A team from the Center for Science and Democracy of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has published an article in PLOS Biology with the timely title Reinvigorating the Role of Science in Democracy.
The article makes the point that good policy decisions require reasonable and robust debate grounded in the best possible information, yet, in too many cases, science and scientific advice have been marginalized in public policy debates around the world.
The authors state that, in the United States, misinformation on scientific issues abounds, from local city councils to the halls of the U.S. Congress, fueled by a never-ending news cycle in which anyone with an internet connection can pose as an expert. Instead of seeking the best available science, elected officials seek analyses that support the policies they wish to put forward. To make matters worse, even scientific and technical facts that are accepted as established knowledge in virtually every other developed nation are commonly dismissed in American discourse, on topics as diverse as climate change and the safety of vaccines. When decision makers cannot agree on even the basic facts underlying a problem and the science itself is politicized, good policy outcomes become significantly less likely.
The authors posit that we possess the intellectual capacity and infrastructure to restore science to its rightful place in democratic decision making and propose the following steps toward this end:
- Empower scientists to engage more deeply with their communities.
- Provide citizens with better access to reliable scientific information.
- Create opportunities for citizens, educators, scientists, and decision makers to engage on science-based policy issues.
- Cultivate a network of science and democracy opinion leaders to speak out about the benefits of science and evidence-based policies in our democracy.
- Increase government and corporate accountability by exposing and publicizing instances in which science is misrepresented or misused.
GallonDaily commends UCS for establishing the Center for Science and Democracy. While it may seem attractive to business and government to provide distorted scientific information in order to achieve business and policy goals, GallonDaily is convinced that any short term gains will soon be eclipsed by a public backlash that is based on correct scientific information. We encourage business to support the UCS initiative and to assist in implementing the five steps described above and, in more detail, in the PLOS paper.
Rosenberg AA, Halpern M, Shulman S, Wexler C, Phartiyal P (2013) Reinvigorating the Role of Science in Democracy. PLoS Biol 11(5): e1001553. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001553 http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001553