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Why Scientists Should Have a Greater Voice On Global Security 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the because-they-might-control-the-volcanoes dept.
Lasrick writes "Physicist Lawrence Krauss has a great piece in the NY Times today about the lack of influence scientists wield on global security issues, to the world's detriment. He writes, 'To our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security. Perhaps this is because the best scientists today are not directly responsible for the very weapons that threaten our safety, and are therefore no longer the high priests of destruction, to be consulted as oracles as they were after World War II. The problems scientists confront today are actually much harder than they were at the dawn of the nuclear age, and their successes more heartily earned. This is why it is so distressing that even Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most famous living scientist, gets more attention for his views on space aliens than his views on nuclear weapons. Scientists' voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren't being heard.'"
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Why Scientists Should Have a Greater Voice On Global Security

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  • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:50PM (#42607609) Homepage

    An increasing number of politicans will only listen to the scienticians if what they're saying supports the conclusions they've already arrived at.

    They're not interested in facts, just their own ideology.

    • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross.yahoo@ca> on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:02PM (#42607763)

      The problem with science and scientists is that they are money losing ventures. Scientists are not rich, they talk in very complicated manners, and do not come to conclusions! Scientists know the world is complex and all problems are complex and solved in a piecemeal manner.

      Its much easier to say, "And I am here to tell you 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!"

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/video/2013/jan/08/alex-jones-pro-gun-tirade-piers-morgan-video [guardian.co.uk]

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtyKofFih8Y [youtube.com]

      There is nothing factual about this. Nothing of value, but gee it sure sounds good and makes a good impression. This is what American society and many other societies have degraded to. So yeah no politician wants to listen to a scientist because this is what a scientist sounds like:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anfbjiShjP8 [youtube.com]

      Compare the Youtube count, 6 million vs 100K. Yeah people are interested in facts!!!

      • by Prune (557140)

        What about this one? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJdhAm_oUUs [youtube.com]

        Shapiro's position isn't that much different from Jones in certain ways, yet you'd be hard pressed to argue there's no factual information or one of value. Just the opposite: Shapiro's arguments are informed and well-reasoned.

        Just because a message is simple does not mean it's wrong, as your post implies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They're not interested in facts, just their own ideology.

      Criticizing politicians for having an ideology is absurd. Political questions are not like engineering questions - 'how much should we spend on bridges' is not at all the same category of question as 'estimate the ultimate load-bearing capacity of this bridge'. Political issues require consideration of things like the underlying values of society, legitimacy of decision-making and economic priorities, none of which have a single 'right' or even an 'approximately right' answer. Stephen Hawking is not a nucl

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Criticizing politicians for having an ideology is absurd.

        The criticism is when they ignore evidence against their particular ideology.

        Political questions are not like engineering questions - 'how much should we spend on bridges' is not at all the same category of question as 'estimate the ultimate load-bearing capacity of this bridge'.

        Although there certainly are decisions that cannot be made objectively, your example is not one of them. We can certainly do cost-benefit analyses to decide whether building a bridge somewhere is worth the amount of money that will be spent building it.

        Sometimes it is subjective. For example, most of us are not anarchists and believe that the government should establish certain laws, even though every law is a restriction on your

        • by tnk1 (899206)

          Criticizing politicians for having an ideology is absurd.

          The criticism is when they ignore evidence against their particular ideology.

          Einstein hated Quantum Mechanics and invented a Cosmological Constant simply because he didn't like the way things were shaping up. The fact that he eventually called it his biggest mistake doesn't mean that he didn't, at one point, use more of a "feeling" about how things should work out to influence his calculations.

          Of course, amusingly, there are many mentions of a Cosmological Constant in today's cosmology, so maybe he wasn't

          • Einstein hated Quantum Mechanics and invented a Cosmological Constant simply because he didn't like the way things were shaping up.

            I agree with your point 100%. I'm not saying scientists are immune to this problem. They're human. I'm also not saying that you need to be a scientist in order to make good decisions. I'm saying that people should, whether they're scientists or not, learn to take a more evidence-based approach in their decision-making process, especially when it comes to politicians.

            The fact that he eventually called it his biggest mistake doesn't mean that he didn't, at one point, use more of a "feeling" about how things should work out to influence his calculations.

            No, it doesn't. Einstein was human, after all. However, when Einstein was shown evidence that the universe was expanding, his reaction wa

    • An increasing number of politicans will only listen to the scienticians if what they're saying supports the conclusions they've already arrived at.

      They're not interested in facts, just their own ideology.

      It's not just politicians, it's everywhere - even on Slashdot.

