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Why Don’t Americans Elect Scientists? (campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com)
128 points by charbonnelb 970 days ago | 143 comments



From the opinion piece kindly submitted here, which is by mathematician and popular author on mathematics John Allen Paulos:

"I’ve visited Singapore a few times in recent years and been impressed with its wealth and modernity. I was also quite aware of its world-leading programs in mathematics education and naturally noted that one of the candidates for president was Tony Tan, who has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. Tan won the very close election and joined the government of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who also has a degree in mathematics."

Indeed, it is hard to remember anymore that Singapore was a very, very poor country when it achieved independence (after being expelled from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965). Singapore was settled earliest by ethnic groups similar to those in current Malaysia, with a big influx of wretchedly poor agricultural laborers for plantation labor during the British colonial period. It was not expected in the pre-independence period (which extended into my lifetime) that Singapore would ever be prosperous. (You can watch a videotape of the movie Saint Jack, which was filmed in Singapore, for a reminder of the poverty in Singapore as recently as in the early 1970s.)

But the early leadership of independent Singapore strongly emphasized effective generally available primary education (without at first even making school attendance compulsory) and studied the best international examples of sound textbooks and effective teaching practice.

http://www.merga.net.au/documents/RP182006.pdf

People from Singapore are so ethnically diverse that Singapore has four official languages from four different language families. School pupils in my generation (born in the late 1950s) grew up in a country that was extremely poor (it's hard to remember that about Singapore, but until the 1970s Singapore was definitely part of the Third World) and were educated in a foreign language (the language of schooling in Singapore has long been English, but the home languages of most Singaporeans are south Chinese languages like my wife's native Hokkien or Austronesian languages like Malay or Indian languages like Tamil) and yet received very thorough instruction in mathematics.

Today Singapore is prosperous, and one set of projections suggests it is on track to be the richest country in the world on a per-capita basis by 2050.

http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/15/singapore...

Chapter 1: "International Student Achievement in Mathematics" from the TIMSS 2007 study of mathematics achievement in many different countries includes, in Exhibit 1.1 (pages 34 and 35)

http://pirls.bc.edu/timss2007/PDF/T07_M_IR_Chapter1.pdf

a chart of mathematics achievement levels in various countries. Although the United States is above the international average score among the countries surveyed, as we would expect from the level of economic development in the United States, the United States is well below the top country listed, which is Singapore. An average United States student is at the bottom quartile level for Singapore, or from another point of view, a top quartile student in the United States is only at the level of an average student in Singapore. I've been curious about mathematics education in Singapore ever since I heard of these results from an earlier TIMSS sample in the 1990s.

So regardless of whom we elect in the United States, why can't we be curious about what we can learn from other countries that have handled diverse language backgrounds of elementary pupils better than the United States has, and have enjoyed sustained, rapid economic growth for longer than the United States has?

ESPECIALLY NOTE THIS PART OF THE POST ABOUT MATHEMATICAL EDUCATION AND DEMOCRACY

Just yesterday, I learned from another Hacker News participant, one who grew up in one country and now lives and works in another, about the latest revision of the article "Word Problems in Russia and America"

http://www.de.ufpe.br/~toom/travel/sweden05/WP-SWEDEN-NEW.pd...

by Andrei Toom, a Russian mathematician who has lived in the United States and now teaches in Brazil. The document is long (98 pages) but well worth reading. Toom's conclusion is very striking.

"34. Conclusion

"Having read this article, somebody may think that I connect poor education with democracy. I do not. History connects them sometimes, at random as it seems. What I do think is that democracy has many aspects and free elections of political leaders is just one of them. Quality of education is not determined by quality of political structure and can deviate from it for better or worse. Let me illustrate this idea by two examples. There are 2354 problems in [Berez], a few dozens of which contain Soviet political propaganda.

"This is an example:

"Problem 59 How many years passed from the French burgeois revolution till the Great October socialist revolution if the former took place in 1789? (p. 17). [P: revolution]

"Here the political bias is evident, but from the mathematical point of view the problem is fair: the correct answer is arguably 1917 − 1789 = 128 . Soviet leaders wanted such problems to indoctrinate Soviet ideology along with teaching mathematics, but only half of their wishes came true: students learned mathematics, but got rid of the Soviet rule. Some rushed to the West taking jobs from those who were raised on problems like this:

"Problem 60 A national magazine surveyed teenagers to determine the number of hours of TV they watched each day. How many hours do you think the magazine reported? [St.1], p. 79. [P: TV]

"It may seem very human to use this problem in class: every student will be able to say something and nobody will be completely wrong, so nobody will be frustrated. But when these kids grow up, they will regret the years wasted on such shallow 'problems'."

To sum up, there isn't any necessary relationship between numeracy (which many, many people in Taiwan have because of very effective primary mathematics education there) and democracy and freedom (which the people of Taiwan won largely through peaceful protest movements even though their own former dictatorial government told them that they were culturally unsuited for free elections and a free press). I have followed the economic development and political liberalization of Taiwan closely since the 1970s, having lived there for six years of my life, and it is definitely empirically possible to have politicians who have strong math skills and win elections and to have genuinely free elections and deep protection of civil liberties. Why not the best? Why not seek all of the best features we can learn about from other countries for the country we live in?

AFTER THE LAST EDIT I STILL HAVE AVAILABLE:

Yes, I am speaking about both Singapore (the country mentioned in the submitted article that opened the thread) and Taiwan. Singapore is a good example of mathematics education, but a (relatively) bad example of democracy. Taiwan is a good example of mathematics education, another example of a poor country becoming prosperous by educating the masses, and also an ever improving example of democracy in a cultural context with a long history of tyranny. To sum up, improving mathematics education in the United States is a good idea, and several countries can provide good examples to the United States of how to do that. To the point of the submitted article, it would be good for voting behavior and legislation in the United States if the broader masses of the citizenry had better numeracy.

One other top-level comment made a very important point, the point I was thinking of making when I first read the title of the submitted article before reading its content.

"The largest punishment for those who are not interested in politics, is that they'll be governed by those who are."

Maybe the best solution would be to teach politics to scientists, and not the other way around?

One of my motivations for participating on Hacker News, where most participants are trained in technical subjects, rather than the foreign language (Chinese) undergraduate degree and law degree that I have, is that I think it is important for technically trained people to understand democratic politics and the representative legislative process better than most do. I try to do my part as a mathematics educator (my current occupation) to show Americans an alternative model of mathematics instruction, and I am gratified to have clients of all ethnicities from multiple countries who know that it is possible to do better in mathematics education than is done in America's public school system. I try to do my part here on HN to remind all our friends that politics is the art of compromise, and policy trade-offs have to be carefully considered and presented to stakeholders with persuasion rather than only with statements about what is correct. I enjoy the intellectual exchange here precisely because my years of living abroad and studying public policy sometimes give me something different from the consensus view to say here, and I correspondingly learn from people here who have a perspective besides that which I have gained from formal education and work experience. Let the scientists enter politics if they will, but let them do so with their eyes open.

