Thursday, August 27, 2009

Science pledge: just say no

Well the science pledge poll results are in and, I can proudly announce dear readers, that you're wrong. Or rather 63% of the people who voted in the poll are. It happens, don't feel bad about it.

Should a pledge be introduced for scientists and technologists to promise to respect the Earth and life upon it?
Selection
Votes
Yes - absolutely! 35%46
Yes - could be a good idea 28%37
No - although I'm sympathetic 10%13
No - I hate the idea 25%32
Not sure 2%2
130 votes total



I'm assuming 'foul play' but I could be wrong. I'd just like to raise some of my problems with a pledge specifically for scientists (which is currently the Green Party of England and Wales' policy).
  1. Why single out scientists? Why not make industrialists or hedge-fund managers take a pledge?
  2. What happens to them if they don't? When some poor sap working in theoretical physics, wrestling with an algebraic leviathan, doesn't want to 'respect' anything without the prefix 'nano-' attached does he lose his job? What does that do to academic freedom?
  3. Why do we have to rely on moralistic mechanisms like pledges? Don't they substitute for the more difficult process of actually persuading people? What's wrong with making environmentally damaging practices illegal?
I personally believe that such a pledge feeds into the idea that all Greens are anti-science. Well, that may be true of some but I reckon they're the minority and I hope to prove that in March by taking out our policy to make people swear oaths to Mother Nature or whatever.

NB next week is Green Party conference and the whole 'Is science naughty' thing is going to get aired formally at two workshops, hope to see flocks of sensible Greens there.

3 pm Friday Stuart Jeffrey is leading a panel on "science and health care - what treatments should be available on the NHS?"

12 noon on Saturday We have a workshop billed as setting up the science and technology working group, although actually it's going to discuss some of these issues around policy in a bit more depth.

11 comments:

weggis said...

Jim,
I know I said I wasn't going to vote but I did accidentally and for "yes absolutely". The way it was configured on the page was a drop down menu with "yes absolutely" displayed. I clicked the button underneath thinking it would show the results to date, but it just thanked me for my vote. The software you used was obviously meant for USA elections.

Jim Jay said...

Well that's cheered me up! As long it was a corrupt vote that's fine :)

Are you coming to conference this time?

Adam Ramsay said...

I don't like the idea of a pledge, for the reasons you give, and also because it misunderstands science. We shouldn't see scientists as wise authority figures who are either good or evil. Science is the process of analysing ideas rationally. People who are paid to do this in academia, and publish papers etc, are professional scientists, but anyone we can all test their ideas by seeing if their conclusions match their evidence etc. the idea that they are some kind of wizard with magical powers they must use for good promotes misunderstanding, disempowerment and bad thinking. Obviously I agree that scientists, and everyone else, should use their skills for good. See you at conference.

Adam Ramsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
weggis said...

Conference? Nah! There may be no Premier league that weekend but there is World Cup qualifying.

ModernityBlog said...

Once you start with these "pledges" where will it stop?

Kieran Wild said...

This pledge is a patronising nonsense. It makes GPEW look like ignorant reactionary hippies.

Jim Jay said...

Well most members I know are opposed to it and hopefully it will be taken out of policy asap.

weggis said...

So, how did it get there in the first place, Jim?
This is a serious question about how representative conference is of the wider membership. And how the extent of a wider membership may be constrained.

Term said...

Man how you do this really hard, but you are too good.

Term said...

Great follow up.