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News Science to Society, Come In Society! (politics as mediator?)

  1. Feb 21, 2006 #1


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    The idea for this thread came from the recent responses to my question about https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=110026".

    It also comes from this thread, about https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=109376".

    My intent is to kick off some discussion and debate around the role of science in politics, and the extent to which scientists' voices are heard in the setting of (science) policy.

    The basic idea is that politics (and policy) mediate between science and society, so the goal of all of us - scientists, non-scientists, members of societies, etc - is to optimise that mediation for effective and efficient realisation of wishes, desires, and hopes (and the alleviation of fears, pains, and suffering).

    Science to Society, Come In Society!

    … a rambling set of thoughts about what 'science' might want to say (or is trying to say) to society, in the hope that politics can find a way to facilitate the conversation, help reach mutual understanding, set realistic goals, and set us all on a path towards effective and efficient implementation.

    Hey, "no man is an island", we know that individuals of Homo sap. don't do well alone, but this arrangement into nation states is pretty darn stupid - the woes and ills Nature can deliver, be they biological (e.g. SARS, avian flu), geological (e.g. earthquakes, global warming), or astronomical (e.g. asteroid impacts), respect no national, state or other boundaries. We also know that the bounties deliverable by Nature, be they biological (e.g. food crops, fish), geological (e.g. oil deposits), or astronomical (e.g. sunlight) are also invisible to such boundaries. Further, we know that efficient allocation of things that are scarce (which is everything we need, including water, air, and sunlight) is far, far better served by eliminating these silly boundaries (e.g. free trade in labour, goods, and services).

    So what's with these boundaries, nation states, borders and other nonsense, Society? Why not take the rock-solid results we in Science have found, and deliver billions of individual Homo sap. individuals from hunger, sickness, unhappiness, and so on? Deliver them to wellness, happiness, etc?

    What's that? What about values, ethics, morals, religion, and so on? Hey, Society, don't you know that we know where these things come from? Haven't you been reading what we've discovered, in Psychology, Evolutionary Biology, etc? OK, OK, so you go set the common desires, and we'll tell you where the internal inconsistencies are, what's readily achievable (at what cost) and what's not, and how you might go about getting there, OK?

    Some of the gross inanities (or not - let's have a discussion) we can help you address are:
    • You want well-being, both in body and mind (health and happiness), but why oh why do you persist with such crazy, wasteful practices as {insert your country's health-care policies and practices here}? We know how to efficiently distribute (new) knowledge to practitioners and deliverers, we know how to set up systems that do a very good job of ensuring efficiency in delivery, etc. We even know how to tailor messages to suit the brain-wiring of Homo sap. individuals, recognising the overlaps and gaps between such wiring and the way the real world actually works.
    • You want your children and grand-children to eat fish; to be able to enjoy forests and rivers and mountains, drink cheap, clean water; etc. Buy why oh why do you persist in such crazy, destructive (to your wishes) practices as unrestricted fishing in non-territorial oceans? Destruction of wetlands? Felling of forests for toothpicks and paper? We know how to 'set the switches' of policy so as to encourage the maximisation of the long-term attainment of these goals
    • You want to be able to continue to treat (some) illnesses cheaply, effectively, and quickly. But why oh why do you persist in such counter-productive practices as feeding livestock antibiotics? Of not implementing effective treatment regimes for marginal members of society (drug users, the homeless, minorities)? Of penalising your poorer society members when they seek cures for their (treatable) illnesses (do you know that if you don't cure them, it'll be only a matter of little time before you, Mr RichMan, may be infected with a resistant form of that same bug?)
    • You don't want to have to 'clean up' disasters such as Katrina/New Orleans, Sumatra tsunami, Kobe earthquake; you'd rather 'get ready' ahead of time (sure you can't control a hurricane, or predict an earthquake, but you can get ready to deal with the consequences). But why oh why do you persist in ignoring what we've told you a hundred times over? What's so impossible to understand as the technology of "importance = probability times impact"?
    And then there's the long term. All the things you so love about what science delivered - computers, medicines, cars, TV, warm comfortable and safe houses, the internet, books - came from application of the scientific method, and pure research. We can't say what the pure research of today will deliver to you, your children or your grandchildren; we can say that if you stop the pure research, the cornucopia for wonders will stop, one day.

