Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Why science based decision making is a bad idea

It sounds very sensible, on the face of it, to suggest that government decisions should be based on science. We are told by the wastrels and pompous souls in Westminster that its a good thing. In reality of course they simply pick the bits of science that support their intentions or pay until science gives them the desired answers so its all nonsense and science is simply used as a screen.

But even if they did really and genuinely act on science would it help? I think not because scientists are often and increasingly the most inward looking and blinkered people on the planet. By its very nature modern scientists have to be specialists, in order to train they specialise in a subject, then they narrow it down. They form international research clubswith other similarly specialised scientists as they progress until their whole attention is directed at their particular speciality and the current groupthink.We see this clearly in climate (so-called) science. A process thats probably fine when it comes to understanding the universe is exactly the wrong approach to understanding or applying the science to society.

This was brought home to me recently on a visit to a National Trust place in the North East. Cragside House built by Lord Armstrong. I shall ignore the politics of the NT, and the morality of Armstrongs wealth from weapons manufacture but just note his technology. He equipped the house with Europes first hydro electric generator which supplied electricity and lighting to the estate. He had hydraulic powered equipment, like his lift, to service the house. He used these principles in his industrial designs for cranes and designed systems to accumulate the hydraulic power. Yet although being friends with scientists of the day and a learned man Armstrong was not a scientist. He was an engineer.

In my part of the country we have numerous canals, bridges and other leftovers of the industrial revolution. They were built by people like James Brindley, Thomas Telford, Mark Brunell, there was equipment designed by James Hargreves that revolutionised the cloth industy. Yet none of them were scientists as such but all people capable of applying science to the real world. Right back to the time of Leonardo Da Vinci the things which we use, the practical objects of everyday life, were invented by educated people who were not specialised scientists. Its  true that many such people came from backgrounds where family or commercial wealth allowed them the luxury of time and money to acquire an education and indulge their interests but even that is not always the case. Edison held a record number of patents but didnt have wealth or go to university. 

I dont know if its science that has lost its way, allowing an increasing number of people to know so much about a little that they lose perspective or whether the rise in influence of the vested interests that pay the scientists  is to blame. Wherever the problem lies it is something that will have to change because science based government is increasingly ignorant of reality.


  1. Good post - we make too much of science. The best science is much like engineering where there is a final product such as a new drug, telescope or gene therapy.

    I see it as a honeypot problem. If government provides funds for political purposes, then second rate scientists are attracted and we get policy-based evidence.

  2. I don’t know if it’s science that has lost its way,

    Woodsy, AKH and I have both discussed this Science religion versus real science of late. The Science that the government would base itself on would be the political kind.

  3. Excellent post.I want to thank you for this informative read, I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work.