Thursday, August 31, 2017

The scientific ignorance of politicians

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:
- 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 (UK). 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 Cambridge at the last election, said he was alarmed at the lack of scientific knowledge among colleagues.
- Fernando Valladares, February 6, 2012, (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 Agesshows 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.
Woody Allen
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 ChurchillA 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?

The same post in Spanish
Thematic Thread on Politics and Economy: Previous Next
Manuel Alfonseca


  1. I may be wrong, but I don't see where you have directly quoted anything that truly shows that the politicians are ignorant of science. Your post, standing alone, shows only accusations that they are ignorant by the press (journalists are themselves often quite ignorant about science). I did not follow the links. Do they actually show the politicians being ignorant about science or are they links to questions that are being debated even among scientists?

    1. I provided the links so that readers could verify by themselves what the post says. After all, they are just a few short articles and wouldn't take too long to read. In any case, I can confirm that they are not just the opinions of journalists, and that they deal with the ignorance of politicians about quite simple scientific issues, not about questions currently debated between scientists.