    OK, so superconducting supercolliders are expensive, and sometimes some scientists do really, really stupid things, and our internal processes and procedures (peer-review, theory generation, etc) aren't perfect and could be improved. But why don't you talk with us about how to do a better job? Why not discuss with us how to set priorities? How to allocate budgets? What good ways to raise funds are??

    Society to Science, Come In Science!

    {someone else's turn}

    Scientists are members of Society, Aren't they?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2006 #2
    It would seem that in America science is no longer very popular. Science too often is seen as the source of many "evils".
    Automation is responsable for the loss of jobs.
    There are ethical quandries involving cloning.
    There is a problem with radioactive waste because of nuclear reactors.
    World wide ramifications of WMDs such as nukes and biologicals.
    Insanely high prices for health care because of lobbies like the pharmecutical companies.
    The supposed dangers of genetically engineered crops.
    Ect ect...
    I think that one of the major things that disillusions people about science is the fast paced advancement. You're average citizen not only can't understand most of it but when they try they can't keep up because of constant changes.

    Education is really the root issue in my opinion. The people need to be prepared for understanding these issues and they aren't.
  4. Feb 21, 2006 #3


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    Quick administrative suggestion: lock 'em, and point people to this thread. They aren't finished, and they aren't going to be finished if new threads on the same question keep starting.

    The "role" is proportional to the "scientific literacy rate" outside the scientific community; that is, near zero.

    If the scientific community is depending upon "politics" to "mediate" with the rest of the world, we're not headed for a dark age, we're in it.


    Not gonna "point by point" until this thread takes a direction.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  5. Feb 21, 2006 #4


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    I agree with TSA about education.

    When our government manipulates scientific documents, such as reports on global warming, there is no public questioning or outrage. Everything has been "dumbed down," whether the media or even our political leaders. American society has become spoiled, lazy and self-centered. They are interested in how they can obtain more and more material things with the least amount of work possible. They only care about their daily lives as it relates to these material things, including entertainment. They know a lot about sports, movies, work gossip, etc., but couldn't tell you a thing about science except how to text message. They think science and even politics are just for geeks--I've had people make fun of me because I didn't know the answers in a T.V. trivia game. I often ask people what difference will it make who won a Grammy or Oscar, or even an Olympic medal in comparison to food, water, air, fuel, safety, medical care, etc. In the meantime I pay extra to get the science channel, and donate to PBS when I can. Our priorities are so out of whack.

    Last night I watched a program where a teacher took his young students on a field trip. He took them out on a boat to collect methane from the bottom of a river. At first the children didn't seem very engaged, but as they began to participate and saw they could produce fire they became very interested. This is just one of many examples. We need teachers that cultivate, and not just regurgitate--especially since most parents are too busy being shallow. And it needs to start as early in life as possible.

    The first step is to put an end to the influence peddling by lobbyists/special interests by making campaigns equal via public announcement debates. Then we would be more likely to reduce spending on political agendas that produce nothing of value to society. Then hopefully there would be more funds available for education. I don't know how the public and politicians can be convinced of the importance of education (and spending on education). Unfortunately the current administration likes the masses to be ignorant just like the Catholic Church during the Dark Ages--all the better to manipulate.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2006
  6. Feb 21, 2006 #5
    Hmm...so science translated into policy = leftism? I must've missed the boat on that one, somewhere around psychology, OR/ILR, and evolutionary biology. But that's just the RWA in me talking. :biggrin:
  7. Feb 21, 2006 #6


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    This OP sounds a lot like 'having your cake and eating it too'. It sounds like strict communism and i honestly feel like the distribution of resources would fall short of what people expect it to be. I mean think how improbable it is for a government to basically provided a utopia for everyone while having their resource allocations slashed as per the 2nd idea in this thread. Think of it as.... hell, what my university seems to be trying to do. They want to increase enrollment, more class time, more tutoring time and they want to cut funds and work cheaper and "more efficient". Well so far its a nice disaster and all...

