From the Editor: 85.4 Science & Politics

William Zhang | william.zhang@yale.edu November 10, 2012

From the Editor: 85.4 Science & Politics

Scientists and politicians have always had their disagreements. From the post-World War II atomic weapon disputes to the current storm over stem cells, the views of researchers and policy makers have clashed throughout the course of modern history. But perhaps the situation now is more urgent than ever.

As politics continues to polarize, citizens have only become further entrenched in their values, often losing sight of the hard facts supported by quantitative data and evidence. Surgeon Generals have been victim to a trend of diminishing jurisdiction over public health measures, while politicians cave to expectations of preventing science from “interfering” with their values — a stark contrast from the past with presidents, such as John F. Kennedy, who needed to assure that religion and other biases would not cloud their role as leaders.

And this is not solely an issue of political preference: both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of these acts, “massaging” statistics and vacillating until scientific facts are distorted, twisted, and politicized. While it may be easy to peg a certain party as pro- or anti-science, many politicians will highlight evidence that favors their point and downplay dissenting data depending on the issue. Whether it is a blatant dismissal or a lack of understanding, science clearly warrants serious attention in political decisions. Some hold steadfast to the notion that science should solely inform and not create policy, but it is clear that such a belief has introduced gaping issues with interpretation — and scientists are the experts that can bridge the gap between misguided politics and the scientific truth.

Today, several major challenges of our nation grapple with science: global warming, abortion, stem cell research, resource usage, and energy independence, among many others. And as scientific advancements naturally make science increasingly pervasive and relevant to everyday life, voters need to keep politicians accountable for sound science policy. In light of the upcoming election, the Yale Scientific explores the intersection of science and politics. While a considerable amount of current research is directed toward developing medication and innovating therapeutics, the novel scientific applications cannot reach patients without the necessary approval by the FDA. Dr. Joseph Ross, Assistant Professor of General Internal Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, is an expert on federal medical policy and has studied the efficiency of the FDA compared it its international counterparts. Testament to the high-quality screen of this regulatory process is the reported success and acclaim of the recently-approved, groundbreaking targeted therapy for multiple myeloma developed in the laboratory of Craig Crews, the Lewis B. Cullman Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale. In addition, this issue features science policy that Yale undergraduates ranked most relevant to them and covers the underlying science, current facts, and each presidential candidate’s stance on these issues.

As election day fast approaches, it may be interesting to recognize that democratic elections essentially boil down to a scientific experiment as we come together to decide which variables to tweak based from past observations to produce desired results. In fact, as several scholars have noted, the founding fathers of our country often referred to our nascent nation as an experiment as they crafted the untested system with a healthy splash of equality, liberty, and order. And although few believed that our nation would persist, the results — like those of science experiments — were unexpected, as democracy emerged as arguably the most stable and sustainable form of government to date. By casting our votes with science in mind, we are not only emphasizing the importance of science in politics but perhaps also ultimately honoring the very foundation our nation was founded on.

William Zhang
Editor-in-Chief