Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Science Editorial on the Importance of Science and Enlightenment

The latest issue of Science has this excellent editorial that captures the spirit of my blog and academic research in general:

The authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were children of the Enlightenment. They understood the power that flows from combining human reason with empirical knowledge, and they assumed that the political system they were creating would thrive only in a culture that upheld the values of the Enlightenment. And thrive it did, in large part because our people and government upheld those values throughout most of U.S. history. Recently, however, the precepts of the Enlightenment were ignored and even disdained with respect to the manner in which science was used in the nation's governance. Dogma took precedence over evidence, and opinion over facts. Happily, as was made clear by two policy announcements by President Barack Obama on 9 March 2009, the break in the traditionally harmonious relationship between science and government is now ending.

....The recommendations [requested of the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy]called for to sustain these bold ambitions would place scientific competence and integrity among the core principles of the government's science-based endeavors. For example, they should ensure that the selection of scientists for government positions is based on scientific qualifications and experience [uh, Prime Minister Harper please take note of this!], establish means for addressing instances in which scientific integrity may be compromised, and provide protections for those who draw attention to possible assaults on the integrity of scientific advice.

....The president has taken a large and inspiring step to restore the historically beneficial balance between science and government; we should all now offer to help with the enlightened effort just launched.

As John Dewey put it in 1916 in Democracy and Education, "science is experience becoming rational".