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I have great sympathy for the position proposed in the article, with one major fear: those trained in science typically traffic in ideas that are either right (true) or wrong (false). I fear that this would dispose them toward authoritarianism, which is in fact the first word that comes to mind when I hear about Singapore. How does this compare to your personal experience?

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You're probably not a scientist. Mathematics mostly traffics in things which are right or wrong; science rarely does. That's one of the criticisms that the peanut gallery often lobs at it: that it's just based on theories.

When ideas are actually being trafficked -- that is when they're new and struggling for breathing room, they're rarely clearly right or wrong. Consensus forms over a fairly long amount of time. With luck, and a lot of verification, over the course of a decade or three theories elide to the canon of science's best understanding of a given problem space. There we might broadly refer to theories as "true", but that's just everyday conversational shorthand, not the language of science.

The problem in the intersection with pop culture is that it's generally only well after those couple of decades of a theory working its way into the canon of scientific understanding that it begins working its way through pop culture. This is the critical point where there's a lot of naysaying from the general public and a lot of rolled eyes from scientists. It's at this point that science transforms into politics: each side hardens their positions, begins stating them in absolutist terms and tries to win the other side over, usually based on an appeal to authority.

Science itself is, in fact, a slow and reasonably democratic process. It is at times dogmatic, but far less than, say, American politics.

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I agree with your first paragraph. Science is based on consensus. You have to convince your peers you are "right". But what makes science worthy of being taken seriously is that it follows a defined procedural method of doing the convincing; and most everyone involved in science accepts that general method as being a sound one. People can actually agree on things because we all follow the same general method of arriving at conclusions. And... this works across a variety of disciplines.

Does maths use the scientific method to answer questions? Do the questions maths can answer concern areas outside of just maths? Is maths something that is used _within_ the scientific method to answer questions, in a variety of different disciplines?

It's a lot easier to approach and attempt to answer questions (get consensus) when you have a generally accepted method for doing so. It seems like maths entusiasists, e.g. the kind who love computers, can take widely different approaches to answering the types of wide-ranging questions addressed in the sciences. They may even disregard the scientific method altogether.

If Usenet/WWW is any indication I'm guessing this leads to a lot of disagreement between maths devotees if the topic at hand is anything but pure maths and logic.

Not taking anything away from people who love maths. In fact, one of the major problems in the sciences is the lack of mathematical rigor by far too many scientists when analysing results.

tl;dr Scientific method + maths = good. Need both for solid analysis and reasoning.

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Going by anecdotal evidence[0], there does seem to be some of the tendency ta12121 worries about among engineers, though.

[0]See e.g. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Engineers_and_woo

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Not really. Engineers venture out into the grey even more than scientists do - they solve problems of interest to humans - their job requires them to be grounded in reality and be sensitive to human needs and constraints (well, at least the good ones are).

I often think that while a purely technical background and education might be really powerful and enable one to analyze and predict well-behaved things better than others - which could lead to better decisions, it is extremely important to be receptive to the "inexplicable-until-experienced" stuff like music or business or relationships - to know that there are things that can't be controlled and shouldn't be controlled - that some things should evolve of their own accord - the chaotically evolved imperfect being more beautiful than the mathematically-designed perfect. (Edit: a combination of both works quite well, in my experience - some of the best businessmen, economic and political advisers I know of have engineering backgrounds - and no, they aren't unreasonably conservative or dogmatic).

In my opinion, the fear of "what will happen if I let go?" can lead to authoritarianism via technocracy (aside from the fact that anyone can get drunk on power) - not one's profession.

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What's interesting is that the senior leaders of Singapore were often trained in engineering, and some have attributed their technocratic and unpopulist approaches to the engineering mindset. For them, it's all about making things that work, but the secondary/knock-on effects sometimes don't get considered or noticed until it's too late.

Funnily enough, in our media it was reported that of late, students receiving top-level government scholarships to the US/UK/elsewhere hardly ever choose engineering any more, but study economics instead (probably influenced by the dominance of the financial industry). So the next generation of Singapore leaders may very well be dominated by economics trainees - I wonder what sort of government we'll get, then? Certainly a more diverse one, but also one lacking in engineers and scientists.

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It's one thing to suggest that there are plenty of things in Science (and even Math -- e.g. the Axiom of Choice) that aren't right or wrong (or where the answer remains undetermined) but the idea that the perception that science is binary -- relative to other pursuits -- is horribly inaccurate is a bit unfair.

Science may not be binary, but it's a heck of a lot more binary than Literary Criticism, Political Science, Law, or even Economics.

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The distinction I was attempting to make is that there is a difference between what is true or false, and what should be enforced by law and what shouldn't.

Consider the recently proposed ban on large servings of sweetened drinks. Do these promote diabetes costing the country lots of money in eventual treatment and lost productivity? Absolutely. Does the government have any business telling me what I drink with my Quarter Pounder and Large Fries? No.

I believe the answer to something like diabetes is more nuanced, such as the promotion of healthy eating habits in general, removing the massive grain subsidies that promote the existence of lots of cheap carbs and the availability of lots of meat. I'm sure a sociologist or psychologist could come up with better ideas for promoting health diets without being excessively coercive.

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I agree with everything you said about the ban on large servings of sweetened drinks. But remember we got this thanks to politicians, not scientists. It is a very typically "political" regulation in our society.

I in no way see how this applies to your fear of rule by scientists?

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"That's one of the criticisms that the peanut gallery often lobs at it: that it's just based on theories."

Speaking from the peanut gallery, more specifically, it's much more Bayesian than people would have you believe. Popular literature and most science instructors are not a very good source of context.

The hype does not equal the delivery.

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I'd wager the overwhelming majority of the peanut gallery doesn't even understand Bayes, or how to be Bayesian, to even know what to do with science. They hear "theory" and immediately reject it, unaware of its status as a claim of certitude based on decades of observation that increased its probability of being correct toward 1 more than competing theories.

I've tried having conversations explaining Bayes, general probability, and its relationship to scientific theories. Almost always falls on deaf ears. People are incredibly horrible at math--and I don't even consider myself to be that great at it. Their failures at being good with understanding maths flows into being horrible at understanding science, especially that which involves mathematics as integral part of its probabilistic standing in relation to alternatives.

