Political involvement of physics majors/graduates

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In summary, most physics majors/graduates are not more or less politically involved than the average Joe.
  • #1
Catria
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Now, I don't think it's really an explicit function of the major itself so much than a question of the intellectual dispositions and inclinations of who actually go on to major in physics, and graduate from college with a physics degree (undergrad or advanced).

Perhaps I have the wrong impression due to my particular undergrad (and no, it's not Berkeley, Columbia or CU-Boulder) where physics students (undergrad and grad) are rather politically active, and that it may not be representative of what goes on elsewhere. The contrast is obvious with the other major physics department in my hometown, where apathy runs rampant but that may also be because a different demographic attends one vs the other (academics-wise there is no significant difference).

But, since I couldn't write the question in full in the title, are physics majors/graduates, on average (or as a group) more or less politically involved than the average Joe?
 
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  • #2
Catria said:
the average Joe?

Average Joe, or average graduate?
 
  • #3
Borek said:
Average Joe, or average graduate?

We may well have different answers if you took average Joes and average graduates so, if you have an answer to provide, please list each reference frame separately if it makes a difference.
 
  • #4
I don't have an answer, I am just pointing to the fact question is poorly defined.
 
  • #5
Catria said:
Now, I don't think it's really an explicit function of the major itself so much than a question of the intellectual dispositions and inclinations of who actually go on to major in physics, and graduate from college with a physics degree (undergrad or advanced).

Perhaps I have the wrong impression due to my particular undergrad (and no, it's not Berkeley, Columbia or CU-Boulder) where physics students (undergrad and grad) are rather politically active, and that it may not be representative of what goes on elsewhere. The contrast is obvious with the other major physics department in my hometown, where apathy runs rampant but that may also be because a different demographic attends one vs the other (academics-wise there is no significant difference).

But, since I couldn't write the question in full in the title, are physics majors/graduates, on average (or as a group) more or less politically involved than the average Joe?

The problem with this question is that, unless someone has a particular statistics that addressed this particular issue, then what you will get will be either anecdotal, or simply guesses. Is this what you want? Because if it is, then we could easily be discussing either an inaccurate observation, or a non-existent issue, since none of them are backed by any reasonable evidence.

And that, by itself, boils down to why I have little patience for politics. I follow them, and I try to keep myself informed as a citizen, but I can't stand statements and assertions and claims made by many that are not backed by any kind of evidence. It seems to be a common practice in politics to proclaim "I want to cut taxes!" and somehow that is sufficient for the masses to buy into, but without any kind of details on "how much are you cutting, what are you cutting, and how will this effect so-and-so", or the proclamation that such-and-such is detrimental to the sanctity of marriage, but leaving out the details on what is meant by "detrimental" and what are the evidence to support such a claim.

So unless people have proper evidence to support your question, I will lump it into the same category as all these unsupported statements. The discussion then will simply be a matter of tastes, rather than facts.

Zz.
 
  • #6
ZapperZ said:
The problem with this question is that, unless someone has a particular statistics that addressed this particular issue, then what you will get will be either anecdotal, or simply guesses.
This is true, but it is still the same sort of question I might, myself, ask. The point is not to gather hard facts, but to take an informal poll of people's perceptions. The question might be rephrased: what's your perception of physics majors? Are they more or less politically interested than others?

What do you get from that? Well, it's a pulse-taking of the current perception of the matter at PF, at least.
 
  • #7
zoobyshoe said:
This is true, but it is still the same sort of question I might, myself, ask. The point is not to gather hard facts, but to take an informal poll of people's perceptions. The question might be rephrased: what's your perception of physics majors? Are they more or less politically interested than others?

What do you get from that? Well, it's a pulse-taking of the current perception of the matter at PF, at least.

But that is a different question than what the OP asked. I can only take it at face value and not try to formulate it into the way that I want it to appear. People who confuse or can't tell the difference between the two is another set of problem that I do not wish to tackle.

Zz.
 
  • #8
Catria said:
Now, I don't think it's really an explicit function of the major itself so much than a question of the intellectual dispositions and inclinations of who actually go on to major in physics, and graduate from college with a physics degree (undergrad or advanced).

Perhaps I have the wrong impression due to my particular undergrad (and no, it's not Berkeley, Columbia or CU-Boulder) where physics students (undergrad and grad) are rather politically active, and that it may not be representative of what goes on elsewhere. The contrast is obvious with the other major physics department in my hometown, where apathy runs rampant but that may also be because a different demographic attends one vs the other (academics-wise there is no significant difference).

But, since I couldn't write the question in full in the title, are physics majors/graduates, on average (or as a group) more or less politically involved than the average Joe?

Not in my former university, no. I also met many mathematicians and the same could be said, there were 1 or 2 involved but nothing else. Law students, apart from political science students of course, are the most involved in politics by far.
 
