Dirty Myrtle: More than meets the eye

Teamwork makes the Dream Work: collaborative management of the nation's estuaries

This Is Not A Drill: The America-First Offshore Energy Strategy