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I share this fear as well. I love the raw honesty most technical people have, but this characteristic seems to be correlated with narrowmindedness, stubbornness, and extremism. Think about how many tech folk you know with nuanced political views. Almost every one I know is either a far left socialist or far right libertarian. Given the array of fuzzy issues civilization faces, it would seem that extreme mindsets are not suited to the political arena.

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Those individuals are using science to support their pre-existing narrowmindedness, stubbornness, and extremism. Science is not making them those things. On the contrary, the fundamentals of science lie in questioning pre-conceived notions in the face of findings that conflict them. This is how scientific progress is made.

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Right. No point of conflict there. All I'm saying is that many technically trained and minded people, in the arena of dealing with human/political issues, seem to rely on idealizations, not unlike mathematical models, when in truth they are too complicated to be represented as such. Maybe the prediliction for mathematics and science betrays a deeper desire for a clean, concise, comprehensible truth, which rarely exists in the social/political realm.

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Every physical scientist has learned very early in their career that nature does not care about what it ought to be like or what ought to work out. Hell, every experiment one designs ought to work fine the first time every time, and your pet theory ought to work out. But it isn't like that, in that line of work you have pragmatism beaten into you, and that is what is missing from contemporary American politics.

Maybe it's different with computer scientists, who live up there in the realm of pure thought and can bend reality to their will.

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I think the main benefit is that a scientist elected to a political office would make decisions based on real data when possible. Obviously it is often times not possible - for example, you can't use science to determine whether you should take a pro-life stance or a pro-choice stance - but the insistence on using numbers would greatly simplify many decisions.

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If a scientist made decisions based on real data, wouldn't they conclude that the approach used by the current politicians is superior for the purposes of politics?

The data says it works, after all.

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Totally agree. There are benefits that a scientific stance would have in some circumstances, so it's a nuanced situation. :)

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This is particularly true in climate science, where the simple models that cannot possibly be wrong predict anthropogenic global warming, but the complex models that cannot possibly be right are treated as deterministic and used to make detailed political plans for the future.

Science seems to leave the methods of rational thought far behind when it enters American politics.

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> questioning pre-conceived notions in the face of findings that conflict them

In science, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The bigger the claims a hypothesis makes, the more skepticism you should have about that hypothesis.

In political terms, the bigger the policy you're talking about, the more skepticism you should have about that policy.

This mindset leads toward literal conservatism -- always make small steps away from the status quo -- or libertarianism -- we need to be skeptical of government, so let's make it as weak as possible, and move powers as close to the bottom of the pyramid as possible (i.e. get the federal government's fingers out of housing, education and healthcare, and leave them up to state or local governments.)

Why so many scientists are pro-big-government lefties has always completely baffled me.

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Because the hypothesis of surplus-value extraction is easy to see and experience: find out how much work it takes to produce your salary and benefits in revenue, and then start refusing to work more than that. You will be fired. Therefore, your boss is extracting surplus value from you.

If you are a right-wing proprietarian, you might not object to that, on grounds you consented. If you're not that, you will feel exploited. The fact that the USA has the OECD's worst governmental working-condition laws that completely fail to make the extraction process feel more like a normal, bearable part of human life doesn't help.

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I don't understand how this relates to my previous comment.

As for your rant about surplus-value extraction: Presumably your boss isn't just taking your surplus for free; they're providing things that helps you work more efficiently. For example, if you're a steelworker, your employer provides a very expensive steel mill; without access to that equipment, your steelmaking skills are fairly useless.

In industries that have little capital requirement, like software development or web design, the things an employer might bring to the table to enhance their employees' created value include: A product vision, an already-existing codebase, brand or website, a talented team, support services such as marketing, accounting, legal...

Also, working for an employer lowers risk for employees who work on uncertain ventures. If you spend half a year developing a new product for an employer, you still get paid for those six months even if it's a total flop and nobody ever buys it. But if you'd built it on your own time and bootstrapped it into a startup instead, yes, you'd keep the entire profit if it went well -- but you'd get nothing (financially) from those six months of work if it flopped. This "insurance" against product flops is part of what the employer's portion of your created value pays for.

If you feel you're being exploited -- your employer is taking too much of the value you're creating -- then you're free to negotiate with them, change employers, change industries, or build your own startup.

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those trained in science typically traffic in ideas that are either right (true) or wrong (false).

Just make sure you have plenty of string theorists and perhaps some archeological geneticists and exoplanet meteorologists as well. That should even things out.

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People from Singapore are so ethnically diverse that Singapore has four official languages

#1 Language and ethnicity are not the same. #2 Singapore is 74 percent Chinese. Do a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of research before copy-pasting nonsense. Leterally, 10 seconds of research would be plenty.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Singapore

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I am a Wikipedian. So I immediately noticed that the Wikipedia article you kindly recommended has been flagged for revision for a year. I dig into its sources and note it largely reflects the official view of the Singapore government, which, as the thread has already noted, is not fully democratic. Anyway, the article SUPPORTS my claim that the generation in Singapore that grew up when I grew up mostly didn't speak the language of school instruction at home and came from such a diverse language background that there was no spoken language that was a majority (rather than plurality) language for school pupils in Singapore.

Because I am a Wikipedian, I don't rely on Wikipedia to tell me things that I know more thoroughly from better sources, including but not limited to personal experience. I speak Chinese (the four Sinitic languages Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, and Hakka), and I can understand the jokes that people of differing Chinese ethnicities tell about people of other Chinese ethnicities. All I can say is that if you think "Chinese" is one ethnic group practically or for purposes of educational policy, you should have another think coming. Even in China itself that is an issue. By official Chinese government survey,

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-03/07/content_5812838...

barely more than half of the population in China is even conversant in the national standard language.

So thank you for your suggestion. My suggestion is next time, please, do more than 10 seconds of research. You might learn something if you are open to more sources than just the University of Google.

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I am a (youngish) Singaporean, born in the mid-80s. To be fair, I'd say the Chinese here generally don't consider dialect groups to be major divisions any more - it's more a point of curiosity, a minor variation for most people. Among the older generation, perhaps, but the time of actual conflict and distrust between the groups is essentially long gone, steamrolled by government language policy. It was hard enough for me to learn to speak Hokkien, because my circles are English-dominated.

This is all to say that it could be argued that Singapore is a Chinese-majority nation, but it doesn't take away from the fact that there are many Malays and Indians here, and many foreigners of all stripes (Indians, Europeans, Americans). Foreigners make up 2m of our 5.2m people (38%), which is pretty shocking really (500k of them have become permanent residents, though).

I'd say that in the context of primary schools here, diversity isn't at a true melting-pot level. Furthermore, education among Chinese families is pursued in the same aggressive way as in other East Asian nations - the majority of students have supplementary tutoring, sometimes from the early grades. The culture of academic emphasis among parents is in line with the government's pedadogical efforts, which results in high achievement levels.

