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

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In summary: But, Society, where will it all stop? Will you just sit there and let us run things into the ground? In summary, scientists want to help society but society doesn't want to listen to scientists. Scientists want to help society but society doesn't want to listen to scientists.
  • #36
I hope this is not off topic, but when it comes to things like the Government censoring the data of the NASA scientists, that is a major threat to our democracy. The whole reason a democracy works is because the citizens are supposed to be well informed on the issues to make a reasonable judgment. When the people are so misinformed, it threatens the stability of our democracy and leads to bad policies. More should be done to educate the public, and the censorship of scientific data has got to go.
 
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  • #37
Nereid said:
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?
It's the natural mentality of most people to dwell on the bad rather than rejoice in the good.

Nereid said:
And what of the 95%+ of folk who do NOT live in the US?
I only speak of the US since I live here and feel that I can say something of it. It's been my impression that most of the other major players in politics and science have better education and a much more profound respect for science on the whole in comparison to the US present day. I could be wrong and if I am then hopefully others from other countries will let us know how they perceive their country's role in science.
 
  • #38
cyrusabdollahi said:
I hope this is not off topic, but when it comes to things like the Government censoring the data of the NASA scientists, that is a major threat to our democracy. The whole reason a democracy works is because the citizens are supposed to be well informed on the issues to make a reasonable judgment. When the people are so misinformed, it threatens the stability of our democracy and leads to bad policies. More should be done to educate the public, and the censorship of scientific data has got to go.
This is germane to the discussion, and is an example of some in government who wish to manipulate science for political/personal reasons.

What does a scientist do when his boss tells him that's the way it is? Pack up and get a job elsewhere? Where? Possibly academia, unless the scientist is 'black-balled' and no one will want to hire him or her because the institution might not wish to risk losing access to government funding.

And believe me, who one knows in government does count. I have seen it all too often.
 
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  • #39
alexandra said:
(snip)The point is to prevent the occurrence of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis in the first place: that is what I see as 'our' (meaning whoever cares) responsibility.(snip)

Where to "draw the line" between liability for one's own (in)action and liabilities for others'?

The "kewlbomz" crowd shows up every now and then on PF wanting advice on how to perform traumatic self-amputations of eyes, ears, noses, limbs and other body parts; "Sorry, can't help you." Consequences? Might have saved a life --- they probably go "pick it up on the street" and get into every bit as much trouble --- but it's not on any PF member's conscience. Or, they really needed the information to save the world from Godzilla (not too likely), and by being niggardly with information, instruction, and guidance we've added to the world's level of misery. It's individual judgment calls for every member on here plus the "social contract" we have with Greg for maintaining the place.

Shall we hold Nobel liable for every kid who's removed himself from the gene pool attempting to manufacture nitroglycerin? Stove burners have caused permanent scarring and injuries to small children --- ban stoves. We'll be back in the caves beating people to death with our fists for discovering fire (antelope thighbones and hand axes have already been outlawed) if that's the case.

If we don't accept people and the human race for what they are, rather than what we wish they would be, we're doomed to disappointment. People will let you down almost every time. They'll surprise you pleasantly once in a while. "Science" is not going to change the species. Some science can be used to treat diseases, feed larger populations, reduce work loads, and provide other incidental humanitarian benefits, and other science (as well as that same beneficial science) can be applied to waging wars. Neither application is even vaguely a part of "science." "Science" is the systematic investigation of the world, and universe, around us. Only a small fraction of the body of knowledge developed by the scientific community ever has any impact on society at large be it beneficial or detrimental, usually both. Occasionally, the "impact" can be planned, even involve "goal directed" activity, the Manhattan Project, but it's more commonly serendipitous discovery, penicillin, high explosives, nerve gases.

What you don't know can hurt you. What you know can also hurt you. What you don't know cannot help you. What you do know might help you. That's about it for the application of morality to science.
 
  • #40
A big problem I see in science and technology is the incessant rivalry between groups in the same system or scientific or technical discipline, e.g. US DOE, NASA, various universities, and in industry, and I imagine in various international programs like EU's JRC's and among various national programs. Sometimes it seems worse due to the current economic constraints.

Just look at the competition for ITER! :rolleyes:


There is a situation where new software has been proposed. One possibility is to take existing software and combine. Another proposal is to start from scratch. Then there are combinations. One lab proposes to be the principal architect, which excludes other labs. Then the one lab wishes to 'control' (actually 'usurp') efforts of other institutions. It is really frustrating.
 