    Hopefully it could work in a global sense... but i have a feeling there are simply too many people to allow this to happen. It becomes a bigger problem when you're using market economies. We want free health care, cars that produce honey as exaust, freedom to do anything and everything we want.... and some people seem to think such a day dream is possible on a global scale. Does anyone think we could just allow copies of LA (technology-wise) to be popping up around the world for 6 billion people?

    Maybe 1, not 6.
  8. Feb 21, 2006 #7
    I did want to respond to this point, since it raises the social sciences and evolutionary biology in the context of policy judgements. Social science theories are highly conditionalize against a variety of operating definitions (to the nth degree of precision in demographics, geography, history, etc.)--let's not even get into the study of scientific communities and their practices. To a lesser extent evolutionary biology suffers from this lack of universal explanatory and predictive power. As such, it strikes me as a bit ...off to sum up the process of crafting a better society in such a short treatise.
  9. Feb 21, 2006 #8
    I'll play along....

    Society to Science, Come In Science!

    How much do you need to know to implement this? Knowledge for knowledge sake is a lot of money. Would there ever be an end to science exploration in leu of science implementation?
  10. Feb 22, 2006 #9
    Great stuff, Nereid! Now we’re talking… This is exactly the sort of discussion I was hoping would occur on the PF politics boards, and here it is!

    I totally agree. As a person who has formally studied political science (that is my own specialist field), the political science equivalent of what you speak of here is internationalism – the eradication of artificial borders in favour of a united social entity, humanity.

    Who are the hungry and the sick? They are the poor. Profit cannot be made out of the poor. So the only conclusion I can reach, as a social scientist, is that a socio-political economic system set up to benefit the rich will never look after Homo sapiens, only Rich Homo sapiens. The motivation in the current socio-economic system is not the betterment of humanity: it is private profit.

    What are those? Capitalist ‘ethics’: look after ‘number one’. Individualism, greed, private profit. Remember what ‘the bottom line’ is – and all must be sacrificed towards that end. That is the ethos of capitalism. In other words, there is no morality, there are no values, there are no ethics – other than the worship of the Almighty Dollar.
    Nereid, I am constantly embroiled in ‘nature-versus-nurture’ arguments on this issue. Many on these forums (and elsewhere) argue with me that it is ‘human nature’ to be greedy and selfish – ie. that capitalism is ‘wired into’ who humans are. As a social scientist, and as a practising teacher and just as an observant member of the human race, I cannot agree with this: there is too much evidence to the contrary. The whole debate boils down to this one issue: whether or not capitalism and greed is ‘in the genes’. I have developed my own views on this matter over years of reading and experience, but the forces acting against this view (the propaganda people are subjected to about this issue) is so overwhelming, I am unable to break through it when trying to discuss the issue with people who are so brainwashed they will not question… It’s very frustrating.

    • Who benefits from such crazy, wasteful practices? That is the question. Because, as mentioned in another thread on health, even though ordinary people lose out (get sick, die, etc), big pharmaceutical companies (and health insurance companies, etc) benefit. Again, what is the obstacle to human well-being and progress? Greed, the desire to maximise private profit….in a word, capitalism.

      But as a CEO, I want to make money for my shareholders NOW (who cares about tomorrow?). As a shareholder, I want to make money NOW (again, who cares about children, grandchildren, etc? The Almighty Dollar… now).

      They get fatter more quickly, more of them survive in seemingly good health (with a bit of manipulation of research findings from relevant food authority agencies) and I can make more profits, of course! And that’s all that counts: my profit-maximisation.
      Who’ll pay? They’re useless anyway – not worth saving… After all, anyone who doesn't have a job is personally responsible for being in that position: they're lazy, ne'er do wells who want to just laze around all day drinking beer and lolling about in the gutter. If they don't want to work and pay health insurance, if they want to take drugs, if they want to be loser members of minority groups, it's their own fault.

