Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Science and Politics

On the BBC Radio4's Start the Week Andrew Marr asks how far scientific evidence can influence the political agenda. Professor David Nutt is a respected researcher working in the field of drugs, but is best known as the government advisor who was sacked by the Home Secretary for comparing the risks of horse-riding with taking ecstasy. He argues for a rational debate on drugs policy based on objective evidence. Mark Henderson despairs that this will never happen while only one of our 650 MPs is a scientist. But the former Labour minister, David Blunkett, defends his profession, arguing that even evidence-based policy must take into account public opinion and perception.
One of the dangers of all forms of democracy is that it ignores evidence. Or that only the evidence that supports a preconceived policy is used. Interactive Democracy has a number of ways of dealing with this problem:-
  1. It provides an open, free and fair forum for everyone, including all the scientists in the country.
  2. It allows leaders to emerge from all fields, not just from the political class.
  3. The debate provides the opportunity to change people's minds, raise questions, challenge and clarify.
  4. The system gives the opportunity for all to rank the type of evidence presented, from heresay to empirical and everything in between.
  5. Contributions to the debate can be filtered by the type of evidence and by demographics, including the qualifications of the contributor. This provides both citizens and politicians the ability to filter the debate as they see fit, for example by those holding PhDs.
  6. Politicians can both contribute to the debate in its early stages, in order to shape opinion, and analyse the debate in order to help formulate referendum options, request further study or instigate limited trials and experiments.
  7. New laws and policies should have clearly defined measurable objectives, reviewed by the Office for National Statistics. Progress against the objective would be published on-line as part of the ID site, which would highlight failures of policy for reassessment.
  8. This should all be done under the umbrella law against lies in public life.
Such a system may not be perfect, it may be quite a 'bun fight', but it goes some way towards counteracting today's problem of politicians wielding the power to silence evidential truth.

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