  • #41
Our friends the scientists, with all of their intellect, would do well to remember that a great many of us out in society actually have a reasonable understanding of science. While the work of the scientific community has a valuable role to play, science itself is not the answer to the ills of the world (sorry folks!). Science is a tool that will help us along until we (society-at-large) can figure out how to get along with each other. :shy:
 
  • #42
Astronuc said:
A big problem I see in science and technology is the incessant rivalry between groups in the same system or scientific or technical discipline, e.g. US DOE, NASA, various universities, and in industry, and I imagine in various international programs like EU's JRC's and among various national programs. Sometimes it seems worse due to the current economic constraints.

Just look at the competition for ITER! :rolleyes:


There is a situation where new software has been proposed. One possibility is to take existing software and combine. Another proposal is to start from scratch. Then there are combinations. One lab proposes to be the principal architect, which excludes other labs. Then the one lab wishes to 'control' (actually 'usurp') efforts of other institutions. It is really frustrating.
Would you say then that in your estimation competition in such fields is detrimental? Would you disagree that lack of competition may lead to stagnation?
Perhaps you just disagree with the form in which such competition has taken shape?
 
  • #43
Astronuc said:
What does a scientist do when his boss tells him that's the way it is? Pack up and get a job elsewhere? Where? Possibly academia, unless the scientist is 'black-balled' and no one will want to hire him or her because the institution might not wish to risk losing access to government funding.
This is the crux of the matter. This is why I incessantly argue that all problems can be traced back to the socio-economic/political system that is in place. Unless that is changed, nothing else can, realistically speaking, be changed.

It is unrealistic to expect individuals to 'stand up' to the workings of the entire system on their own - all they'll achieve is their own demise (as you say, Astronuc). Any standing up to the system has to be organised and collective: the only other source of power (other than capital) that ordinary people have access to is collective action. Collective political action, I mean. So that is what I try to say all the time: that if all scientists, or all teachers, or all health professionals, etc decide that what is happening in their fields is 'not on' and take collective action, perhaps then the socio-political system could be challenged (though what is more likely to happen is a few concessions would only be made, as has happened in the past - to diffuse discontent).
 
  • #44
TheStatutoryApe said:
Would you say then that in your estimation competition in such fields is detrimental? Would you disagree that lack of competition may lead to stagnation?
Perhaps you just disagree with the form in which such competition has taken shape?
Interesting questions, TSA. I don't think competition against others is necessarily a good motivator - I believe that a much more powerful motivator is a desire to improve oneself (and therefore one's own work - ie. competition against oneself).

Cooperation has also been known to achieve great things - it's just that we're living in an age when cooperation and its benefits are never emphasised - again, because it suits those who have power within the current system to emphasise competition rather than cooperation since they themselves (being predators) thrive in this environment.
 
  • #45
Bystander said:
If we don't accept people and the human race for what they are, rather than what we wish they would be, we're doomed to disappointment. People will let you down almost every time. They'll surprise you pleasantly once in a while. "Science" is not going to change the species.
Yes, I agree with you: science is just a tool - a tool which can be used either progressively or detrimentally. What I have been arguing in this thread, however, is that it is the responsibility of scientists to ensure that the science they are creating is reported accurately when it is reported publicly and not to allow politicians to use it as a political tool. That is all I'm trying to say. I fail to see how I am being unreasonable. After all, as you yourself point out:
"Science" is the systematic investigation of the world, and universe, around us. Only a small fraction of the body of knowledge developed by the scientific community ever has any impact on society at large be it beneficial or detrimental, usually both.
Does ‘doing science’ stop at systematically investigating the world? Doesn’t ‘doing science’ also involve ensuring that the results of the investigation are accurately reported? I think it is the responsibility of scientists to not allow their work to be misrepresented for political gain, and in saying this I’m fairly certain I’m addressing the OP:
Nereid said:
The idea for this thread came from the recent responses to my question about what PF is doing having a Politics section, if it isn't about things like outrage at ID/creationist political appointees at NASA imposing religion on science.
Bystander said:
What you don't know can hurt you. What you know can also hurt you. What you don't know cannot help you. What you do know might help you. That's about it for the application of morality to science.
Bystander, in my view it’s not at all a question of morality: it is a question of integrity. Scientific investigations aim to approach ‘truth’ (yes, I know, no theory can ever be considered ‘true’) – but why bother to do this only to have your work twisted and misrepresented by politicians?
 
