Thursday, April 24, 2008


The Union of Concerned Scientists is concerned that politicians are interfering with scientists’ ability to govern us:

An investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency released today found that 889 of nearly 1,600 staff scientists reported that they experienced political interference in their work over the last five years. The study, by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), follows previous UCS investigations of the Food and Drug Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and climate scientists at seven federal agencies, which also found significant administration manipulation of federal science.

The rise of the scientocracy has had destructive effects on liberty in the U.S. Since the rise of the regulatory state with the creation of agencies such as the FDA (and many more since the late 1960s), it has become standard to assume that the role of scientists in government is to provide unbiased scientific research, and then recommendations about how particular government regulations should be crafted. Politicians, in turn, should generally do what the scientists say. Starting from this premise, any intervention by mere political officials cannot help but be seen as “interference.”

But in fact this misunderstands what the role of civil servants, scientifically credentialed or otherwise, ought to be. In a free society the governing institutions must be accountable to the citizenry. Politicians and pressure groups will often seek to maneuver authority for policies that are politically unpopular over to the rule-makers in the bureaucracy, with the EPA grab of authority to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act, even though such emissions were not even on the radar when that act was drafted, being a classic example. Regulatory control of individual choices must be expanded because the scientists say so. Politicians find it in their interest to merely call for vague goals that no one can be against such as clean air or safe food, and to leave it to the professional scientists to tell us what that means on the ground.

This model has appeal because scientists are very respected, and politicians (for good reason) are not. Why not simply leave it to the scientists to find out in good conscience what should be done, and leave the politicians out of it? Because ultimately a free people require that government not be, so to speak, privatized – to be handed over to “experts” who make decisions because they are (allegedly) apolitical. But scientists are like everyone else. They have interests, which all too often coincide with giving themselves more power. (I do not recall the Union of Concerned Scientists ever calling for less government action on some matter.) I want politicians interfering with the bureaucracy, especially the scientific bureaucracy, as much as possible. The tyranny of scientists – on stem-cell research, on pollution regulations, or anything else – does not turn out any better than any other kind.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scientocracy is not about "rule by the scientific elite", as most people assume, as you have here, because of the name itself. If you did a little more research, you would understand that a scientocracy is not what you have extracted from it. Scientocracy is just a mathematical protocol for selecting significant officials to lead the country. These officials are going to know the issues that people are having because they can relate to them. The protocol is just an analysis of data which can be sorted on a list. Good work though, just do a little more research so you can back up your claims.

4:12 PM  

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