The Political Nature of Science

Did you ever wonder why it seems republicans and democrats disagree over certain scientific phenomenon?  It’s not your imagination: science and politics have, and always will be intertwined.  Today I will explore the political nature of science and how you can use this information as a science communicator.  

Science and Politics in Real Life: Climate Change

The most obvious and current scientific issue that has become politicized is climate change.  Although for years scientists have been warning about climate change risks, only recently has this topic become more salient within the global public and political sphere.

In general, republicans (particularly those in elected positions) tend to show doubt of the existence or severity of climate change.  Some even go so far as to call climate change a hoax. On the other side, democrats tend to argue that climate change is a real threat, and policy should be created to mitigate its impending effects.  While one can speculate that personal interests drive these opinions (ie: it’s not within Exxon-Mobile’s financial interests to admit that fossil fuels contribute to climate change), other factors could be at play.  

Confirmation bias, which I’ll cover in a later post, could be one reason for this cognitive dissonance.  People like to be right, and do not actively go out and find information that counters what they believe to be true.  Another could be surrounding yourself with people who hold your beliefs.  If you are only around others who are climate change deniers or sceptics, you are unlikely to change your opinion.

Why the Political Nature of Science Matters

As a science communicator, it’s important to keep in mind that some topics such as climate change can be controversial.  Knowing why these concepts are controversial is the first step towards putting yourself in your audience’s shoes and not isolating them.  It’s not possible to change everyone’s mind, but knowing the politicalization of science will prepare you to frame your comments around the science itself, and not the politics behind it.  Remember, in having a scientific debate, avoid attacking the person and their political party affiliation.  Keep the focus on the arguments and the evidence.  

Have you ever had a political debate over a science topic?  Share your experiences in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Next time, I’ll talk about confirmation bias, tying together some of these concepts I’ve been discussing so far. Make sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the latest updates.

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