Thursday, April 02, 2015

Looking for the science vote

Very interesting to see in Nature the changes in British readers’ voting intentions from 2010 to the forthcoming UK election in May. In a nutshell: once a Tory, always a Tory but there’s a big leaching from the middle/left parties to “Don’t know”, plus a substantial boost to the Greens from the same source. I don’t know how representative this of the population as a whole, but it unsettles me to see such a big uncommitted block, and this is why.

I fully support Jenny Rohn and Stephen Curry’s initiative to get science firmly on the political agenda (Science is Vital), but I’m concerned that it not become a call to vote simply on the basis of who you think will do the best job for science (which I'm sure is not Jenny and Stephen's intention). I have heard that kind of single-issue politics already from one or two prominent voices of science, and it troubles me deeply. While obviously wanting everyone to vote the way I do (and accepting that some will think I’m deluded in that choice), I feel that voters ought ideally be making up their minds in the basis of which party will try to create the fairest, most tolerant, egalitarian, responsible and healthy society, and not simply which party is going to perform best on a single issue – even one as important as science. If I felt that the party closest to my political sympathies was failing to do enough for science, I would lobby them to do better, and not switch allegiances on those grounds alone. After all, none of the major parties is likely to deny the importance of science, even if they won’t all back up their words with actions to the same degree. And without wishing to sound too melodramatic, it was by telling themselves that they were doing what was "best for German science" that many German scientists were able to salve their consciences during the Nazi regime.

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