06:40:24 am on
Friday 27 Nov 2020

Send in the Scientists
David Simmonds

We are living through a crisis. Thankfully, the mantra that has guides most Canadian politicians is to follow the science. In stark contrast has been the response of Donald Trump, in the USA; he trusts his rapidly expanding gut, with disastrous consequences. 

Science to the rescue.

Indeed, the coronavirus crisis has underscored the importance of a scientific approach to public problems. The next crisis, the environmental crisis is already upon us, requires we listen to the science to respond intelligently. If Trump continues to lead the USA, it will sooner than later fall prey to the evils of climate change.

 

Thus, the logical question to ask is this, are there enough scientists involved in government decision-making? The answer seems to be a clear no. An article from last November in the iPolitics, the online journal, analysed the number of people in Parliament with primary Science, Technology, Engineering and Math post-secondary degrees, coming up with twenty-one. This compares to forty-eight MPs who have business degrees and fifty-nine with law degrees, although we know nothing of their first degree.

Mind you, we do have a Nobel prize winner in cabinet. Kirsty Duncan, a Toronto area MP, is minister for sports and persons with disabilities and was formerly our minister for science. She worked along with Al Gore and others on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the 2007 peace prize.

What would more scientists bring to the table? First, if the way the science people respond to their daily questions on the national newscasts is anything to go by, they would bring forthrightness. This is something noticeably lacking when Justin Trudeau is decided, as he usually is, to stick to his talking points.

Second, everything would be evidence based. Policies would be assessed in controlled, double blind studies and published in peer reviewed journals before being implemented. There would be no obfuscation about the facts. because of the need to replicate results.

Third, scientists would bring unique observational, diagnostic and analytical skills that businesspeople and lawyers aren’t trained to employ in the same way. Non-scientists would have to accept that doubt and uncertainty drive science. Pat or easy solutions are usually the way of science.

Scientists bring method, limitations and uncertainty.

The authors of the iPolitics article put it this way. Scientists bring an understanding of the scientific method, the limitations of experimentation and the uncertainties in our knowledge. They also bring a unique way of critical analysis and problem solving.

They authors conclude it is good for more scientists to get involved in public life. It will aid in “growing and sustaining a culture of science and increasing the diversity of intellectual approaches in Parliament.” As to why there aren’t already more scientists involved in politics, the authors suggest the academic career path isn’t friendly to alternative careers and that public policy issues are not valued in academia, perhaps because of the naive belief that ‘the science will speak for itself.’ 

Nevertheless, I wonder if scientists would find political careers rewarding. The problem with taking on a political job is that politics is the art of the possible. Making political decisions involves reaching compromises that steer you away from principled decision making.

After a while you become jaded by the constant pressures of compromise. Your scientific rigour begins to fade. You are probably better at that point to get out of politics to let a fresh-faced idealist succeed you.

Then there is the slight problem of getting elected. Voters are fickle. Bombarding them with dire warnings about the carbon emissions crisis and the need for a less consumptive lifestyle, however true, may not be what your voters want to hear. You can’t get too far in front of public sentiment or you will lose your seat.

Yet, as Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, showed, coming from a science background doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified to be a leader. So, I say, bring on the scientists and let’s load up Parliament Hill with Bunsen burners, test tubes and petri dishes. Just beware horse trading happens, and don’t stick around too long. 

Maybe we need magicians as well as scientists.

Next up, we might try to get more representation from expert prestidigitators that can conjure up a solution to our trillion-dollar public debt problem. COVID-19 is an expensive fight. We need some magic to ease the pain.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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