Thursday, March 20, 2014

Politics Through a Scientific Lens

There are many parallels between the world of politics and that of the physical sciences, but some major differences, of course, too.  The upcoming election in my province of residence within Canada (Quebec), as well as the unstable and too often brutal reality in many other jurisdictions across the globe, has brought politics to the forefront of this engineer's brain.

To be honest, when I turned eighteen, and obtained the right to vote, I had little interest in politics (I probably could not have named my province's Premier at the time).  My feeling is that today, this age group is more worldly than I was.  However, until we truly grow roots where we live, be it through having kids or buying real estate, politics are usually quite far from one's mind.

As an adolescent with an interest in science, I had a kind of skewed view of what people should focus on.  My father explained to me that not everyone needed to know science, but everyone needed to be involved in democracy, be politically literate, and cast a vote.  I thought that if the choice was one or the other, people should be scientifically literate.

Now that I am older and hopefully wiser, I see that we were both wrong.  People should have a minimum literacy with both science and politics.  If we do not understand the basic science behind an energy crisis or global warming, how can we establish who has the best energy or environmental policies?  We certainly cannot trust most journalists to inform us - for two reasons: (1) they often work for a media company with a political agenda and (2) they rarely possess a basic background in science themselves.

The most interesting contrast between science and politics that I see is as follows...