You Won't Get Elected If You Don't Speak Klingon.
Here in Ontario, we face the imminent prospect of double-barreled elections: one provincial, one federal. The leader of our provincial Conservative Party recently allowed that his plan to publicly fund religious schools would include taxpayer support of those teaching creationism because, after all, evolution is "just a theory". Our prime minister Stephen Harper, whose denial of climate change was unswerving until polls revealed that at he'd pick up a few extra votes by paying lip-service to reality, has just frozen the budget of the Canadian Wildlife Service — that branch of government responsible for monitoring inconsequential things like, oh, pesticide bioaccumulation and the destruction of wilderness habitat. (Just before this decision game down, one of Harper's hatchet-wielders showed up to "assess" the labors of a CWS biologist of my acquaintance. She wanted to know why he had to keep going out and collecting all this data; after all, hadn't they already collected data the year before? Couldn't they just stay in their offices and play with that?) And of course, the whole lot of them not only admit to being superstitious, they trumpet the fact — because here in the twenty-first century, nobody has any public credibility unless they take their marching orders from an Imaginary Friend. (As long as you call him God or Allah. Call him Harvey and they'll lock you away.)
Who are these people? What are their qualifications for running a country of thirty-three million people?
The majority of politicians have backgrounds in either law or business. Human laws — The Law, as it likes to be known — is fundamentally predicated on presumptions of free will which we know to be neurologically false (evidence to this effect has been accumulating for well over a century now. Google Phineas Gage if you don't believe me). In some cases The Law verges on recognizing as much; that convicted pedophile was, after all, released when his violent behavior was shown to result from a brain tumor. But it won't take the next logical step — if we aren't responsible for behavior induced by a tumor, how can we be held responsible for the wiring that turns us into sociopaths? How can anyone be held responsible for any behaviors arising from neural circuitry over which we have no control? That road leads to such dark and unpleasant places...
Then there's the business community. Economics. The "science" that tells us that oxygen has no market value, the spreadsheets proving the Exxon Valdez spill was the best thing to ever happen to the Alaskan economy, the models that shrug at deforestation in Brazil and mine tailings in Howe Sound because hey, dead ecosystems don't show up on the ledger. Does anyone outside the stock market really believe that the utility, abundance, the real value of copper fluctuates hourly based on Wall Street rumors? Are stock brokers transmuting the stuff with their minds?
Both Law and Economics, in other words, are human artifacts. They're like Gibsonian cyberspace, a consensual hallucination that only works because everybody agrees to stay inside the playground. They're Klingon Summer Camp, they're Dungeons and Dragons for geeks with MBAs: beautifully arcane, deeply developed, honed and crafted by decades of game play. But they're arbitrary. Lo, the DM changes The Law, tweaks interest rates: watch all the PCs dance to the rules of the new edition!
Try that in the real world, though. Try repealing photosynthesis or gravity and see where it gets you. Anyone who thinks The Economy has anything more than a tangential relationship to the real world is an idiot.
So, why is it always suits making these decisions? Why so few scientists in politics? Why isn’t the real world governed by those practiced in studying the real world, instead of geeks who can't admit that Klingons don't actually exist?
I think it's because science is nasty. It is a methodology that recognizes the prejudices and blind spots of its practitioners, and drags us kicking and screaming to unpleasant truths we'd rather not recognize. It's the only approach designed to be self-correcting — to the point that it's responsible for conceptual advances even among its self-proclaimed alternatives, be it neuroeconomics (in the dismal science) or a heliocentric solar system (in the Christian church).
Science starts from the assumption that the things we believe are wrong, and tests them to destruction. One does not "prove" scientific claims; one only fails to reject them. This is why relativity, evolution, and dark matter remain "theories"; we must always allow for the possibility that they could be subsumed by a better alternative, as Newton was subsumed by Einstein. But by the same token, there is no such thing as "just a theory" in science. To become a Theory is to achieve an exalted state, accorded only unto those few hypotheses still standing after being hammered by the most unforgiving attacks that colleagues and rivals can muster. Anyone who seriously utters the phrase "just a theory" is too ignorant for anything beyond the scrubbing of test tubes and the picking of noses.
And it is that strength, I think, that explains why science is so routinely ignored — nay, downright disparaged — by those who insist they know what's best for us. It explains why John Crosbie could dismiss as "demented" the urgings of federal biologists that cod quotas be cut, only to blame the "arrogance" of those same scientists for the inevitable collapse that occurred a few years later. It explains the routine gag orders muzzling government scientists on every subject from cod to climate; because for a myopic pest species six billion strong, Truths are the last thing anyone wants to face. And if you think only one of them happens to be inconvenient, you probably did get the government you deserved.
We'd all just rather follow the fat guys waving the Battleths.