      If you look at the gun control debate and only consider the evidence, the answer is obvious. It's been obvious for a long time - there was an article in Scientific American decades ago which explained the evidence and statistics. The conclusion hasn't changed since then.

      And yet, people go back and forth on this very website arguing storylines instead of facts. Both sides continuously cite heartfelt stories in an attempt to sway others that what t

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        there was an article in Scientific American decades ago which explained the evidence and statistics

        Citation please? And I don't ask that because I doubt you, I ask that because I'd be curious to read it, and any followups that have been done since.

        • While writing the post I googled the article, but can't find it. The current debate on gun control is flooding the search results right now, even for something as specific as Scientific American.

          On further reflection, I decided to say nothing as to which side was the "right" side of this issue. I'm trying to make a larger point, and the actual debate is secondary. Also, I'm hoping that this will encourage people to post evidence that I'm unaware of. (I clam that the evidence is clear on this issue, but I mi

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Indeed. This is the road to hell though.

  • 3 problems (Score:5, Insightful)

    by banbeans (122547) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:51PM (#42607625)

    To much politics in science today to trust them with decisions.
    There is a lot of junk out there being passed off as science.
    Many scientists are available for sale to the highest bidder.

    This has caused a loss of trust in the scientific community by the general public and the leadership.

    • Re:3 problems (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Amorymeltzer (1213818) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:30PM (#42608105)

      - Science is too political to be trusted with decisions, leave it to those who are entirely political
      - The signal-to-noise ratio, while significantly higher than current political rhetoric, is less than one.
      - Not every scientist can be bought.

      FTFY.

      Okay, snark aside, at a time when Congress ranks below cockroaches [publicpolicypolling.com] are you truly suggesting this wouldn't improve the situation? Your points are, in a sense, all valid, but we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. An improvement is just that, and need not be perfection.

    • by OFnow (1098151)
      Those seeing politics in science have been fooled by the merchants of doubt. It is not the scientists that introduced politics it is a small group of physicists from the cold war with strong ties to government claiming (without any proof) that the real scientists are playing politics (douby weird given that the merchants of doubt are strongly tied to government). I have no connection with the book "Merchants of Doubt" but I strongly recommend it for explaining how science is being crushed by the anti-sci
    • Problem 4: today's scientists don't have the street cred of the WW2 generation. Those guys went from zero to (many) operational weapons systems in six years or less, and by many objective measures Knew What They Were Doing, and millions of people in uniform and out saw it with their own eyes. Today's average global warming scientist, pure mathematician, or theoretical physicist can only point to publications and slide shows for his accomplishments. Not the same gravitas with the average Joe, and not even th
  • by Press2ToContinue (2424598) * on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:53PM (#42607651)

    - "hackers" would be called "tireless researchers"
    - finding security flaws would be called "peer-review"
    - there would be a lot more 14-year-olds leading new scientific advances

    and...

    - people who put their own self-interests aside to disseminate paywalled scientific research for the betterment of humankind would be labeled "heros," and be awarded posthumous honors

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DickBreath (207180)
      Look, seriously. If scientists ran the world and occupied political positions of power, if we got rid of marketing departments and corporate communications, then what jobs would be left for stupid people?

      --
      Necessity is the mother of invention. Greed is the mother of patents.
      • Look, seriously. If scientists ran the world and occupied political positions of power, if we got rid of marketing departments and corporate communications, then what jobs would be left for stupid people?

        fry cook? scientist need to eat, construction worker? some one has to build the building around the partial collider, janator, bogon^^^^^ office workers, and most important of all farm hand on coffee plantations. that is of course until they are all replaced by robots or in the case of office workers macros and scripts.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DickBreath (207180)
      If Scientists ran the world, then there wouldn't be paywalled scientific papers, and a bright young guy wouldn't need to be prosecuted for the horrific crime of excessive downloading of information freely available to him on a network that was also freely available to him.

      --
      Necessity is the mother of invention. Greed is the mother of patents.
      • by vlm (69642)

        That seems terribly optimistic. Most likely every kindergarden teacher in the world would write their own "see spot run" textbook and charge the little runts $90 per copy (which is OK, because Kindergarten tuition even at the dumpiest schools would rise to $50K/yr) and release a new book edition every semester just to crater the resale market.

        I will say I enjoyed one prof who seemed to delight in running right along the razor edge of "fair use" by basically copying a page or two out of hundreds of differen

    • by vlm (69642)

      LOL if science was in charge of global security:

      If you want to join .mil, basic training in .mil would be about four to six years long, you'd have to pay $50K and all expenses to .mil for your first 4 years, afterward for a couple years they might (or might not) provide you room and board while you're basically a drill instructor to the new recruits, then if they like your work, and most importantly if you're lucky, about 1/4 to 1/2 of you would get hired to become Generals, of which maybe 1/2 would get ten

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      there would be a lot more 14-year-olds leading new scientific advances

      But their professors would take all the credit.

