The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

May 2011 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Scientific Integrity: Politicized and Scientized

The social and environmental issues magazine, Miller-Mccune, reports from the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week on a remark by Director of Government Affairs for the National Resource Defense Council, David Goldston. Goldston argued that we should be warned of “scientized politics” in addition to the more well known, “politicization of science”. His point was that scientifically-based policies are often proclaimed without due consideration given to how certain that science is, whether it is strongly contested, and whether it suffers from problems of bias in the first place.

Despite some areas of debate such as global warming where science often is rejected out of hand, the recognition given to the influence of science in policy is frequently heard in Washington. But, it is also evident that “scientized politics” is a frequent phenomenon. Take, for example, the House Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee’s hearing on April 6th this year on the Transportation Security Administration’s Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT). Rolled out to some 160 airports in the U.S., SPOT was intended to be an extra line of security against would-be airplane bombers. It was inspired by the deception science research of psychologist Paul Ekman. But, this hearing, encouraged by counter scientific research and the current agenda of budget cuts, concluded that the whole program had been misguided and lacking in empirical basis.

This is just one instance. The panel of which Goldston was a part also pointed to the federal funding of stem cell research which under the Bush and Obama administrations has seen totally different support; in both cases defended by reference to science.

President Obama’s Scientific Integrity Directive is thus timely in its attempt to prevent “interference from politicians and government officials” in scientific research. However, Goldston’s message offers an important perspective on scientific integrity – one that will need to be addressed if politicization of science is to be tackled effectively. The latter and the scientization of politics are interdependent and it will require dedicated work in effective communication of science policy by scientists and policy-makers alike to neutralize their influence.

Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin