March 06, 2004

Science 1, Politics 0

from - smijer

I gave up on the discussion boards and went looking for something else to put in the marquee box on the upper left of the main page. For now, I settled on selected quotes from physicist Richard P. Feynman. I almost said "famed scientist" or "Nobel Prize winning physicist", but I kind of feel like Feynman would have been just as pleased without the phony-sounding adulations.

Browsing material for the box, I came across this description of what scientists do (mostly), from a commencement address he gave at Cal Tech:

But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school--we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.

As per my usual habit of looking at damn near everything in a political context, I stopped to think about what could be said about this perspective on a mostly-political blog. It didn't take me long. Politics ain't like that! In politics, you give your side as convincingly as possible and only point out the flaws in the competing "theories" of the opposition. If you get scientific about it: if you make it a project about finding the best political theory, then you won't get anywhere, because your opposition is not going to be so high-minded.

That's my (admittedly vague) criticism of the political process as we know it. I'm still working on the ultimate solution that will revolutionize the way Americans think about politics... but I ain't quite there yet. I would suggest that we start holding "our own party" to higher standards... but doing so guarantees not only that the opposition gets elected, but also that the party with the lower standards gets elected. Suggestions?

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Posted by smijer at March 6, 2004 08:56 AM
Comments

Hey, you found something else we agree on. I could not agree more that we need to become clearer thinkers, decide what we want, and vote accordingly. I think all the 'painting the opposition black' and defaming them every chance we get clouds the issues and prevents people from making good choices. Each candidate should be willing to live what he believes and stand on his record. Voters should demand this. If we know what a person stands for, and know that he or she is honest, it becomes much easier to decide.

univar.jpg Posted by Jan on March 6, 2004 10:54 AM
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Have to agree with you on that one, Jan. Something has gone terribly wrong with not only the tone of American politics (i.e., it's ugly and mean-spirited), but also the media's flaky, shallow coverage of the issues at hand.

Even though I am a Democrat, I was pretty depressed by the format of the nearly all the candidates' debates. The questions were too often ridiculously far from important or probing, the candidates had sometimes only 30 seconds or a minute to respond...which was especially aggravating when a serious question was occasionally posed to them...and sometimes it all seemed to boil down to "image" over substance. Grr...

Smijer- I sure wish I knew the answer to your question, but I sure don't. Yes, I think we (on BOTH sides) must demand honesty in word & deed from politicians, yet...how do we do it?
Still, you raise yet another thought-provoking question, so, thanks.

univar.jpg Posted by peggy on March 6, 2004 02:43 PM
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Politics ain't like that! In politics, you give your side as convincingly as possible and only point out the flaws in the competing "theories" of the opposition. If you get scientific about it: if you make it a project about finding the best political theory, then you won't get anywhere, because your opposition is not going to be so high-minded.

You see the same sort of distinction in the study of political science versus the study of sociology.

univar.jpg Posted by Chris Wage on March 6, 2004 06:30 PM
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In the end, what you described is exactly what turns me away (eventually) from political dicussions. At some point you realize that the truth is an objective for neither party. Only the goals of the party they support matter. I'll point out that as far as this is concerned:

"If you get scientific about it: if you make it a project about finding the best political theory"

It has been done already, that's what Libertarians are. The fact that you remain a staunch Liberal, instead of considering some ideas from the other side. Proves you are a victim of the same kind of political close-mindedness you lament in your post.

The only reason you place the scientific process on this pedestal, is because you believe the majority of science supports Liberal positions on issues. If this truly wasn't the case I seriously doubt it would even be mentioned.

"then you won't get anywhere, because your opposition is not going to be so high-minded."

I also have to point out that for me, political thinking was never about winning against some kind of opposition. To me polical thinking has always been about the search for the truth.

But alas there are no references in your post about the value of truth. Only references to some kind of policital conflict that needs to be won by taking some kind of moral (or scientific) high ground. Until you come away from the Hannity-esqe political bias, you will be blind to the truth.

Hope nothing offended in that :)

univar.jpg Posted by Tim on March 7, 2004 03:31 PM
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It has been done already, that's what Libertarians are.

Heh.
Uh, since we're being all scientific minded, you wanna back up that assertion?

univar.jpg Posted by Chris Wage on March 7, 2004 04:12 PM
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Tim, nothing offended at all.

'Course, I see libertarians as advocates of certain political theories, some of which are more valid than others, but obviously I find more merit in the liberal theories that I subscribe to - else I wouldn't subscribe to them.

You said: "I also have to point out that for me, political thinking was never about winning against some kind of opposition. To me polical thinking has always been about the search for the truth."

See, this is where we diverge. We are *going* to be governed. In a democracy, citizens are lucky enough to have a voice in *how* we are going to be governed. There are factions (primarily Dem's & Republicans) that have ideas about how we are to be governed. If I prefer the Dem's ideas about government to the Republican's ideas, then it is in my interest to help them win the struggle. If I spend my time navel-gazing or getting overly ideal, then the chances increase that I'll be governed in the way I don't like.

Politics is nothing if not an effort to have an impact on how one is governed.