This is not to take away from the success of the Singaporean mathematics curriculum, which is quite outstanding by most measures - probably because it was designed by mathematicians and teachers in tandem, drawing on the best practices in the world known at the time (the late 70s/early 80s). Though even that is changing with our new emphasis on knowledge by construction, collaboration and discovery.

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An interesting post; I'm assuming your later references to Taiwan are actually to Singapore?

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Why would you assume that? They're two different countries, with different histories, mentioned together because both have excellent education in mathematics and scientifically competent leaders (relevant to the OP).

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I misunderstood, that's all. The reference to Taiwan came out of the blue, and I did not realize it was intentional.

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At least part of the problem is structural. One contributing factor could be that the US uses direct regional elections, instead of a parliamentary system.

In a parliamentary system, the people vote on a party, rather than a person, and the party decides the individuals who get elected. There's less of an emphasis on individual charisma, and charismatic leaders only need appear at the top of the ticket. A party with sufficient representation is free to fill out the bottom of its ticket with "specialists" whose expertise is valuable, but who wouldn't win a general election on their own.

Meanwhile in the states, every ticket is one member deep so there are no specialists, only generalists. While they can be advisors, the only official positions they can take are cabinet members (where we do see lots of scientific degrees). Further, the lack of scientists in low-ranking elected positions (like House of Representatives) means that there's less of a science+politics talent pool to draw from for the high-ranked positions (Executive branch).

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The US is supposed to be a representative republic. I suppose this is mostly theoretical, but we shouldn't be voting for Pepsi vs Coke, we should be voting for an individual to serve in our region as representative.

In direct response to the original post, Congress was not designed to invent a nation over and over again, it was designed to be a representation of regions. So scientists should represent regions where science is a major industry.

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That pushes the issue back into the older question, given a nation's worth of people, what type of dividing lines best group them into sub-populations for the purpose of representation. That is, why lines in space vs lines in income, or total wealth, or hair color, or profession? And what defense of lines in space could possibly defend such complex (gerrymandered) ones?

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>In a parliamentary system, the people vote on a party, rather than a person, and the party decides the individuals who get elected

Are you sure "parliamentary system" is appropriate here?

The UK has a parliamentary system[0] - and we vote for MPs, not parties, despite some people trying to change that.

[0]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_system

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A parliamentary system is one in which the executive and legislative branches are one (EG if the president was a member of congress, and chosen by congress).

@lmkg seems to be referring to a proportional electoral system, not parliamentary http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation

As to the implication that proportional systems don't result in individuals representing constituencies or geographic regions, there are numerous hybrid systems that manage to achieve the best of both worlds http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote

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In Australia people vote for individual members, but most do so based on party affiliation. The members available to vote for are chosen by the parties. Candidates seem to be chosen more based on factional loyalty than on expertise; unless someone's on the front bench they don't do anything but provide a vote. This leads to Australia having relatively more career politicians in parliament than the US does.

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Keeping in mind that although we vote for individual MPs (although as you point out, mostly based on party affiliation), the party itself chooses for the Prime Minister.

When our previous PM got ousted mid-term, I noticed that lots of people were shocked that a party is allowed to do that to an "elected" PM (when of course, we don't elect the PM, we just elect MPs). Another lot of people pointed out that it is perfectly legitimate, because we effectively vote for the party (by voting for their MPs) and it is their choice as to who runs the country.

I was in a middle ground. Sure, we don't elect the PM directly, but the way the party leaders campaign (and the way their colleagues talk about their leaders), you would think that we had a presidential-style campaign each election cycle. Especially with the 2007 election, where the leaders name was used in the main campaign slogan. So I can forgive the people who didn't realise that we don't actually choose our Prime Minister, because it sure feels like it during the election campaigns.

During the next election, keep an eye out to see how much of a Leader-vs-Leader competition it becomes, in addition to just Party-vs-Party.

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(You mean proportional system, not parliamentary system.)

But first-past-the-post with single member districts means that everyone elected has to be, personally, a good election campaigner. And scientists, by and large, make terrible campaigners. They think that being right about an issue is enough to win the point, which is more or less true in science, but absolutely not at all true in politics.

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I'm actually not aware of any systems where they vote for a party. Could you give specific examples? A quick romp through Wikipedia yielded nothing, but I was probably searching through the wrong area.

ETA: davidkinkead appears to have done so.

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Science can only describe the physical world, it can't tell you what to do about it. The Nazis had plenty of highly placed scientists. Woodrow Wilson did too and they were in favor of eugenics.

The deification of science is a life raft post adolescents cling to as they try to swim away from the inherent corruption of mankind. Scientists are no less afflicted with selfishness, vanity or pettiness than people in any other industry. Striving toward scientific objectivity is a wonderful pursuit. So is striving toward the ideal of many religions. But practicing a religion does not make you god and practicing science does not make you science.

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That said, the old adage still holds: "You are entitled to hold your own opinions, but not to hold your own facts." That is something which is clearly not true in US politics. There are politicians in the US who profess publicly that the Earth is not warming, that the universe is only 6000 years old, and animals were designed by a divine creator.

This has obvious public policy implications. It's hard to discuss possible adaptations or remedies for global warming when one side refuses to acknowledge that the phenomenon even exists. It's hard to talk about endangered species when one side thinks, "It's God's responsibility." It's hard to talk about the impact of tax changes when neither side has a coherent view of basic economics.

It's true that scientists are no less afflicted by selfishness, vanity, or pettiness than people in any other industry. However, unlike people in other industries (especially law and politics), scientists and engineers have to deal with physical reality. They cannot make their problems go away through fancy rhetoric or canny argumentation. That reminder of physical reality beyond the niceties of law and legislation is one that's sorely lacking in our government today.

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The reason is people are not so naive. In 20th C., affiliating your position with [Science] has often just been short hand for [Trust Me]. It has been a way to dress up mutton as lamb. Only a certain kind of person argues: I know the all the facts. I am 100% right. They are usually (1) people who do not know what they are talking about; or (2) people who [bracket] their scope of knowledge to the subset of things that [conform to their education/training/expertise], but then extrapolate further. And, everybody knows, politics covers a broader scope of ambition and emotion. Certainly, broader than what is taught [in XYZ school]. It covers hopes and dreams [mlk, ghandi]. As well as other more base instincts [20th century wars, etc]. So, there is no [expertise] in politics that is an academic credential. And to substitute an [academic] [science] credential and call it an [expertise] in politics is dressing up [mutton] and calling it [Lamb]. Its just short hand for [Trust Me]. And the reason people do not buy that? The reason is that people are not so naive.

