Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Science and Politicians

I was watching the CNN American Morning program on TV this morning while doing my workout (not by choice - it is the show of choice for most of the people doing the work out at the gym at work). At one point, they were showing the "energy plans" of the 2 US presidential candidates, i.e. what both Barak Obama and John McCain plan on doing and achieving during their presidency to tackle both environmental concerns due to energy consumption and to reduce the US dependence on imported oil. The plans include off-shore drilling, increasing the use of "renewable energy sources", giving incentives to use more hybrid vehicles, more nuclear power plants, etc.. etc. (both candidates do not have all of these items on their lists - I'm just giving a sampling of what I got from both candidates).

Immediately, 2 things came to my mind while I was huffing and puffing on the treadmill:

1. How did these two candidates come up with such a plan? I mean, I'm hoping that these things just didn't come to them in a dream, or they didn't just grab them (and the timeline) out of thin air.

2. How come CNN did not have experts in this area to analyze the feasibility or effectiveness of these plans? I mean, whenever they have certain issues involved, such as medical questions, they always had some "experts" to give their professional opinions. Why didn't they have one there to dissect these plans? Instead, they had their "chief economic correspondent" to present what is essentially a technical/scientific issue.

Here's what I would like to know whenever something like this is presented:

Who is the expert (or experts if there are more than one) advising the candidates on such technical/scientific matters? If, for example, they instead rely on some "economist" to help them make a decision, then I already know that they simply have very low respect to getting accurate advice from people who should know the subject matter, and that they are more interested in the political aspect of the decision rather than being technically/scientifically sound. Who they listen to and who is advising them is important here since none of these candidates are obviously scientists or engineers who are capable to understand such issues. Furthermore, these are also probably the pool of people that might be considered for various cabinet positions when they are in office. So who are they? Who is whispering in Obama and McCain's ears when it comes to science and technological decisions such as this?

I find coverage on scientific and technical issues severely lacking in the media, which is of no surprise since most of the general public has no clue on its importance. Plus, they think it is BORING. Oh, we have certainly seen many coverage of energy and environmental issues. But really, when was the last time you actually see on TV an in-depth discussion on the technological and scientific aspect of these issues, rather than a political/economic angle? Whenever I see energy issues being discussed, it never fails to be presented from the political and economic point of view. The fact that the US has so many experts in this field, not to mention, the presence of the US National Academy of Sciences, somehow do not impress any of the media enough to seek these credible sources for advice or input.

At some point, the public needs to pay attention to their sources. At some point, the public needs to distinguish and separate the STYLE from SUBSTANCE. And at some point, the public needs to figure out the validity of the "information" they are being given. If not, then we all deserve what we get, or going to get.



cometman said...

I've been an avid reader of your website ever since I saw João Magueijo's program a few months ago and did a search to find out more about the guy and came across your post about the show.

I especially like how you tie the latest in scientific knowledge together with the educational and political ramifications of some of these discoveries.

I post at a few different political websites regularly and have been linking to quite a few of your posts. Hopefully you don't mind.

If you're interested, I could give you a link so you can crosspost some of your politically oriented posts. I'm not a scientist, just someone who's very interested in physics, so I have a hard time giving good responses when people respond to things I've linked to from your website.

Great website. Keep up the good work!

ZapperZ said...

You are welcome to post the link. I can't guarantee that I can address every issue being brought up, but I can certainly comment on here the various scientific aspect of the issue.

I'm not a big fan of political discussion. It isn't based on anything that can be resolved, and more often than not, it is based on tastes and personal preferences, which makes it as good as a discussion on favorite color. But I don't mind tackling the validity or the source on some of the science issues surrounding such political discussion.


cometman said...

Thanks. I just posted a link.

I don't blame you at all for your distaste of most political discussion as it really is fairly pointless. That's why I particularly enjoy your posts which tend to concentrate not on the popularity contests and the horseraces which I dislike as well, but actual issues like media coverage, our educational system, etc.

And thanks for the heads up on the Big Bang program airing tonight. I probably would have missed it otherwise if I hadn't read about it here.