Scientific Sense Podcast

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Policy by convenience

A recent study from Duke (1) showing that politicians believe or disbelieve in scientific theories, primarily based on their policy orientation, should not come as a surprise to anybody who has been watching the campaigns. This is also the reason that half the country has checked out of the process, with no intent of ever returning. This number will continue to increase as more objective millennials take hold of an archaic system ran by octogenarians. The question is how long it will take to clean up the system currently dominated by a few people, with little understanding of science, technology and accelerating knowledge.

Climate change has been an interesting area of contention, as noted by the Duke study. It appears that politicians with free market based policies tend to disbelieve that it is happening. And those, with a passion for severely regulating everything to save the world, believe the world has already ended. This is an unfortunate side effect. Science and analysis should guide policy as forecasts and expectations are not religious. However, forecasts have significant uncertainty and policy alternatives often present flexibility – both in terms of timing as well as choices. Scientists, heady with data and modern tools, have all but sure that the fate of the blue planet is sealed. However, policy is about trade-offs, something academics do not seem to appreciate well. And, any trade-off decision needs to avoid premature exercise of options based on known (but uncertain) data, when waiting is often optimal for policy actions.

It is a conundrum – we have ignorant politicians attempting policy and dogmatic scientists, crying wolf. Neither is likely to get it right.

(1) Denying problems when we don't like the political solutions. Published: Friday, November 7, 2014 - 04:43 in Psychology & Sociology. eScience

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