      DISCLAIMER: Note, all – I am ‘speaking aloud’ as a capitalist in the last few paragraphs above (when I speak as a 'capitalist'); I do not personally hold these opinions! I just thought I’d point this out before someone misunderstands me and thinks I could possibly hold such ‘values’. Anyway, I could answer the rest – but a bit of thinking will demonstrate that all my answers would be as above. This is why I truly believe that unless humanity evolves a social structure that is more egalitarian and humane than capitalism, humanity is doomed to extinction. Politics is everything.
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  11. Feb 22, 2006 #10
    Ok - the context, as I see it, is a world gone mad:
    * environmental devastation (probably catastrophic and irreversible) threatens and scientific reports warning of this are being stifled or falsified by politicians;
    * the intellectual work of leading scientific minds is being used to develop new weapons of mass destruction (whether these be nuclear, chemical, or whatever) instead of being used to develop sustainable solutions to the many problems faced by humanity (eg. environmental degradation, the evolution of drug-resistant diseases, energy sources, malnutrition, etc);
    * the use of religious dogma to counter and discredit scientific thinking at a time when science is most needed to find solutions to the problems mentioned above… In brief, that is what I meant by ‘context’. As leading members of society, and as people who have a lot of specialist knowledge (and therefore a lot of power, potentially), I think scientists should realise that they have a grave social responsibility and that it is their social duty to speak on behalf of humanity appropriately when issues arise in their line of work that will affect not only humans who are alive now but future generations as well. Sorry if I’m not saying this very clearly – but I hope you get the general idea of what I meant….
  12. Feb 22, 2006 #11


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    My original thought was that it would be nice if science protected society from politics. Perhaps scientists could form a political party with a pro-science platform. :cool:
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2006
  13. Feb 22, 2006 #12


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    To add to this, the biggest source of this misperception is the identification of science with technology. I'm no technophobe, but what attracted me to science as a youth was the ability it had to uncover knowledge about the natural world, and that was mostly it. I wanted a better rapport with my world achieved through sensitive understanding, not "better living through chemistry." There is a great deal of intellectual pleasure that can be found through the grasping of nature's mechanics that is not achieved by simply switching on a machine that upsets the apple cart for as many people as it helps. When your only exposure to science is through its practical applications, you're not getting much of a view.
  14. Feb 23, 2006 #13


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    Always been that way, and always gonna be that way. People aren't rational. It remains a contextual factor, but don't expect it to change.

    Scientific literature is open. Abstractions, digests, and confabulations of the scientific literature are products of the popular press and media, seldom reflect the content of the original literature, and useless for purposes of informed discussion or decision. You want a discussion on GW, say so, and we'll go to Earth Sciences.

    Social choice of uses to which information is to be put is not scientific choice, it's never informed choice, and neither possible remedy is acceptable to the two groups concerned, the scientific community and the rest of the world, that all scientific inquiry be suspended, or that a "scientocracy" be established.

    I've highlighted what I think is the gist of this paragraph, that you want scientific leadership that takes orders rather than making decisions. Am I reading that correctly?
  15. Feb 23, 2006 #14
    Oh no, I meant quite the opposite, Bystander. I think scientists should not be blindly following orders - they should be questioning and, when necessary, arguing against the policies of decision-makers (the politicians) when these decisions are not in the long-term interests of humanity. Most people not trained in the sciences cannot understand either the science/technology or how it will/can be used - that is why scientists themselves should (in my opinion) advocate on their behalf.

    I can see that in a way, I could be accused of arguing for a kind of 'priesthood' of scientists in my above statements. Instead of Plato's 'philosopher king', I guess I could be accused of being elitist and arguing for the rule of the 'philosopher scientist'. But I have chosen my words very carefully: I wrote that scientists should be "...questioning and, when necessary, arguing against the policies of decision-makers..." - not that they should themselves 'rule'. It boils down to the problem Einstein faced when he was asked to co-sign and present the letter re- the atomic bomb to President Roosevelt - he did not take the decision lightly, and after WWII he chaired the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists and campaigned actively for nuclear disarmament. He understood that this weapon could be used to damage humanity, so as well as being a scientist Einstein seemed to have felt a social duty to also enter the political arena and argue for what he perceived to be the long-term interests of ordinary people.

