Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Research is based on the scientific method, a non-biased and impartially objective method. Science does not care whether you believe or agree with it, science gives us facts. These come from long experiments and observations, which when done well and properly verified, become irrefutable. However, politics stands on one’s beliefs and opinions, therefore it is not objective. Although at first science and politics seem like different worlds, they go hand in hand.
The majority of research is funded by the government. Whoever is leading a country has the power to choose how much money is given to research. That is the same money that allows us to buy reagents and instruments, to make new findings, and to go to conferences, to present our findings and make new collaborations. So, when choosing the politicians, society is also voting in what knowledge we are allowed to generate.
The government also chooses what kind of research is done and that’s entirely political. This happens by giving more funding to one kind of research in preference to another. For example, former US president George W. Bush in 2001 introduced a ban on federal funding to use embryonic stem cells in research, due to his beliefs.
Embryonic cells are obtained from a destroyed embryo. This raises ethical concerns that may differ from person to person, depending on when they consider the beginning of life. Bush’s decision may have hampered the development of the field, resulting in a delay in stem cell research. These restrictions were later lifted by President Obama.
On the other hand, society also has a saying about what kind of research can be done. Many unethical experiments were performed on humans, then thought to belong to an inferior race. Nazis performed a series of unethical experiments: from freezing people alive to cutting them open without anesthesia. Similarly, in the US, treatment for syphilis was denied to people of colour, in order to study the natural progress of the disease. These horrific experiments were only conducted because of society’s common belief in “inferior races”. Nowadays research that can be harmful to humans cannot be conducted and animal research is strictly regulated.
But the relationship between politics and science is not unilateral. Scientific results give arguments for political decisions. For example, it has been reported by many scientists that climate change is due to the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere and its causes have been pinpointed to be due to human activities. However, it is up to the government to make policies and take measures to fight it.
Science and Politics will be forever intertwined. Please make sure you vote for politicians that make science-based decisions for public policies, that support new (ethical) research and that will work to pursue a better future for everyone and generations to come.