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So to follow your argument, being a lawyer does not make one "law". Shouldn't people other than lawyers have input on laws? :) Also: Godwin's law.

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> So to follow your argument, being a lawyer does not make one "law".

...is this supposed to be a point of some kind? Of course being a lawyer doesn't make you "the law".

> Shouldn't people other than lawyers have input on laws?

Why? People should be familiar with law for the same reason people should be familiar with science. It's important; it's relevant; it contributes to society in a positive and melioristic way.

> Also: Godwin's law.

Do you actually know what Godwin's Law states?

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> ...is this supposed to be a point of some kind?

No, it's not. I'm just poking fun at the parent post, specifically the "practicing science does not make you science" line. It just sounded like some bizarre variation of "you are (or not) what you eat" to me.

> Why? People should be familiar with law for the same reason people should be familiar with science.

I agree with this. Unfortunately, all too often people making laws about science know nothing about it, and end up setting discovery back. Ideally there would be someone in government whose critical thinking could balance out all the rhetoric. I'm not saying all lawyers should be replaced with scientists.

> Do you actually know what Godwin's Law states?

I have not yet been banned from Wikipedia. Re-read the comment I am replying to. He is arguing against putting scientists in government because the Nazis had scientists. It was a good trolling attempt though - look at us two go on about it :)

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>He is arguing against putting scientists in government because the Nazis had scientists.

This doesn't comment does not merit a response, but no he is not.

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I think about college and all the team projects. The best project lead I had was not necessarily the best at the material, but he was the most competent at delegating work, focusing the team, and moving things along. When he asked me to explain a concept he didn't understand, I didn't think less of him (short of major oversights). He was vastly more competent than I at managing the group though, and I didn't mind because it let me focus on the science. The best engineers/scientists do not necessarily make the best handlers of people. And any government lab or university engineering department has plenty of petty office politics, rife with enough absurdity that we have comics and movies about it.

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I don't think anyone is claiming that scientists are infallible godly beings. Rather, the article is pointing out that countries that elect scientists to their governments end up with significantly more scientific progress than governments that elect lawyers, poly sci majors, and business people.

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Because elections are a poor way to elect competent people, overall?

The best democratic system in the world won't help anything if the population is not educated or interested enough to make an informed decision. Democracy itself is distorted because it doesn't thrive for optimal solutions, instead, it thrives to please the people.

The people who get elected are detached from the population to begin with. Being a "politician" is a full-time job. That's absurd. Policies are responsibility of each individual citizen.

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> Being a "politician" is a full-time job. That's absurd.

Really? Representing thousands (if not hundreds of thousands or millions) of people and sorting/synthesizing policy suggestions to try and come up with something that will (a) work in constituent interests (b) will fly with some majority well enough to make it happen -- it's somehow "absurd" that this might conceivably take up 40+ hours a week?

A lack of information and disengagement on the part of most citizens is a problem, but it's not one that stems from having full-time offices or representative democracy itself.

> Democracy itself is distorted because it doesn't thrive for optimal solutions, instead, it thrives to please the people.

Apparently a displeased people would be more optimal?

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> Apparently a displeased people would be more optimal?

Let me make an analogy:

Democracy is like presenting hamburger and healthy food to kids every 4 years and asking them to chose one; then later complaining they're obese.

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Being a politician != representing thousands (or more) of people.

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There was that popular link being circulated a while back... Democracy does not aim to select the optimal candidate but to minimize the damage caused. The candidate chosen is the "least bad", not the most optimal.

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Isn't "least bad" equivalent to optimal?

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If your selection function optimizes for minimized damage, not maximized improvement, sure.

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Same scale, different sign, and varying by person. One person's maximized "improvement" is another person's maximized damage. Sometimes "do nothing" is the best we can hope for, because the alternative is worse.

See also Duverger's Law: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_law

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I think in this case "least bad" means "least bad in the worst case".

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We are in a position to change politics in this connected era, yet we don't do it. We need modern thinkers to propose new election systems, new forms of government, new ideologies more consonant with modern times.

It will take time, old school politicians are dying, new crops are learning the old tricks to perpetuate themselves in power. New ideas are emerging, people is getting sick of corruption, occupy movements gaining momentum, etc.

We just need strong voices and calls to action. Things need to change, and no matter what, things will change.

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What we need is less government and more conscious individuals willing to make decisions.

Any concentration of power leads to corruption and manipulation of masses. Democracy is just one way of doing it - the most successful so far.

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I completely agree, and India is a prime example of this. In some of the poorer states there, the politicians are blatantly corrupt, yet keep getting re-elected.

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I know what you're talking about: I'm from Brazil.

Democracy is a recipe for bad decisions everywhere, though. In Europe, you won't elect a leader who talks about cutting government expenses, even if those are needed. Instead, you'll get a leader who pleases the population, with catastrophic results.

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> Because elections are a poor way to elect competent people, overall?

Better than anything else we've tried.

I could mention Pol Pot and I could mention the Soviet Union and so on, but I won't. All I'll say is, "When you fuck up a system of government, the results get bloody extremely fast."

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Elections are the least worst system so far, but they are far from optimal.

In effect what we get is "second rate people recruiting third rate people". If you have ever had anything to do with the general public you will realize the average person is pretty stupid. That is why they so easily fall for all the lies politicians tell.

In particular the public consistently votes for deficit spending and the accumulation of unsustainable debt, short sighted policies and policies based on emotion rather than reason.

We need to find some way to skew the legislature towards people who are honest, and who are more than fast talking lawyers - people committed to rationality and sustainable policies.

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> Better than anything else we've tried.

Is it really better? Or is the one people chose because it favors inertia and doesn't force them to think?

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> Is it really better? Or is the one people chose because it favors inertia and doesn't force them to think?

There's never been a system tried that forced people to think any more than democracy does. All the other systems actively discourage some kind of thought, in fact, usually at gunpoint.

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I think a more interesting question is: why do Americans elect Lawyers? It's the most common profession in Congress (not including the self-referential "politics" answer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Members_of_the_111th_United_Sta...). Both presidential candidates are Harvard Law students as well.

I understand why Lawyers would want to become Lawmakers. I don't understand however such an unpopular field manages to get elected so often.

My new theory is that the House Representatives (not the Senate or Executive Branch) should be selected not by election but by random lottery, similar to jury duty. It would be much more representative of the populous than what we have today.

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I've read about that before :) , there was also a short story by Asimov in which the Voter was chosen at random.

For example, here's a paper from Yale:

http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?artic...

some random blogs:

http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/ben-saunders-c...

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We elect lawyers because they're good at talking us into it. They're advocates.

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Do you really want random, uneducated people wielding that much power? People who idolize celebrities?