    • by Prune (557140)
      And if scientists ran government, we would be in China: http://singularityhub.com/2011/05/17/eight-out-of-chinas-top-nine-government-officials-are-scientists/ [singularityhub.com]

      What was that old quote? "I'd rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the faculty of Harvard."
  • by DickBreath (207180) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:55PM (#42607675) Homepage
    Scientists promote Godless evil ideas such as global warming, evolution and birth control. They also seem to think you should believe something based on the evidence for it, sound methodology, and peer review. If every idea had to be scrutinized thusly, do you realize how difficult it would be to get every new idea about aliens and conspiracies onto talk radio? Then how would we are to be learning about these important topics?

    --
    Necessity is the mother of invention. Greed is the mother of patents.
  • A quote (Score:5, Informative)

    by RenHoek (101570) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:58PM (#42607713) Homepage

    Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge".

        -- Isaac Asimov

    • by SirGarlon (845873)
      Asimov was a smart guy, but also an arrogant ass. There is a huge difference between using science to inform policy (which I admit we ought to do), and putting scientists in charge of policy (which sounds like elitism to me). TFA conflates the two. Knowledge of physics qualifies Krauss (the author) to tell us the best and safest ways to test nuclear weapons, but not to tell us whether a test ban treaty is good foreign policy.
    • The term 'Intellectual' is now merely a label appropriated by folks with an agenda. Oppose the cock-eyed plans of self-labeled 'intellectuals', and you get called an 'anti-intellectual'- despite the lack of intellectual basis for the agenda at hand.

      In the abstract, Asimov was correct. In the real world, the term 'intellectual' is just another plaything for partisan politics.

      • by brkello (642429)

        No, the term intellectual is only a label to people who lack the education and understanding to know what an intellectual is.

        You can tell the difference between the two very easily. One use facts and research to back up what they are saying. The other ones manipulate facts to say something that fits in with their agenda, but if you put any small amount of scrutiny on them, the facts just don't hold up.

        The anti-intellectual movement are the people who don't trust you because you have a higher education. B

        • Do you propose that the term 'intellectual' could never be appropriated in a manner contrary to your definition, for partisan ends?

          Or, somewhat more generously,do you propose the term would never be used by folks who mistake their dorm-room bullshit sessions, which lack a foundation in relevant real-world experience, for 'intellectualism' ?

  • by Millennium (2451) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:01PM (#42607743) Homepage

    It has been a long time since anyone existed who could only call himself (or herself) a "scientist." The term is now a generic way to refer to people whose actual work is in any of a staggering number of highly specialized fields. There is some acknowledgment of this in TFA, which states (correctly) that many of today's greatest scientific minds don't work directly in the fields related to the things that affect our security. To use the article's own example, Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist: he doesn't work on nuclear weapons.

    But for a given question, what grounds are there to privilege the viewpoints of those whose expertise is not in a field of direct relevance to that question? On questions concerning nuclear weapons, for example, why should Stephen Hawking's viewpoint be held as equivalent to a nuclear physicist's viewpoint? For that matter, why should his viewpoint be held as superior to the viewpoint of anyone else who is not a nuclear physicist?

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Stephen Hawking has shown himself to be capable of weighing evidence and making good conclusions in at least one field. A politician on the other hand has only shown himself to be good at shmoozing.

    • But for a given question, what grounds are there to privilege the viewpoints of those whose expertise is not in a field of direct relevance to that question? On questions concerning nuclear weapons, for example, why should Stephen Hawking's viewpoint be held as equivalent to a nuclear physicist's viewpoint? For that matter, why should his viewpoint be held as superior to the viewpoint of anyone else who is not a nuclear physicist?

      Certainly on nuclear physics topics, I'd probably tend to listen to the nuclea

    • by c0lo (1497653) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:49PM (#42610151)

      But for a given question, what grounds are there to privilege the viewpoints of those whose expertise is not in a field of direct relevance to that question?

      The capacity to apply critical thinking? Which probably leads to conclusion of "I don't know enough" - if the scientist attempting this is outside the area of expertise required - but nevertheless will show what other things need to be known to reach a conclusion.
      BTW, critical thinking is something that most of the politicians don't show/use in their exercise.

    • by brkello (642429)

      You don't understand what a scientist is because there are still plenty out there and you don't need a degree.