    EDIT: Perhaps you did not mean 'scientists' when you wrote 'scientific leadership'? I'm not sure what you meant by 'scientific leadership' - in any case, the above is my position/opinion. It is just an opinion, though. I may be missing something that someone else sees - some flaw in my argument. No doubt it will be pointed out to me soon enough.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 23, 2006
  16. Feb 23, 2006 #15
    Devlopment Of HUman Soceity

    Wow this is a new start for Humanity
    Good comments Alexandra, we need ure inputs to evntually map a working set of solutions for the problems of this world. Whats the use of this site if nothing good evers comes out.Sorry to other experts out there, but I encouarage all to spend their brain power to make this one work. Lets Start by Creating threads for d list below where inputs can be collected and studied and refined, the output will be A global policy that can be taken to the UNITED NATIONS ( im not sure why they exist any way,perhaps only to the interest of G8 or whatever)
    1. Internationalism, another tems could be Globalism or Earthanism.( with its main principle)
    2. Economic System ( Less greedy capitalism, peaceful humane communism and others such as my "FREE ECONOMY" principle can be combined to create a better system. ECONOMICS Experts are needed in this area)
    3. Global Religion( while each had considered others as "HEATHENS" they had not entirely wiped each other out , so theres HOPE )
    4. Education ( free access to Knowledge that is beneficial i& identify what type of behaivior that will eliminate the "survival of the fittest mindset and still have a healthy sense of "SELF" as one advisor had Inputted )
    5. Science and Technology ( resource allocation & contribution to conduct research for envronmentally safe energy source. free distribution & implementation of results.
    6. others that will promote PEACE, HAPINESS, and LOVE.

    (i dont know why they had to lock my thread,but it seems that somebody is not willing to cooperate.)
    I dont want to create an atmosphre of SARCASM, just only want clear views and opinions.
    Thank You
    Finally let us Share Love with One another.
  17. Feb 23, 2006 #16


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    Every action, decision, policy has undesirable consequences. Social choices are made between taking an action and accepting its consequences, or another action and its, or no action and the consequences of no action, be the consequences identified and understood, or not. The resources do not exist within the scientific community to "live the lives" of six billion people by making all their choices for them. We're going to have to work on narrowing the scope of this problem statement.

    I don't think you mean that the members of the scientific community are to appoint themselves as a representative body in a three way power struggle among public, politicians, and scientists. Further, I don't think you are implying that there are "best choices" that are discernible only to members of the scientific community. Can you work up a restatement?
    Einstein, Oppenheimer, Szilard, Teller --- four different people --- four different sets of opinions (scientific, practical, personal, and political) on nuclear weapons. Hitler and Stalin --- sociopaths, psychopaths, megalomaniacs, or patriots? Definitely threats to the rest of the world. What sort of scientific advice should be given toward dealing with such situations as they presented as far as pursuit of nuclear weapons development? Einstein and Szilard couldn't make up their minds. Oppie went nuts (or nutser), "Oh my god, what have I done." Teller kept his personal opinions out of things, and far as I recall his political opinions as well --- may have been the odd comments about Hitler's and Stalin's personalities and intentions. Pick your expert and play the "what if" history game. Which set of unintended consequences would you prefer to be experiencing today?

    You "grok." Bad habit from English classes, "Vary your word usage to keep the reader interested," got in the road of using "scientocracy" twice in the same sentence, paragraph, or whatever.
  18. Feb 23, 2006 #17


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    I've brought this up many times in regard to the conservative, and in particular religious trends in the U.S. And I heard a derogatory remark against intellectuals again on the news last night. So I started looking for sources that discuss this trend. I found a few, but first this:


    Interesting that Scarborough would be mentioned above, as it was his program I was watching last night when the derogatory remark was made (Note: this was on MSNBC, not FOX News). Other sources:

    "Bridging the Communication Gap Between the Science and Non-Science Worlds" - [Broken]

    A review:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20060222.LETTERS22-11/TPStory/Comment [Broken]

    The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics by Mark Lilla

    A review:

    http://muse.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/access.cgi?uri=/journals/south_central_review/v021/21.2stoekl.html [Broken]

    Unfortunately the current trend in our society is anti-intellectual, often from the left as well as the right. And even the scientific/intellectual community seems unable to get along with one another. It has been an increasingly divisive world, thanks in part to the great uniter (sarcasm) in leadership of our government at present.
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  19. Feb 23, 2006 #18


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    I agree. It sounds like a very centrally managed type of program that would slow science.