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It's this kind of attitude that makes geeks / scientists generally disliked by the 'celebrity-idolizing' masses. My guess is the average person who would meet the qualifications to represent in the house (i.e., read, write, good standing with the law, etc) is probably more intelligent than you think, and a basic competency test could weed out those who aren't.

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Things like SOPA fail to convince me of the quality of education held by current lawmakers.

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If you are going in for heart surgery, you probably want a team of surgeons and anaesthesiologists to perform your operation. You wouldn't want a team of lawyers to do it -- you would die.

It boggles the mind that we don't hold the same standards for decision making in our government: environmental policy is decided by a team of lawyers, military spending is decided by lawyers, security policy is decided by lawyers.

Certainly good rhetoric and being able to engender passion in the populace has it's place, but I'm hard pressed to believe that 99% of the elected leadership positions in government should be occupied by people with primarily those skill sets.

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The people who acquire power tend to be those skilled at acquiring power.

To be more accurate, those who acquire power tend to be those who are good at acquiring power under the system for doing so. Existing political systems favor the most charismatic politicians. What system would encourage the most able technocrats, instead of the most ruthless? This isn't a rhetorical question.

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I don't know the answer, but your use of the word "ruthless" brings up a good point.

I seem to remember hearing about studies[0] which showed that to be a politician (or even a CEO of a large company) required certain psychopathic traits. This is because making decisions like, e.g.:

- Sending people to war, knowing that many will not return

- Changing laws which will result in many being worse off

- Firing hundreds/thousands of people, with potential disastrous consequences for many of them

Would be very difficult to be made by somebody who possesses a strong sense of empathy.

I wonder if lawyers tend to posses the same traits, because often they are asked to defend people, even if the persons crimes were indefensible. Likewise, I wonder if this is related to why other professionals are underrepresented? I am doing my PhD in Australia, and despite the occasional crazy academic, I don't think (many of) my colleagues show psychopathic tendencies that I am aware of.

[0] - I don't recall where I heard this, so no citations forthcoming.

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"What system would encourage the most able technocrats, instead of the most ruthless?"

In general, I think in the US, we torture politicians and bureaucrats far too much.

However, I don't think putting smart people in government is going to solve all of our problems, and it could make things much worse (I'm serious when I say that -- sometimes smart people make extremely unwise policy decisions).

I think, what we really need, are people that:

* Have not publicly stated a bunch of opinions. The more clearly you state an opinion in public, the more it becomes a part of your identity no matter how ridiculous.

* Have been wrong enough times that they aren't afraid of being wrong one more time. They expect a high likelihood of being wrong, so build safeguards into their policies for when they don't work.

* Are willing to cede power. Maybe some federal laws could be state laws, instead? Or maybe state laws could be local laws? Or maybe they don't need to be laws at all, and the goal can be accomplished in some less-forceful way.

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Meritocracy. The new word is "Meritocracy" and it will be the successor to Democracy.

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Wasn't there an episode of The Simpsons about this?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They_Saved_Lisas_Brain

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The Simpsons is not intellectually notable

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Are there scientists to vote for in the US? I would love to vote for one, but they're are no scientist candidates in my country. And virtually every academic I know, openly hates politics and wants to stay away from it.

"The largest punishment for those who are not interested in politics, is that they'll be governed by those who are."

Maybe the best solution would be to teach politics to scientists, and not the other way around?

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I was also wondering how many scientists run for political office. I have never heard of one (although maybe they don't advertise it loudly due to fear of a bias). I think a lot of it has to do with the amount of time and effort that goes into specialized knowledge. As a healthcare worker (not a scientist), politics is definitely looming over me, although on a daily basis I rarely if ever think about it. I don't think I could ever pursue both.

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Politics is theater. At least under our current setup and probably most others.

Ever notice how little policy is actually discussed even when a supposed policy wonk (e.g. Clinton, Ryan) are giving the speech?

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Quite simply because they don't run for office. Angela Merkel is quite an exception in that respect. Usually, in Germany it's quite the same as in the US: Most high-profile politicians are lawyers or - a German peculiarity - former teachers.

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Americans don't elect scientists, because scientists don't run for office. Scientists don't run for office because they want to be scientists rather than politicians. Maybe the problem is that American politics requires elected officials to spend 100% of their time being politicians?

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Any level-headed scientist knows the awful stigma American politics has and the seedy underbelly one must traverse to come even close to getting anywhere...and as such, they avoid it.

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There's a word for this: "technocracy".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technocracy

I believe it comes down to whether or not scientists/engineers/etc would actually like to hold office. Truly passionate people want and need to be on the ground. Becoming a leader removes one from the processes that have a direct impact.

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Most scientists/engineers/etc I know (including myself) would love to hold office, but have little interest in the life-consuming activity of running for office.

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Many scientists are atheists or at the very least not strictly religious. It seems that you currently have to believe in God to be elected. Is this keeping many of them from even running?

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Some states forbid Atheists from holding public office. Looking at current supreme court decisions where they differ everything back to state, these laws may stand if challenged. Only thing that has precedent is forcing religious tests, you can't force people take an oath as requirement for the spot.

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I found this hard to believe, but:

Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1:

    No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.
Maryland, Article 37:

    That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.
Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265:

    No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.
North Carolina Article 6, Section 8:

         The following persons shall be disqualified for office:

    First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.
South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4:

    No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.
Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2:

    No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.


from: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2009/12/15/whic...

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Just ... wow. Whatever your religious stance, the United States rests on a continent that was colonized with flight from religious persecution as one of its FOUNDING reasons. I'm surprised that such requirements are listed, period. It seems like they danced around http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_religious_test_clause with their wording by simply declaring an entire binding philosophy of people [a]theist and [a]gnostic (where the letter in []'s is optional). Wow.

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It makes some sense. America was founded on the belief that we (or at that time at least white, male property owners) were endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. It was only by appealing to a greater power that we could essentially describe human rights and the need for limited government and individual liberty.

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> Looking at current supreme court decisions where they differ everything back to state ...

I read this sentence three times before I figured out where the error was. The word you want is defer, not differ.

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The last study on this I read said that only 20% of scientists believe that science and religion are in constant conflict with each other. So the pool is not as small as you might think, if that is your requirement.

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Even if it's true that only 20% of scientists believe that science and religion are in constant conflict (citation?), it does not follow that the remaining 80% believe in a supernatural overlord or are members of any mainstream cult.

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http://www.ehecklund.rice.edu/raas.html http://shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=23056

The second link indicates that the study found out that about half of those scientists surveyed express a religious identity, yet only 15% say they are always in conflict. My guess is most of those in the middle count themselves as 'deists'.

