Science and populism: should we care?
By Ingemar Pongratz
The news lately have brought stunning surprises, such as the UK Brexit vote or the recent US election. The outcomes of both these elections came as complete surprises for the vast majority, specially since the pollls and predictions suggested comfortable wins for the either the remain vote (in the UK) or for Ms Clinton in the US. Clearly, the standard approach to polls and prediction of voting needs to be revised and polling institutes need to revisit their strategies. But that is not the purpose of this entry.
The outcome of these elections have given rise to considerable concern regarding the future of science, both at the national level (in the UK and in the US) but also in the global arena. Both the UK and the US are major nations in terms of scientific output so the concern is very natural.
For example, the BREXIT outcome will lead to considerable costs for the UK and in addition considerable reduction in scientific funding (from the EU Horizon 2020 scheme for example). In the long term we can expect that funding for scientific research is likely to go down.
In addition, the UK is heavily opposed to open the UK labor market to EU citizens. This will lead to reduced access to the EU labor market for UK citizens and of course will reduce European scientific exchange.
In the US, the new president has voiced considerable opposition to climate change and the future of the US participation in the Paris climate agreement is at stake. The future US vice president has several times voiced opposition to scientific views on evolution and the future of US scientific funding is unclear.
It is very obvious that the scientific community is at risk from candidates that we like to label as populistic. However, it is also clear that the scientific community has not participated in the discussions. The reactions from the scientific community come only after the votes are counted and this is something that we need to correct in the future.
Scientists need to speak up and inform the public how political trends may affect science and research. In general the scientific community is very quit in the public debate and with few exceptions most scientists remain silent.
I find this very strange and in the long run very dangerous. Lest hope that the scientific community in the future better embraces their role as communicators and educators more actively.