      To be a scientist, you need to conduct your research using the scientific method. Your research should be validated through peer review. If you research stands up, then it stands up. So that case, Hawking's viewpoint will be equivalent or better from a nuclear physicist because his research has passed peer review.

    • by Prune (557140)
      My new favorite post on Slashdot!
  • there's money to be made!
    • And there you have it.

      Scientists do not pay politicians. (Above or under the table)
      Crooked people do.

      So why should a politician listen to a scientist for free?

    • by gmuslera (3436)

      The ultimate reason for even caring about security for politicians/lobbyists/etc is money, specially short term one. For most problems the approach is either deny them or try to make profit enforcing measures for the non-lobbyist ones.

      I wonder when the politicians campaigns will be honest and put as catchphrase "after us, the deluge"

  • I am co-chairman of the board of sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has supported the call for a world free of nuclear weapons — a vision backed by major foreign policy figures in both parties. But ideological biases have become so ingrained in Washington that scientific realities are subordinated to political intransigence.

    The BAS is the perfect example that scientific knowledge doesn't translate to political insight. They've been crying wolf for 60 years, and are now surprised

    • by gman003 (1693318)

      The danger does not decrease simply because it hasn't happened yet, just as the odds of rolling a '1' next round are not affected by the four '20's you just rolled.

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        But nuclear warfare isn't random, it's not like Putin and the President throws a dice every day to decide whether or not to launch. The chance in this case came from lack of knowledge, which over time has disappeared. By your analogy, after rolling 20s for decades, it's safe to say that the dice is loaded.

      • by Millennium (2451)

        That assumes that international politics is a series of independent events, which simply is not the case (though in some ways it might be better if it were). History matters, for good and for ill, and a history of non-hostile relations does indeed decrease the danger.

  • "Perhaps this is because the best scientists today are not directly responsible for the very weapons that threaten our safety, and are therefore no longer the high priests of destruction, to be consulted as oracles as they were after World War II."

    More likely it's because people finally figured out that being a scientist doesn't make you an authority on non-scientific topics. (Not to mention that the golden era he laments, like all such golden eras, never really existed.)

    • by vlm (69642)

      Not to mention that the golden era he laments, like all such golden eras, never really existed

      Sure about that? I'd think mass marketing advertising along the lines of "actor wears white lab coat, makes ridiculous claim in support of product" might poison the well a little bit.

      Also some chicken and egg question about the ultra cheesey, terribly popular hollywood movie trope of "evil mad scientist".

      • That's material aimed at a mass audience (and is usually doctors, not scientists), which isn't the decision makers that Dr Krauss thinks should be ringing him up for advice on a regular basis.

        Also, one would note that the stereotype of the "mad scientist" far predates the post WWII era he laments as being a golden age (even though it wasn't).

  • In their fields (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CarsonChittom (2025388) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:07PM (#42607819) Homepage

    In all honesty, why should we care about Stephen Hawking's views on nuclear weapons? I mean, sure, if there were a weapon that harnessed the destructive power of black holes, definitely Hawking would be on the list of people to consult. But on stuff that isn't his—or more generally, any individual scientist's field? Why is that desirable?

    In any case, Krauss is barking up the wrong tree. The solution to nuclear proliferation is not for scientists to have some greater voice. It's for scientists to convince the populace that nuclear proliferation is an issue worth bothering about. So far, they have failed.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      It's for scientists to convince the populace that nuclear proliferation is an issue worth bothering about.

      Politicians who care about it are also making a lousy case. I distinctly remember one of the Bush-Kerry debates back in 2004, when as the final question the moderator asked each candidate what they thought the most important issue of the day was. Kerry responded with nuclear proliferation, and everyone looked at him like he had 3 heads or something.

      That said, the way the world has been responding (or more exactly, not responding) to issues of global warming, I'm not sure how much longer nuclear proliferatio

  • by Hartree (191324) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:12PM (#42607887)

    The writer wants greater influence from scientists who agree with him.

    I suspect that given the chance to have given Edward Teller or William Shockley greater influence on global security, he might decline.

    On the other hand, he might have wanted more influence by someone like Linus Pauling.

    All three mentioned were good scientists in their fields. So, the criterion becomes what their positions are rather than just that they are good scientists.

  • Scientists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:18PM (#42607977) Journal
    Scientists don't have a good track record on setting policy. They tend to get too focused on their own little area and end up making bad decisions. And that doesn't even take into consideration what can happen when the wrong scientist gets in control, if you remember the Russian horrors of Lysenkoism.

