The Political Skeptic covers politics and news from the perspective of science, reason and common sense. It covers science from a layman’s perspective and applies it to political issues. Far too often, today’s world is filled with instant analyses before all the facts are available. Unfortunately, this leads to misrepresentations and spreads false conclusions. The Political Skeptic tries to cover stories where the dust has begun to settle, but the story hasn’t fallen from the public eye. Less timely subjects are also covered in an attempt to clear up widely believed falsehoods.
How does one apply science to politics?
There are many political issues that involve science. From space exploration to medical care to oceanography, many government policies rely on good science. Sadly, these policies are often sidetracked by narrow political beliefs or pork spending. When the issue rests on pure science, the choice of direction is easy to make. Climate change or the teachings of evolution in schools are two very clear examples.
Politics is also filled with values. That is why there are liberals, conservatives, people in between and ideologies of the extreme. Values are harder to evaluate. Two people can look at one issue, apply science to it and still come up with different conclusions. In that case, neither one may be wrong. They have applied the proper metrics, but the evaluations lead to different paths. That is why democracy exists. The majority is allowed to control government policy within the framework of a constitutional republic. In this case, at least political decisions are not being made in a vacuum of science.
The decision-making becomes harder as the issue moves away from science. From a scientific point-of-view, murkiness emerges for issues like abortion, same-sex marriage or marijuana legalization.
This is where reason, and its simpler form, common sense, come into play. Issues like abortion and same-sex marriage are usually opposed on religious grounds. Religion is a highly personal issue. A person may believe in it or not. It affects no one as long as those beliefs are not codified into law. Once someone’s or a group’s personal beliefs become law, then it begins to limit what is acceptable for what other people can believe or do.
Those who oppose abortion or same-sex marriage generally want laws to prohibit anyone in society from doing those things. Those who favor abortion or same-sex marriage are not trying to force women to have abortions or make heterosexuals marry their own sex. That is a huge difference.
A free society needs people to live and think freely. If there is something wrong with behavior, education is always the best approach. Making something illegal and incarcerating people is not usually productive unless they are a threat to others. The number of people who smoke tobacco has plummeted. This did not happen because prohibition was used as it was for alcohol and remains so for marijuana. It happened because people were educated at how dangerous smoking is.
Politics is filled with less distinct issues. Should a cell tower be built in an area? Should zoning in a rural area be reduced to 1 acre from 5 acres? Should a police substation be built in a neighborhood? Many of these issues depend on the personal preferences of the community. However, the issues being weighed are sometimes more easily understood by the sensibility of the arguments for and against.
If a cell tower is opposed because of fear that the radio waves are going to cause cancer in nearby residents, then the opposition is about irrational fear and not something like aesthetic appearances of the towers. If the opposition of a zoning change to 1 acre is because of a limited water supply, then the opposition has a case that needs to be addressed. If a police substation is being debated, then crime rates need to be measured in that area to evaluate the feasibility.
Politics is controlled by political pressure, which is not always rational. Sometimes that pressure is controlled by money. Other times, it is controlled by fear. To change it so that science and rational thinking will play larger roles requires education, time and patience. It also requires activism. The Political Skeptic will regularly put forth information on key legislation that will allow readers to pressure government officials. They do respond to voters, but only when sustained and coordinated pressure is placed upon them.
Glenn Church is a longtime political activist on technological, environmental and political issues, as well as a businessman and farmer. He was involved in international human rights issues through the 1980s and 90s. He has blogged on political issues since 2008.