    On the other hand, when advances occur randomly and chaotically, it can cause as many problems as it solves - science develops methods of providing seemingly unilimited cheap electrical power but forgot to include a method of disposing of the waste; science invents cures for diseases that extend the average lifetime but forgot to increase the amount of food and drinkable water available; science invents methods of producing food quickly, but overlooked the fact that the method makes its cures for diseases less effective (wow, that's almost self-balancing).

    A little slower, more well thought out progress wouldn't be such a bad thing, but, as Pengwuino noted, implementation would almost certainly fall short of expectations. I think we're almost chained to the idea of taking progress as it comes and reacting to it after the fact, once we realize what we've done.

    For one thing, people will have different ideas of what science should accomplish. Is increasing the average lifespan the most significant accomplishment or is improving the quality of the average person's short lifespan more important? (i.e. - does the quantitative or the qualitative take priority?)
  20. Feb 24, 2006 #19


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    13 replies in less than a week, to my maiden1 thread in P&WA, wow! (Now if only I could generate that much interest in my 'home territory', Astronomy and Cosmology)

    To expand a little on the 'politics as mediator' idea, with an example of (and from) public health policy (and implementation).

    Smallpox is gone, and polio was nearly gone. How did that happen? The biological 'facts' didn't do the virus in. Nor did the writing of scientific papers about the effects of the virus on Homo sap., nor the writing of scientific papers about vaccines, nor ... Individuals of the species Homo sap. did not read scientific papers, build a lab in their homes, produce vaccines, and administer them; Chairmen (they're all men, right?) of political parties did not declare 'this one's gonna get us the next election!'; you and your family did not read the scientific literature and decide to seek out a lab that had developed vaccines; ...

    Smallpox is gone because politics mediated between Science and Society.

    Polio was following smallpox, with politics once again mediating between Science and Society, but then http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3521780.stm" [Broken] - politics ceased to be able to mediate (or perhaps Society Struck Back!).

    Smallpox and polio are just two of the many hundreds (thousands?) of nasty infectious diseases to which Homo sap. is susceptible. Some such diseases (e.g. SARS) cause a huge fright, kill dozens (maybe hundreds), and are tamed (to some extent). Some (e.g. malaria) kill millions, don't rate anything more than "travellers' advisories" and are anything but tamed.

    Wherefore the difference?

    The Science inputs to polio, malaria, and hundreds of other infectious diseases is no different - at the level I'm talking about here - than that for smallpox.

    The clearly articulated, backed up twenty-seven ways to Sunday with data, studies, charts, equations, and all the other paraphenalia of Science, case for "terminating, with extreme prejudice' polio/malaria/etc" is just as compelling (if not more so) than that for smallpox.

    The delivery protocols, marketing messages, cost/benefit studies, etc, etc, etc are just as solid and applicable for polio and malaria as they are for smallpox.

    And so on.

    So how come politics is quite capable of 'mediating' in one case, but has dismally failed in others?

    And how can we get a vigourous discussion going on what Science needs to do to be more successful with polio and malaria (and ...)?

    And who are the representatives of Society, to tell Science, via the mediation of politics, just how ridiculous/utopian/radical/revolutionary/playing-into-the-hands-of-terrorists/etc the inane mutterings from Science truly are?

    (to be continued)

    1Well, maiden with content!
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  21. Feb 24, 2006 #20


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    So clearly politics has failed in its role of mediation ... for all the perceived negatives (your list), not a single positive? How many of those who live in the US would cheerfully give up their internet? their medicines? their computers (both obvious and invisible)? their cars (gasp! CARS are the product of SCIENCE?!?!?)? their houses? their surgical procedures? their bank accounts? their credit cards (did I just win the argument?)? their cheap flights to Mexico/Alaska/Hawaii/?

    How did it come to pass that politics happily mediated the good bits but shafted Science with the bad?
    And what of the 95%+ of folk who do NOT live in the US?
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