Who’s Lobbying now? Science & the New Parliament

Apparently the election in England has cost science 15 science-savy members of parliament.  The latest issue of Nature (Volume 465 Number 7295 pp135) appeals to researchers to get involved with educating the new parliament.  

 Non-partisan organizations such as the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CaSE) and the Royal Society are well placed to make a broad appeal to the new parliament.In the run-up to the election, CaSE encouraged all parties to make their positions on science known, and in its aftermath the organization must work to inform a new government’s science policies. The Royal Society, meanwhile, has a long-running programme matching scientists with MPs that could be particularly useful in educating new politicians. That programme should be put into high gear while the society considers other ways to engage parliament. Other scientific societies should rally their memberships to get the word out to new parliamentarians about the value of science. A well orchestrated, non-partisan appeal early in the life of the parliament could leave a lasting impression.

And an early and enduring impression may be crucial to preserving Britain’s scientific enterprise. Faced with a soaring budget deficit, whoever forms the new government will have to impose deep cuts on public spending. Unless researchers act swiftly, science could end up at the front of the firing line.

Recent proposed cuts in philosophy in the UK are very scary.  One can get the sense that philosophy is already at the front of the firing line.

Is there a comparable effort on behalf of humanities education?  Should there be?  To parliament or elsewhere?  What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Who’s Lobbying now? Science & the New Parliament

  1. I think the less MPs know about what professional philosophy is like the better for professional philosophy.

    I’m pretty sure they won’t see any value in 95% of it, even if they don’t equate value with $$$ (which many of them probably do).

  2. I think to some extent that’s the same for the scientists. E.g., it’s hard to explain what basic research is like or what in the world might motivate it. And even when one can point to a big discovery, the time between that and actual useful manufacturing may be decades. So one has to create a narrative linking what one is interested in to what they are interested in.

    Martha Nussbaum seems to be trying to do this. I bet it could be done. One thing that would be imperative would be that philosophers give up some of what they are saying now, such as “We are not responsible for the mistakes of grammar schools.”

  3. But of course everyone—MPs no less than undergrads—knows that in philosophy there is no right answer, unlike in basic science. This is a no-more-than-half-joke: philosophy is well-known not to lead to lasting consensus (though of course there are fads), and nearly everyone except philosophers sees that as undermining its value (except for developing critical reasoning to be used elsewhere).

    I haven’t read Nussbaum, but I assume she’s not talking about analytic metaphysics (whatever that is), fake barns, throwing rocks at bottles, etc. I could be wrong, though. My guess is a lot of what she’s doing falls into the 5% they might find interesting. But unless “educate” is a euphemism for “selective truth-telling-and-stretching” (it does seem to be a euphemism for ‘lobbying’, and lobbyists are _supposed_ to educate rather than buy), the rest of philosophy would still be in trouble. And if it is, well, it might be in just as much trouble for other reasons.

    But what’s the deal with grammar schools? All I know is they’re the more prestigious kind of high school over there.

  4. “We’re not responsible for the lamentable state of teaching in schools” has been a part of the public response of some UK philosophers to the charge that they are elitist and not interesting in educating the average student. (I think I misused “grammar school” (and I’m out of date).)

    No doubt we’d have to keep quiet about fake barns, but an amazing about of hype has entered into a lot of the public discourse about science. I can think pretty easily of some recent and quite damaging exaggerations – e.g., if prominent scientists argue for their work on the grounds that past work has been useless, then the result may be a withdrawal of funding from those who’ve done the past work.

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