A Call for Science in Post-Truth Politics

Given a problem, you can only solve it with the information available to you. The solution is then added to your bank of information. If you dedicate enough time and people to solving a complex problem, however, contradictory ideas will emerge.

What follows when someone is confronted with an idea that contradicts their own is ultimately up to that individual as a person. Nonetheless, one of the first decisions is universal: you can either hold your solution as inviolable, or not.

A conflicting solution is new information. To dismiss new information without evaluation, and to hold your solution inviolable is a non-constructive position. It is equivalent to saying, ‘I will reject new information provided to me, my solution is the best.’

An alternative position is not to give up on your solution, but instead attempt to find the most widely accepted of all solutions. You acknowledge a solution is a point of view and not reality, and you might say that it attempts to model it. You can test any new information against your model and adjust it so that it can encompass anything that contradicts it. Doing so creates a new model that is self-consistent. The more information your model is consistent with, the more confident you can be that it matches reality. This is the scientific method.

The scientific method is our most powerful tool in the pursuit of knowledge. It provides objective, verifiable and quantifiable solutions. With this in mind, go back to that introduction and replace ’solution’ with ‘policy’. You will find that applying the scientific method generates robust policy that is supported by evidence.

By its very nature, science is non-partisan. For this reason, ethical scientists – those who follow the scientific method – are quite possibly the least partisan group of individuals on the planet. This, however, does not mean apolitical.

Most scientists are publically funded. Unfortunately for these non-partisan, publically funded individuals, the nature of Australian politics is trending toward hyper-partisanism. It’s near impossible to make a public political statement without being flagged as partisan, especially while being supported by public funding. The most concerning part of this is that to be flagged as partisan is to say you’re going against the scientific method, an idea which is offensive for an ethical scientist. It’s no wonder why so few scientists are politically active.

This is a problem because scientists have always contributed to politics, albeit behind the guise of research institutes and professional societies. The results – solutions – are presented directly to politicians. Yet, when results contradict the inviolable party line, they’re mostly dismissed.

As a voting Australian, this troubles me. Who are our elected representatives working for if their party line means dismissing the most robust solution to a problem?

As a scientist, herein lies a frustration with public policy: we are faced with a catch-22 where we can try to present findings for policy makers and see nothing happen, or try to wield power with my vote and similarly watch it be consumed by partisan politics. All because being scientifically minded is not what we demand our elected representatives to be. And why not? The scientific method is simple and it gets the best results for the most people.

On 22 April I will be marching in Reconciliation Place as part of the Science March in Canberra. The Science March initiative is not about any particular issue; it’s about how we approach all issues. The march will demand a fundamental shift in our approach to public policy, and an increased focus on scientific literacy.

Don’t be fooled, this is not your ordinary overly negative or partisan political march. Science doesn’t care for that. We believe that scientific knowledge is crucial for the future of our society and we’re going to celebrate it. In front of Questacon there will be science demonstrations for everyone: ranging from optical illusions to scientific debates, talks, and ask-me-anything sessions. In front of Questacon there will be science demonstrations for everyone: ranging from optical illusions to scientific debates, talks, and ask-me-anything sessions. The Science March in Canberra is a family friendly event.

In addition, the march will also provide the opportunity to not only talk to, but stand with hundreds of actual living scientists from Canberra. Thousands will stand across Australia in the eight Science Marches occurring in other major cities on the same day. It will add up to hundreds of thousands by the time you include all 326 Science Marches happening globally.

We all share one thing: a passion and belief in the scientific method. We want to see more of it in our future, and more of it used to better society.

For more info, follow @ScienceMarchCBR on Twitter or visit marchforsciencecanberra.org.