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Ecklund's claims are greatly exaggerated, if not blatantly false. See http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2010/05/20/scientists-... for the debunking and http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2010/06/sciencereligion... for a more detailed examination of the compatibility of science and religion. Or go straight to the source and try to find an angle that supports your original statement, 'cause I can't: http://img248.imageshack.us/img248/8594/ecklund2.jpg.

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I never stated the viability of the entire thing, just that many scientists do consider themselves religious, regardless of compatibility. I personally don't think they are completely compatible unless you are looking at your religion as more of a cultural identity than a book of 'truths', or if you are Buddhist (http://tricycleblog.wordpress.com/2007/10/26/einsteins-quote...).

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And scientists aren't very good liars. If you could science your way through a campaign then there would be more scientists going for it, but unfortunately that doesn't work.

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You know what else scientists aren't? A group that can be generalized about that easily. Are you seriously willing to put forth scientists 'can tell no lies'? Do you have any evidence to support this generalization?

As an earlier poster has said, being a scientist doesn't make you any less human and subject to everything that goes along with that - emotions, irrationality, ego, and so on.

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"not good liars" does not mean "can tell no lies"; in this case it means "has not had years of professional training and experience in debating/argument tactics and how to manipulate irrational audiences".

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You obviously never attended graduate school :)

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Heh. I did, actually. :) That's why I added the "irrational audiences" bit; an academic environment does train you to argue and debate effectively, but with other academically-minded, vaguely rational people. Playing politics with a broader audience requires two related skills that communicating in an academic require doesn't require as often or as strongly: communicating with people who have a much larger inferential distance from you (http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Inferential_distance), and dealing with people who don't subscribe to logic at all.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_D._Holt

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Rush Holt is great. I met him when I was in grad school lobbying for more research funding / better loan situations / better health coverage for graduate students. He took a decent chunk of time to sit down and talk with a group of grad students from all over the country who weren't donors or anything.

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Are you from 12th district as well? Glad someone pointed this out. I have a lot of pride that this man is a representative - literally a rocket scientist.

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He came to speak to my High School civics class in his first campaign for the House - very proud to say he represents my district.

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I grew up in the 12th district. My parents still live there.

Holt really is a great congressman.

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In a political climate where a major state's dominant political party's platform wants to ban critical thinking skills because they "challenge a student's fixed beliefs" and "undermine parental authority", it is unthinkable that scientists could be in government.

http://tinyurl.com/6rqnygr [DailyTech]

Typically, a critical mass of the populace equates science as being anti-God, and critical thinking as being conspiratorial.

http://tinyurl.com/c2tjf8h [ScientificAmerican]

At the most, a scientist could get elected to a house seat from a district with lots of hi-tech firms or universities. He / she would have no chance of winning a statewide or countrywide political race.

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I don't want to step on too many toes, but I have to make mention of the error in the particular arrogance among the scientific community that their work qualifies them to reform other industries and facets of the human existence. Obviously the work of scientists and engineers is vital, and worthy of credit and praise, but I would not trust even the smartest scientists and engineers I know to handle the foreign policy of a nation, for example. Or tell me how to live my life, ethically or morally. I'm saying this from the perspective of an engineer, to my credit--I'm well aware of the talent and brilliance in the community. I just think it's dangerous to worship the altar of science to solve all of our problems.

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"Or tell me how to live my life, ethically or morally"

Is this really the duty of politicians though? Certainly there's been a lot of discourse about this in the current landscape, especially from those attempting to impart their personal ethics and morals on the political landscape, but this shouldn't be the duty of the government, but the duty of individuals (chiefly parents) as well as that of a society as a whole. Government shouldn't have any business in what is ethical or moral but in what is legal (which is sometimes, but not always a reflection of ethics and morals).

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Sure, I agree, I wasn't trying to say that it's the politician's job...that line was meant to represent the ethical sphere of a human's existence, another example of a facet in which I don't think a scientist necessarily should be trusted to lead, at least not solely based on their occupation/skill set related to their scientific work. That's all I meant.

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> Government shouldn't have any business in what is ethical or moral but in what is legal

"Enforcement" is the use of force to assert an ethical and moral position. "Legal Enforcement" is the monopolistic use of force to assert an ethical and moral position. It's not possible to enforce "what is legal" on others without asserting a morality.

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I think it's more dangerous to worship irrationality. Frankly, I don't care if someone is a "scientist" or not, only that their method of truth discovery follows the scientific method and philosophy. There is no other methodology that has consistently increased our knowledge base over time.

Speaking of trust, I've been at the mercy of unscientific and irrational politicians my whole life whom I do not trust. I do not trust you because you are a "family man", or a "common man" or because you are "spiritual." In fact, if you are spiritual or religious, I trust you less by the fact that you subscribe to a non-rational philosophy.

Finally, I won't pretend to want to avoid stepping on toes. I'm sure the above will step on toes.

edit: and before someone accuses me of having no morals or ethics, I can assure you that I do. If I were forced to join an organisation, I suppose I'd have to join the secular humanists.

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The simple reality is scientists don't say things people like.

If you ask a scientist what you should do about your medical condition, they say unhappy, unreasoning things like "the best data we have at the moment says you should do X and it has a 63% chance of showing some improvement but you need to watch for side effects A, B, C, and D"

If you ask a homeopath or other snake oil salesman what you should do about your medical condition, they say happy, reassuring things like "You should do Y. I'm sure it will help and it has no side effects".

Scientists suck at selling things including themselves, and politics is all about selling yourself.

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The biggest barrier to mounting a credible election campaign is getting funding. Scientists are good at getting funding when it comes to writing grant applications, but raising real money in most elections means spending a couple hours every night of the campaign calling people and begging for money.

They don't talk about this and you don't see it on TV, but that's actually the biggest challenge most new candidates face. Policy statements, talking to voters, and giving speeches is a pretty minor part of it.

Most scientists just aren't going to be successful in that environment.

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> Most scientists just aren't going to be successful in that environment.

That's why university presidents are paid small fortunes.

-----


Do scientists want to be elected ?

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I work in science, and the answer is basically no. In order to be a successful scientist, you have to be fascinated, even obsessed with your topic of study, sometimes to the point of not really caring about the wider world. This means that, in general, those who have the most success in science are also those who have the least desire to run for public office.

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I was thinking the same thing. They're rarely elected because they're rarely on the ballot.

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They say the same about woman.

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"A more politically sensitive approach to problems and issues, on the other hand, often leads to positions that simply don’t jibe with the facts, no matter how delicately phrased. Examples as diverse as stem cell research and the economic stimulus abound."

It bothers me that the author states the existence of examples, without actually telling us what the example is.

