Robert O. Schneider, UNCP Professor of Political Science and Public Administration, has written a new book just released (March 2018) by Praeger publishing.
When Science and Politics Collide: The Public Interest at Risk is both a timely and interesting treatment of a contemporary controversy.
There are many who suggest that some in the present government of the United States are waging a political war against science, and the stakes in that war are increasing.
Professor Schneider demonstrates that when it comes to areas in which science and politics must interact there are and have always been political and economic interests pushing to spin the relevant science to their advantage. Likewise, these interests may distort or deny the science to protect their profit margins or political objectives.
“This is problematic,” he says, “when Americans are easily persuaded in today’s hyperpolarized and toxic social media environment to abandon rationality for ideology or misinformation manufactured to confuse and persuade them. Science simply has not been able to compete with that in what has become a post-fact era.”
In an examination of five contemporary examples, the case is made that many of the ways in which science and politics typically communicate and interact simply do not effectively serve the public interest.
Some of them actually result in great harm. It explains that whether policy disagreements are about things such as climate change, vaccines, pandemics, or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, scientific knowledge and expert advice is necessary to improve and/or save lives—and poor, ideologically motivated policies that deny science can doom them.
The book demonstrates that a too often contentious relationship between policymakers and science is the inevitable product of the two very different worlds that politicians and scientists live and work in.
“The scientist is focused on the grand questions of the universe,” Schneider says, “while the politician is concerned primarily with the minutia of the moment.”
As a result, he says, they occupy two very different and often incompatible realities.
Schneider makes the case that America’s historic commitment to scientific progress, human rights, and democracy itself are at risk to the extent that scientific knowledge cannot be distinguished from fiction or be seen as superior to ideological opinion.
He emphasizes the importance of science to intelligent public policymaking. The book concludes with recommendations for creating a more perfect union between scientific truth and political agendas. This will require better efforts from scientists, politicians, the media, educators, and citizens alike.
“Science and politics will always occupy different worlds,” Schneider concludes, “but reality should, to the greatest extent possible, be the same for both. When the two learn how to collaborate intelligently, the prospects for humanity always improve. But too often, in our contemporary political culture, the mixing of science and politics is like mixing acid and sulfides. The results are often and regrettably toxic.”