It is unfortunate that political realities make it difficult to maintain a scientific standard of integrity during the process. The surest way to wind up under the rule of a despot, though, is to trade one's political voice for an idealistic stance.

univar.jpg Posted by smijer on March 7, 2004 08:09 PM
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Well now I guess you can understand why I think that entire post is odd, given what you just admited.

Science is above all the search for truth, and yet you admit that truth is not what you are searching for in politics.

"It is unfortunate that political realities make it difficult to maintain a scientific standard of integrity during the process. The surest way to wind up under the rule of a despot, though, is to trade one's political voice for an idealistic stance."

Hitler came to power because of the majority of Germany's political voices, not because of idealistic stances. The accepting of political realities is what allowed the majority in Nazi Germany to eradicate the minority with the "idealistic stance". I fail to see how the above quote applies to anything other then an excuse for partisan thinking.

"Heh.
Uh, since we're being all scientific minded, you wanna back up that assertion?"

That was less an assertion then a simple tongue in cheek jab, intended to maybe garner a laugh or two from any Libertarians who might be reading this comments thread.

I will explain my thinking though...

Those on the right side and left side of political philosophy both have their intelligent points to be considered. Any person who believes one side to be completely correct, and one side to be completely wrong is going to be 50% blind to any truths that exist. The reason Libertarianism has an appeal to me, is that it takes the best of both sides and forms a political philosophy on the truth instead of partisanship. This is evidenced to me in the fact that the Libertarian party has stolen members from both the right wing and the left wing.

As far as scientifically backing up my claim. Politics is incredibly subjective, so introducing science is pointless in the extreme.

univar.jpg Posted by Tim on March 8, 2004 10:33 AM
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Tim,

The abuses of Nazi Germany were a result of many unfortunate factors, including a lack of strong constitutional protections for minority rights. When something goes wrong on that scale, it isn't hard to find the criticisms of a democratic society. It remains easier to show that democracy is preferable to despotism.

You can be idealistic, as you suggest, and try to make sure you give each side its "points".. it's a healthy process whether you are libertarian, republican, or democrat... however, if you get too caught up in doing that & don't work hard enough to influence the outcome of elections in a partisan manner, you are making yourself irrelevant, and you are making it easier for those who wish to govern you in ways you do not wish for them to.

If I have to give up the ability to influence an election in order to make sure I don't wind up supporting a candidate who does anything I don't like, then I would prefer to exit the political sphere altogether, and just consent to be governed by whoever most ruthlessly manipulates the system... Who needs ideals when you have no means of implementing them?

"Politics is incredibly subjective, so introducing science is pointless in the extreme."

I disagree. I think that it is only the values that are subjective, and it isn't difficult to achieve concensus on values. What is in dispute is how government best supports those values - something that can be shown objectively, and so -in theory- should be subject to a quasi-scientific process.

Old saying: in theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

univar.jpg Posted by smijer on March 8, 2004 10:46 AM
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You can be idealistic, as you suggest, and try to make sure you give each side its "points".. it's a healthy process whether you are libertarian, republican, or democrat... however, if you get too caught up in doing that & don't work hard enough to influence the outcome of elections in a partisan manner, you are making yourself irrelevant, and you are making it easier for those who wish to govern you in ways you do not wish for them to.

I believe that being a part of either major party is the road to irrelevance, since each side has its millions of mindless supporters. I'de rather be one among thousands and stand by my principles then be one among millions and sell myself for partisan gain. The road to changing politics lies in getting people to think for themselves, this is a goal of neither Republicans or Democrats.

univar.jpg Posted by Tim on March 8, 2004 12:57 PM
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I'll also add that its all about percentages... My influence by supporting a smaller political party is much higher then yours supporting a major one.

univar.jpg Posted by Tim on March 8, 2004 12:58 PM
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I think "instant runoff" may not be the holy grail to solve both our problems, but I think it would be a huge first step. I'm "not heard" because my voice is diluted by too many dems, and you "aren't heard" because you can't get a candidate into office. IRV's would help us both solve our problems.

univar.jpg Posted by smijer on March 8, 2004 03:05 PM
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Does anyone out there really believe that Hitler would have respected the rule of law and that strong laws protecting minorities would have had any effect in saving the Jews from the tyranny of Adolf Hitler?

univar.jpg Posted by Jan on March 8, 2004 06:58 PM
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Laws, no... they are too easy to change. Strong constitutional protections would have given cooler heads more avenues to pursue. A system of checks and balances, limiting the power of the central government, would have been helpful, too. None of it would necessarily have been enough, but any of those things would have been a chance.

univar.jpg Posted by smijer on March 8, 2004 09:52 PM
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Well, I know the answer to your question.....but I'm not tellin'

univar.jpg Posted by JMichael on March 9, 2004 11:08 AM
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"Laws, no... they are too easy to change. Strong constitutional protections would have given cooler heads more avenues to pursue" I guess I am just a dummy, but I thought the constitution is the supreme law of the land or of USA.

univar.jpg Posted by Jan on March 10, 2004 06:40 PM
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