Science Should Inform Democracy

The immediately preceding post, “Can Science Survive in a Democracy?”, focused primarily on the funding of science.  An equally, if not more, important issue is the use of science by a democracy.  Environmental and health issues are in the spotlight, but there is a wide variety of issues that can be usefully informed by science.  The failure to consider scientific evidence can have seriously adverse consequences.

One of the best examples of this failure is the size of the prison population in the United States.  The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners.  Remember that totalitarian governments imprison political dissidents, but the United States manages to surpass even these totalitarian countries on this grim statistic.  Moreover, this high rate of imprisonment did not address the problems they were supposed to solve.

The problems that were supposedly addressed were crime and drug abuse.  The public thought the best way to address these problems was by getting tough.  Politicians picked up this public sentiment and passed laws that were excessively severe for crime and proscribed drugs.  “Getting tough” might seem like a reasonable approach.  But it is a gut response, an emotional response that involves only System 1 processing according to Kahneman.  If thought processes had been engaged, System 2 processing in Kahneman’s terminology, the question would have been asked, does science have anything that would inform us as to what would be a reasonable policy?  If this question had been raised, the clear answer would have been that “getting tough” would be counterproductive, and it certainly was.

There are very few scientists or engineers, sometimes none, in Congress.  And few normal citizens read articles relevant to science.  As a consequence, they are unaware of their personal ignorance.  So what can be done to correct this widespread ignorance?

In the schools, science is taught primarily as an academic subject, and the subjects covered are typically biology, chemistry, and physics.  This is fine, but the relevance and applications of these sciences need to be taught.  The social sciences and statistics also need to be taught.  Every citizen needs to understand inferential statistics at some level to be a responsible citizen and to make reasonable decisions about personal health.  Unless college is going to be pursued, citizens can get by without understanding geometry or trigonometry.

It is essential that all students receive this education before graduating from high school, and not just students with plans for college.

Public television and a few dedicated cable channels have good programs on these topics, but they need to be increased, and they need to be presented on the major networks.

If done satisfactorily, constituents should inform their representatives as to the importance of these topics.  Then science would not only survive, but would prosper in this democracy.  And public policies would be informed by the best available scientific evidence.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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One Response to “Science Should Inform Democracy”

  1. Deb Fencer Says:

    Well put. As an educator, I wholeheartedly agree!

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