It is worth taking the time out to listen to one of the reports from this morning’s “Weekend Edition Sunday” on NPR. The page summarizing the report is here. There are two interviews of some length and depth. (They are longer than the extracts you may have heard on the radio, so have a listen again, if interested.)
One is from Dr. Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief of ‘Science Magazine’. He does a good job of summarizing the discussions that have been taking place about the Bush administration’s attitude to science and scientists (over a wide range of issues: climate change, energy policy, the Environmental Protection Agency, etc… many of these have been discussed on this blog), he applauds some of the recent funding announcements from the administration on science investment and education, but has a lot more to say about the big picture of science and science policy in this country. See also a recent editorial he wrote at this link.
The other interview is with Dr. John Marburger, the administration’s science advisor. He spends a lot of the first part of the interview discussing his vision of what the new “competitiveness initiatives” are all about. He also talks a lot about the education initiatives…. I was particularly interested to hear about their efforts to encourage real scientists and engineers to come into the high school classroom and talk about what they do…give students a chance to meet and talk to real scientists. This is good…..You know how important I think this is from all the blogging about that I do on it. I hope that many of us take advantage of any support that is to be given to make this sort of thign happen more. Look out for it please!
His main response to the issues that Kennedy raised is remarkable. He basically said that the criticisms by the scientists are irrelevant. He has other things to say, which you should listen to as well, but his message there sounds to me to be rather confused….how can you dismiss what the scientists say and still claim that there is a dialogue? The interviewer notes this, but Marburger simply steers away from the sore spots and pretty much says that everything is fine and dandy, it’s all under control, the administration (e.g. on climate change) have “strategies” and they are getting on with. Sigh.
Well, have a listen. The interviews themselves, but also the contrasts between them, are illuminating. Kennedy seems to think that this administration is particularly bad with regards science policy, and as a result the scientists are more vocal, and the arguments are lot more heated than before, while Marburger says that it is not the administration tha is responsible for the increased tensions in these debates, but the fact that there are more places where science is relevant to societies problems. He says -and here I totally agree (see my many posts on this)- that this is why everybody needs to become more educated in basic science.
Whatever the reasons for the extra tension in the science-meets-politics arena -it is probably a little bit of both- I really think that we should not be looking forward to going back to a time when science was less on the political agenda than it is now. Hopefully it is here to stay, and it is the quality of the debates (and the education that everyone has about the debates) that should be improved as we move forward.