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Neal Lane Politics and Science: A Series of Lessons OF COURSE, POLITICS IS IN THE NEW S ALL THE TIME A N D SOME FOLKS have been a bit cynical about it. I grew up in Oklahoma, which is a little south of Nebraska, the hom e state of the New School president and form er senator from Nebraska, Bob Kerry. Oklahoma is the birthplace of a cowboy come­ dian, Will Rogers, who had m any wise and witty sayings about politics. I really wanted to use his quips w hen I was in W ashington—but Will Rogers said things like: “I’m not a m em ber of any organized party—I’m a Democrat!” or “A fool and his money are soon elected!” or “Be thank­ ful we are not getting all the governm ent we are paying for!” It just w ouldn’t have worked. Although an Okie, Iam not quite as cynical about American politics as Will Rogers. W ith all its faults—and they are veiy m uch in evidence these days—there doesn’t seem to be a superior model out there. I would agree th at politics in this country has been particu­ larly ugly since the mid-1990s. One turning point was the election of 1994, which brought us the Gingrich revolution and the turm oil that followed. But in some ways things got even worse as we experienced “shock and awe” at the dawn of the new millennium. First, it was the presidential election of 2000—at least it shocked Democrats. Then, on 9/11, we were stunned by the horrors of terrorist attacks on American targets, including the destruction of the W orld Trade Center in New York City, and the tragic deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent people. That social research Vol 73 : No 3 : Fall 2 006 861 was followed by the adm inistration’s stoiy of weapons of mass destruc­ tion in the hands of Saddam Hussein, ready to nuke us. Finally, we had the Pentagon’s prediction of how a blitzkrieg on Baghdad would render Iraq’s people “in shock and awe,” breathless and defenseless—w ith Iraqi soldiers unable or unwilling to fight. Well, the blitzkrieg occurred in March 2003 and, as w ith m any predictions, this one came up short. And US politics as well as the m orning news have been in a sad state since. I’m not sure any of us have the capacity for m uch more “shock and awe” in US politics. Science also gets into the news, usually not on the first page, unless there is some scandal—for example, the exposure earlier this year of fraud in the case of the m uch heralded South Korean break­ throughs in stem cell research. This incident shocked the world of science and medicine. Stem cell research was already controversial in this country. This scandal m ade it even more difficult to move forward in a veiy im portant field of medical research. The intersections of “science and politics”—and the tensions between the two—have also been in the news, not only in connection w ith stem cell research but in other areas as well, such as the allega­ tions of a pattern of misuse and m isrepresentation of science by the current adm inistration. So I greatly appreciate the effort made at the conference w here this paper was presented, and in this volume, to bring serious thinking to w hat I believe are veiy im portant m atters, especially at this uncertain tim e in our nation’s histoiy. Let me m ake an assertion and then we can see if it stands up: “Science and politics, at least in the US system, are bound together in diverse ways—and a divorce would not be good for either.” My qualifications to speak on this topic are slim indeed. I am a theoretical atom ic physicist, not a political scientist or credentialed policy scholar. But I had alm ost eight years in W ashington, working on the front lines of science policy and politics, which left me w ith some impressions—along w ith some scars...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 861-874
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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