  • #46
alexandra said:
Yes, I agree with you: science is just a tool - a tool which can be used either progressively or detrimentally. What I have been arguing in this thread, however, is that it is the responsibility of scientists to ensure that the science they are creating is reported accurately when it is reported publicly and not to allow politicians to use it as a political tool.

I say, "Black," in anyone of ten to thirty thousand peer-reviewed scientific or technical periodicals; politicians or media misquote me, or cite a consensus, "White," to you; the politicians' and media remarks are not "public reporting" of the results. It is your responsibility to go to the source. Don't demand that the scientific community come around door-to-door and "spoon feed" the science to the general public.

That is all I'm trying to say. I fail to see how I am being unreasonable. After all, as you yourself point out: Does ‘doing science’ stop at systematically investigating the world? Doesn’t ‘doing science’ also involve ensuring that the results of the investigation are accurately reported?

Certainly. Once the science has been peer-reviewed and published, "the reporting process" is complete. The "use process" is what you've found to be objectionable. That's your department. You have to do the reading rather than electing lying, thieving, back-stabbing, ambulance chasers to tell you what it means.

I think it is the responsibility of scientists to not allow their work to be misrepresented for political gain, and in saying this I’m fairly certain I’m addressing the OP: Bystander, in my view it’s not at all a question of morality: it is a question of integrity. Scientific investigations aim to approach ‘truth’ (yes, I know, no theory can ever be considered ‘true’) – but why bother to do this only to have your work twisted and misrepresented by politicians?

To paraphrase Fields, "Politicians cannot misrepresent facts to a responsible electorate." The information has been placed in the public record by the scientific community. The public then has the choice of remaining ignorant, or of informing itself.
 
  • #47
TheStatutoryApe said:
Would you say then that in your estimation competition in such fields is detrimental? Would you disagree that lack of competition may lead to stagnation? Perhaps you just disagree with the form in which such competition has taken shape?
Competition can be detrimental, particularly if resources are limited. At one point there were three vendors of pressurize water reactor (PWR) systems in the US: Westinghouse, B&W and Combustion Engineering (CE). Westinghouse got the lion share, with about equal shared to CE & B&W. Then TMI happened and pretty much spelled the end of B&W's orders, as well as those of others. The technology was pretty much the same, just the flavors were different. All three had considerable infrastructure in place, most of which is now gone. B&W was merged into Framatome, CE was absorbed by ABB, which then was absorbed by Westinghouse, and Westinghouse was recently sold by BNFL to Toshiba. Most of US nuclear technology is now foreign owned - and has been for a while. The only BWR manufacturer, GE, has a partnership with Hitachia and Toshiba, both of Japan.

Compare the US with France - Framatome is the single supplier of nuclear technology in France. They licensed Westinghouse technology and perfected it - they use standardized designs. In Germany, Siemens (KWU) was essentially the sole supplier, and some of their technology is really excellent.

On a more parochial level, road projects go to the lowest bidder. In our area, a contractor used cheap (non-spec) material which had to be removed and replaced at a cost of millions of dollars. And many of the roads in our area deteriorate well before they should.

I basically disagree with the way competition has taken shape.

And another matter - is there really competition? I think in some, possibly many cases, the competition does not exist, or if it does, it is weak.

Competition is no replacement for pure and simple integrity!
 
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  • #48
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).

… 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.


Considering Nereid's topic regarding the role of Science in Society, and the extent to which it makes sense to consider politics as some kind of mediator/facilitator/implementor of what scientists have found, for the benefit or detriment of a group of Homo sap. individuals, large or small, cohesive or otherwise.
Along the lines of these thoughts, it would be worthwhile reading James Dewar's book "To the End of the Solar System: The Story of the Nuclear Rocket". It covers not only the technical aspects of the program, which are exceedingly interesting (well at least to me :biggrin: ), but the book addresses the politics behind the program. One can really get a feel for the politics in Washington during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.

Why did the US need a nuclear rocket in the first place? Well, the original thermonuclear warheads were too big for the chemical rockets at the time! This was before the Saturn V heavy launch vehicle was developed. Evenso, the Saturn V would be too big to deploy en masse. However, due to other technologies, such as micro-electronics and advances in explosives and detonation, and a better understanding of the physics of thermonuclear weapons, the size of the warheads was greatly reduced as the yields were greatly increased.
 

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