  • #9
ZapperZ said:
But that is a different question than what the OP asked. I can only take it at face value and not try to formulate it into the way that I want it to appear. People who confuse or can't tell the difference between the two is another set of problem that I do not wish to tackle.
I'm not reformulating it into what I want it to be. I'm allowing for this (anecdotal perceptions) being what the OP was interested in. You yourself were not clear whether that's what the OP wanted or not:
ZapperZ said:
The problem with this question is that, unless someone has a particular statistics that addressed this particular issue, then what you will get will be either anecdotal, or simply guesses. Is this what you want? Because if it is, then we could easily be discussing either an inaccurate observation, or a non-existent issue, since none of them are backed by any reasonable evidence..
My point was that, a bunch of anecdotes is not completely useless if you consider it a poll of current perceptions.
 
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  • #10
Tosh5457 said:
Not in my former university, no. I also met many mathematicians and the same could be said, there were 1 or 2 involved but nothing else. Law students, apart from political science students of course, are the most involved in politics by far.

I can understand law students getting involved: how their day-to-day jobs are performed (if they're good enough and/or attend a law school prestigious enough to get a job requiring bar passage) will be affected by political decisions.

zoobyshoe said:
I'm not reformulating it into what I want it to be. I'm allowing for this (anecdotal perceptions) being what the OP was interested in. You yourself were not clear whether that's what the OP wanted or not:

My point was that, a bunch of anecdotes is not completely useless if you consider it a poll of current perceptions.

And, sometimes, anecdotal evidence can spur the search for hard facts afterward...
 
  • #11
[QUOTEAnd, sometimes, anecdotal evidence can spur the search for hard facts afterward...[/QUOTE]

So here's an anecdote.
I was in college during the period of widespread campus unrest of protesting the war in Vietnam in the late 60s. On my campus there were two groups known as the Heads and the Jocks. The Heads were primarily physics and math majors with a few history and political science majors. They tended to be non-conformist, intellectual and politically liberal and activist. The Jocks were the athletes and tended to be conformist, politically conservative and somewhat less intellectual.

However, after I graduated I found that these stereotypes were not universal. Particularly in my field of engineering, many of the the engineers I've worked with and who were physics majors were not at all liberal. So in the end I don't think one can stereotype students by major.
 
  • #13
skeptic2 said:
So here's an anecdote.
I was in college during the period of widespread campus unrest of protesting the war in Vietnam in the late 60s. On my campus there were two groups known as the Heads and the Jocks. The Heads were primarily physics and math majors with a few history and political science majors. They tended to be non-conformist, intellectual and politically liberal and activist. The Jocks were the athletes and tended to be conformist, politically conservative and somewhat less intellectual.

However, after I graduated I found that these stereotypes were not universal. Particularly in my field of engineering, many of the the engineers I've worked with and who were physics majors were not at all liberal. So in the end I don't think one can stereotype students by major.

Yes, a lot of stereotypes don't have much to do with reality. Arguably the greatest athlete of the time (Ali) summed up his opposition to the war--in one sentence--as well as any "Head" could. Polls done at the time also showed that less educated people were more opposed to the war than those with more education.

For what it's worth, and I haven't tried to follow up on it, I have heard that engineering and business majors (as well as doctors and dentists) on the whole tend to be conservative. As for physics and math, I have no idea if there is any overall trend or even a stereotype.
 
  • #14
If you want anecdotes then my university experience was quite different to yours. Could be a cultural thing (I'm from the UK) but political activism was almost entirely the domain of humanities, arts or social-sci students. Pretty much no science students were involved, despite being a huge portion of the campus. There was one big attempt by science students to address this, there were many proposed reasons from the campus geography placing the science buildings away from the main quad to the student union policies being unpopular with scientists (anti-GM for example). Not much came from it, I felt because it blamed the non-scientists too much and didn't take into account things like the lack of political considerations in our lectures versus everyone else.
 
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Related to Political involvement of physics majors/graduates

1. What impact does a physics degree have on political involvement?

A physics degree can have a significant impact on political involvement. Physics majors possess critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and a strong understanding of data analysis, all of which are highly valued in the political realm. As a result, physics graduates often engage in political activism, advocacy, and policy-making, utilizing their knowledge and skills to address societal issues.

2. Are there any notable examples of physics graduates involved in politics?

There are many notable examples of physics graduates who have become involved in politics. For instance, former US President Barack Obama studied physics as an undergraduate at Occidental College. Additionally, Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman served as an advisor to the Obama administration, and former US Representative Rush Holt has a Ph.D. in physics from New York University.

3. How does the political climate affect the involvement of physics majors?

The political climate can have a significant impact on the involvement of physics majors. When there is a pressing need for evidence-based decision-making and scientific expertise in policy-making, physics majors may be more motivated to engage in political activities. On the other hand, a hostile political climate towards science and evidence-based thinking may discourage physics graduates from getting involved in politics.

4. What opportunities are available for physics majors to get involved in politics?

There are various opportunities for physics majors to get involved in politics. They can join organizations and groups focused on science policy, participate in political campaigns, or become advisors to policymakers. Additionally, physics graduates can use their knowledge and skills to address societal issues through their research or by advocating for evidence-based policies.

5. How can physics departments support and encourage political involvement among their students?

Physics departments can support and encourage political involvement among their students in several ways. They can offer courses or seminars on science policy and advocacy, provide opportunities for students to engage in research that has real-world applications, and invite guest speakers who are involved in politics to share their experiences. Additionally, departments can create a supportive and inclusive environment that encourages students to use their knowledge and skills to address societal issues.

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