|Robert N. Proctor|
Let’s look at a few recent quotes in the press about the scientific ignorance of politicians, as a sample of a new discipline called agnotology by Robert Proctor:
- Scientific American, March 31, 2014. Headline: The House of Representatives Commitee on Science is turning into a notional embarrassment.
- Ross Pomeroy, August 23, 2012. Headline: Politicians ignorant of science because we are. This article contains the assertion that the percentage of scientists (including medical fields) in the US House of Representatives is 6.9%, about the same as the proportion of scientists in the global population (6.4%).
- Nigel Morris, August 2, 2010, Independent (
). Headline: Only
scientist in Commons ‘alarmed’ at MPs ignorance. The text explains that Julian Huppert,
a research biochemist who became the Liberal Democrat MP for UK at the last election, said he was
alarmed at the lack of scientific knowledge among colleagues. Cambridge
- Fernando Valladares, February 6, 2012, eldiario.es (Spain). Headline: When politics does not match science (article in Spanish). This article contains an interesting paragraph that shows, rather than the ignorance of the politicians, deficiencies in the author of the article who complains of their ignorance:
Why is XXI century politics separated from scientific knowledge on important issues and with profound repercussions on society? Is it because of the ignorance of these issues by the politicians? Is it because of an a priori denial, as in the Middle Ages? Or because other interests push this separation? In the age of Internet and hyperinformation, ignorance as an explanation for this divorce between politics and science seems should be discarded. The other two explanations make me shiver. For the time being I cannot think of any other.
Of the three motives he offers, the second (an a priori denial as in the Middle Ages) shows a lack of knowledge about the history of science. There was not, during the Middle Ages, such a priori denial of science. On the contrary, all our science descends in direct line from medieval science. In this regard you can read another article in this blog.
The following claim is also debatable: In the age of Internet and hyperinformation, ignorance as an explanation for this divorce between politics and science seems should be discarded. On the contrary, it should not be discarded. As seen in the other articles I have quoted, most politicians (and citizens) are ignorant in science, despite hyperinformation.
Let us look at a few quotations of famous people about this topic:
Robert Louis Stevenson: Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.
Groucho Marx: Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
Woody Allen: The vocation of a career politician is to convert every solution into a problem.
Winston Churchill: A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen.
By the way, Churchill did know about science. He even wrote papers on popular science, as indicated here.
I wrote on this topic in an earlier article titled Ideology and contempt for science. In whose hands are we?