    Any time you create a process whereby people can acquire power, that process will be abused. Remember the fighting between Oppenheimer and Teller? It can get much, much worse than that.

    If scientists have more power than average people, then everyone will rush to redefine themselves as scientists, like this guy [slashdot.org]. Instead of marketers, we'll have "social researchers." Instead of accountants we'll have "capital flow researchers." And I'm not going to stay out of the game, I'll definitely be a computer scientist, not a programmer. Soon the term "scientist" will lose its meaning.

    If scientists want to affect policy in a democratic society, they need to get better at explaining. Albert Einstein reportedly said, "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother." It may sound excessive, but remember that's what Feynman did with advanced theoretical physics. You can do it. Of course, in a democratic society, if everyone collectively wants to shoot themselves in the foot, there's not always much you can do about it.
  • Given their hostility to religion, they would be the first to advocate blowing up Mecca and starting WW3.

    • Theist persecution complex ENGAGE!

      I'm sure the anthropologists would be first to reach for the button.

  • by RichMan (8097) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:23PM (#42608039)

    The major power structures, church and state, are formed around blind faith.
    They know what is best and will do it for you. You just have to believe.

    Science is based around inquiry and questioning what is going on.

    To accept science you must be open to doubt.
    The major power structures are based on doubt and questioning being a very very bad thing.

    If we want science to go up we must become free of the current power structures.

    • Tough to do. You have the alpha sociopath running the show. They hold vast segments of the population in their thrall due to low information voters or the "free shit" legions. I've seen scientifically brilliant people be utterly undone by political ideology, both left and right. It's more than memes- it's a mind cancer. I don't see a way out of it all.

      • by brkello (642429)

        I completely agree. Yet for some reason I am guessing that you and I would both thing each other has "mind cancer" considering you think there are legions of "free shit" people.

  • Scientist: Nuclear weapons are bad, mmmkay?
    World: Gosh. Thanks.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:34PM (#42608167) Journal

    Science should have a greater voice on policy at all levels. Laws are intended to accomplish goals. They should be tested regularly to see if they accomplish those goals, and repealed if they do not. Evidence based legislation is a good idea for the same reasons evidence based medicine is.

  • by kenh (9056) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:56PM (#42608469) Homepage Journal

    "Scientists' voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren't being heard.'"

    Four years ago a candidate for President promised to "restore science to it's rightful place" [american.com] - why hasn't it happened? He got elected (and re-elected) to office on that pormise (among others)?

    • by brkello (642429)

      Actually, Obama has done a lot for science and is a great supported of science. One of his science cabinet members came and spoke at my company and it really illustrated a lot of the funding and effort in to funding and supporting science.

      I think you also don't understand politics if you think he can wave his hands and fix the problem. You would need Republicans to support the idea of science as well. And since they pander to a base that believes in zombie Jesus over climate change...just isn't going to

  • The politicians, political leaders especially, all seek power to enforce their wills upon the world around them. Some may feel this is for the greater good, (religious theocratic leaders), others merely for self-fullfillment (ordinary dictators, and many elected officials.) A good many are somewhere between.

    The scientist looks at the stark reality of the world around them, and work studiously to distance themselves from their own wants and desires for outcomes of experiments (eg, BIAS.) A real, proper, and

    • by brkello (642429)

      No, they are not antithetical at all. There is nothing stopping from a scientist who tries to build a model of the real world can't run for office and be a politician. There are certainly scientifically minded people in our government right now.

      I think the issue is more that the type who is attracted to power tend not to be the scientist type. They are more the sociopath type that believes they are better than everyone else and whatever view they have is superior.

  • Careful what you ask for: next thing you know, scientists will be (even more) selected on their policies.

  • I totally agree, and I am one of them.
    We have given up and have passed the baton to the bean-counters of all sorts and all worlds. In a nutshell, we have allowed ourselves to be prostituted in scales of rankings and economies. We have given up all ethic authority for breadcrumbs at funding, evaluation and throughput.

  • We are the problem. Global security or security in general will always be a concern. There will always be someone who comes to power who will want more and will create weapons of mass destruction. It is the selfish part of human nature, and we are technologically advanced enough that we can destroy ourselves. There is no solution. No philosopher king or scientist can save the day. The problem is us.
  • First, why should scientists be any better at policy than anyone else? For example, the author of the piece we're referring to has unconditionally decided that nuclear weapons should be completely eliminated. (I ignore here the game theoretic flaws with his position such as how you keep defectors from obtaining nukes.) Because his view isn't supported at the government level, he is now arguing that scientists should have a greater influence on policy.

    That's classic argument from authority. He wants to ha

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