National Service should be reintroduced but with an experimental twist; rather than having all young men serve a stint in the armed forces, all scientists should serve in the farcical world of politics.
There is clearly no other way to rid politics of the endless, dreary, ill-informed, half-baked, pseudo-science which now litters public discourse. We need insiders, people with proven authority, people who can silence the gibberers with a simple, ‘That’s not even wrong…’
In days gone by we could say: ‘A politician’s background hardly matters, as long as she has read some history books, possesses a well-functioning brain, can bat off insults and stand her ground with fleetness of thought, a silver tongue and, hopefully, a smidgeon of integrity…’ Alas, science is now huge in politics. And, frankly, scientists are the only ones who can fully manage science. They are needed.
Nearly all the big moral and ethical questions in the world today involve science: climate change, death of the oceans, genetic modification of human cells, mini-killer robots, cyber wars, over-consumption of dead meat… to name just a few about which you can hear hysterical nonsense in the media any day of the week. The decisions about these challenges are being made by people who have no idea that a cucumber has genes. Of course, politicians are not stupid, or ignorant, but most have not studied life- or a natural science. They might come from perfectly honorable disciplines, and undoubtedly have their place in politics, but they might as well have studied Medieval Mongolian folk music for all it equips them to handle scientific debate.
It’s eating at the scientists. Many feel despair, impotent and even victimised in the face of political discourse that is just cobblers. Why can we not influence the future of our planet? Well, you can. Or you could if you were able to talk the talk. Unfortunately, the rhetorical skills required of political orators are anathema to people who cherish proven facts. The dubious morality of their discourse makes us sneer.
That we can’t influence where our planet is going is our own fault. We naively assumed that because proven scientific facts were important, politicians would knock on our doors for advice. What fools were we… Many politicians studied abstracts in which arguments were built upon chosen facts, subject to emphasis, phrasing and omission. Science is, well, science. You prove a thesis or you drop it and move on. Loud, constant and erudite repetition will help you not one jot when results in the lab completely contradict you. It is this skill, our knowledge and the acknowledgement of the lack thereof, that will make scientists good politicians…
Traditionally, the scientist is hothoused in the ivory tower, and that is all well and good. But for the sake of the future of mankind, now, the scientist must learn to flower outside it – in changing debate. It’s a quantum leap we must make. Universities do not encourage political engagement in science faculties, naturally. However, if we are to make sense of our fascinating world, on the cusp of so much scientific change, and to help it on its way, and avoid cataclysmic mistakes, then we need to have some grip on the reins of power. Universities should promote and support the political ambitions of scientists.
This will only stir some sense into political debates which currently dissolve into laughable humbug. Arguably, it is our duty to get stuck in and highlight the facts among the farcical. Otherwise we’re stuck on the sidelines snarling at screens and public figures, while feeling superfluous and frustrated.