Reading between the lines, it seems like the author is implying that some (unstated) policy positions related to stem cells and the economic stimulus are refuted by scientific facts.

Although science might inform people on either issue, or cause people to change their minds, I don't see how science or logic could make strong conclusions in either case. That the author implies that science can answer these questions is a big part of the reason that people are skeptical of scientists in government.

EDIT: I suppose questions about economics could, in theory, be answered in a compelling way by science. But in reality, the economy is so complex that I just don't regard an economic opinion by an economist as anything more than an informed opinion. Interesting, but it's not like it's a repeatable experiment that anyone can verify.

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"For complex historical reasons, Americans have long privately dismissed scientists and mathematicians as impractical and elitist, even while publicly paying lip service to them."

It's not so much that they dismiss scientists and mathematicians as much as those people don't connect and talk a good game like people from other backgrounds can. Laywers in particular who can be great orators. That "game" is the thing that gets you elected. A great example of the "it" factor that get's you elected is what Obama has, what Clinton displayed last night in his speech at the DNC, and obviously what Kennedy had that allowed him to win the televised debate but lose the radio debate to Nixon in the 60's. (I shouldn't say "win" "lose" what I really mean is the perception of people at the time apparently). Oh and Reagan obviously. Carter had headed a nuclear sub but had a folksy manner which seemed to work for him.

That connection and charisma is really the important thing that gets you elected in this country.

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Scientists are driven by truth - politicians are not.

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That's a big overgeneralisation. Scientists can often be seeking to further their own agenda and politicians can often be trying to legitimately improve things. At the end of the day most examples of both are really driven by some form of furthering their career. Scientists usually need funding which can be difficult to come across if you're doing the "wrong" things. Politicians usually need votes and campaign contributions which can be difficult to come across if you're doing the "wrong" things.

That said, at the end of the day scientists win when they can make statistically viable predictions and politicians win when people like what they've done so it's not as if they're exactly the same. But the engineer-type tendency to reduce this to your simple one-liner hurts far more than it helps.

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I posit that truly great scientists cannot make great politicians (at least in liberal democracies).

The primary motivation of a great scientist is to pursue truth, typically in what is observable or can be proven by experimentation (there are exceptions). The primary motivation of a great politician is to convince other human beings to affect change or keep them in office. This usually involves obfuscating truths and repainting what is observable to appeal to others.

This puts core motivations and corresponding skill-sets between a great scientist and great politician at fundamental odds with each other.

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We did elect at least one (a five-term congressman, representing Princeton, NJ): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_D._Holt,_Jr.

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People in power should be exceptionally developed in all core fields: sciences, mathematics, technology, medicine, law, history, language, psychology and philosophy. Only then will they wield enough knowledge to be able to make decisions with good reason. I agree with the article, there needs to be a balance of knowledge among those in power which does not exist now. This will allow for better, faster progress.

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Related article and discussion (Eight Out Of China’s Top Nine Government Officials Are Scientists): http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2556590

A scientist's/engineer's life is one of constant learning. They simply cannot take time off to run a campaign/take office for a few years.

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Germany did: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Merkel

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"...scientifically literate government leaders who push for evidence-based policies and demonstrate a scientific outlook are needed more than glib panderers with attitude."

In my subjective experience, scientifically literate leaders usually have way better attitude than ones who are not that literate.

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Because by and large, scientists tend not to run for office.

As an engineer I am almost bored to tears when I think about running for political office and what the campaign and the job entails...it's likely that scientists just have more interesting things they can spend their time on.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked this very same question and he basically said: scientists are not interested in politics. They are interested in their field because they spend years going to school to learn and want to do research.

Politics is about laws, not science.

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The best part about science that could be used by politics is empiricism. There is so much talk of right and wrong, as if the policies of the next guy are going to be written in stone forever. Our nation is a human construct, the constitution a written document, amendable, changeable. A good scientist would look at the problems facing this nation and say, "Well, let's see what this policy does."

We try hard to make good policy, but the universe is complicated, people are finicky, and policies can fail. We need a political environment that encourages this kind of empiricism, and rejects the absolutist assumptions that seem to underly all political debate.

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Because our laws have been so overly complicated that we have come to believe that we need lawyers to write them.

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Scientists are too smart to get into politics.

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Why don't Americans elect scientists? Examing Data on historical samples, may be instructive.[1] Some of the mor salient points to note, after reviewing the sample data:

(1) A 'Science' criterion is Neither necessary nor sufficient;

(2) Political geography is not most likely a relevant issue.

Indeed were it so, the relative newness of 'Science' would imply there were no good leaders among the Ancients -- clearly an error.

(3) Other examples: Presidents w/ Engineering Degrees. Ulysses S. Grant (1869); Dwight D. Eisenhower (953); Jimmy Carter (1976).

So, data and logic imply we start from a flawed premise. Science of course, would not disqualify you, provided you had the political skills. But the correlation is not assured one way or the other. To the extent its relevant, it may not be explanatory.

______________

[1] Reference points might include, eg: Pericles, Leonidas (that guy from sparta), Alexander (the great), Cicero, Caeser (Julius), Ausgustus, Elizabeth I, Napolean, Trafalgar, Lincoln, FDR, Churchill, Reagan

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"I’ve visited Singapore a few times in recent years and been impressed with its wealth and modernity. I was also quite aware of its world-leading programs in mathematics education and naturally noted that one of the candidates for president was Tony Tan, who has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. Tan won the very close election and joined the government of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who also has a degree in mathematics."

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/1.04/gibson.html

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I think there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this.

What I suspect is going on is that if Americans elected scientists, then hurricanes and earthquakes would increase dramatically, partly because the scientists would use the military to cause them on purpose to justify their budgets, and also because it would make god mad as many scientists are godless communists, and everybody knows that god hates communism.

So it is a completely sane and rational form of self-preservation against activist geologists and a possibly capricious deity, and as such I would ask what the New York Times thinks it is doing by publishing an article that could possibly immanentise the eschaton before we have even had a chance to straighten out the economy.

[edit] To retain the utmost standards of fairness and academic rigour, the research for this post was comprised exclusively of the stated opinions of elected officials, and a selection of comments posted to youtube videos about penguins.

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As said elsewhere on this thread, scientists usually make terrible politicians which is an essential skill in a thriving democracy (and Singapore ain't one).

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The fact that Singapore isn't all that democratic from an American perspective might have a good bit to do about why it's thriving otherwise. Go read Graham's Case Against the Democratic State and Hoppe's Democracy: The God that Failed for more (note that Hoppe's book apparently started life as a collection of essays, it is really, really repetitive, even though it's also short).

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[citation needed]

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Because evolution. (Seriously.)

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Not all scientists are evolutionary biologists.

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