One of the great dangers for American science is that it will become increasingly politicized. The partisanship and economic frailty of our current times only exacerbates this risk. A politicized science is one that finds itself, just like any other faction or special interest group, as not credible because of bias and self-interest. And credibility is the fragile currency of science.
Indeed, science’s greatest historical failures, seem to have arisen out self-inflicted politicization. The Eugenics Movement comes to mind. Historically arising from Darwin’s work on biological evolution and natural selection, Eugenics emerged directly from that science, politicized inappropriately to the question of what characteristics constituted a more perfect individual–truly the stuff of political demagogs.
At a recent lunch table here in Washington, I was struck by the dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats over which climate science was to be believed–intelligent lay public members dutifully deferring to scientific research, but only so long as it conformed to their ideological positions.
I have seen the same odd Blue versus Red scientific wars in the areas of embryonic stem cell research, origin of life and more recently economics and it strikes me as damaging, both to scientists and to society, for which good science is so critically important to its welfare.
So as scientists, let’s strive to keep our science at arm’s length from the political wars. Understanding that unprincipled individuals will always be attempting to deploy the latest “finding” to support their own political positions.