Why does communicating science matter?

The world felt more than a little bit exasperated last week, when the President of the world’s largest economy announced that they would be pulling out from the Paris Climate Agreement: a convention aiming to tackle the effects of greenhouse gases. Trump says its due to ‘a reassertion of American Sovereignty’, but under the surface of that its likely due to close relationships with oil, gas and coal companies, as well as a lack of understanding for a widely supported piece of science. Because if I didn’t fully appreciate climate change’s impact on the planet, I might be inclined to not want to be part of the Paris Climate Agreement either.

There is a district lack of STEM expertise present in government, in the UK only 9% of MPs and 20% of MEPs having a background in STEM. The lack of scientific thinking in politics can be a problem, not only because the politicians may lack the insight of the industry, but they also may not fully understand scientific concepts (which is evident in the Trump/Paris Climate Agreement debacle).

And America isn’t the only country where we should be concerned with the level of scientific ignorance in parliament. In fact, I am rather concerned about some attitudes in my home country of Wales. Andrew Haigh, UKIP’s national organiser for Wales, sells a product called “Aerobic Oxygen”. It is an industrial-strength bleach product that is told to have health benefits if used when cleaning your teeth. This is a man who wants to influence policy in Wales, including science policy, but clearing believes in and/or capitalises on a lack of scientific understanding.

The influence in science is crucial, as the miss-informed cannot create well-informed policies.

Scientists already work hard on engagement and scientific outreach with young children, and in light of recent events, it raises the question to whether scientists should also be investing time in outreach focused towards politicians. Because (and I would like to egotistically quote myself here): Misinformed politicians can lead to misinformed policies, which will not only impact scientific research community itself, but also how science research moulds our modern society.

Ultimately, it is likely that endless engagement would not have stopped Trump from pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, due to unquestionable invested interests. But it is fair to say that regular engagement with politicians about new research or outreach about scientific thinking could benefit governmental decision making. Or, for a less time-consuming and simple solution, we should encourage more STEM professionals to pursue a career in politics, to ensure that their expertise and understanding is well represented in political events.

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Author: Alice Gray

STEM-inist blogger hoping to raise awareness for the issues facing women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

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