Are scientists scared of politics? Science Friction Election Special
This is an ABC podcast on the Tesha Mitchell. Welcome to science friction. We are getting political this week's. You might call it a mugs guy. How much your car costs more than twenty ideas and backs? Times in the mode about what I wanna do spin on my. These seend federal election campaign in the strategy. You could be given for saying another fall ready. There will be twenty twenty targets, and we will see when we when we set a target leap woman. That's why we had Livan billion dollars in renewable investment coming in two thousand and are you going to keep the same environment minister? Where is she? Where is she? Whether we like it or not this is democracy in action and parliament is where the policies that define our lives get decided dighly, but on the question of sides, science and politics becoming will increasingly strange as politicians steer away from tacking scientific advice or using it when they making K decisions, my three guests all scientifically trained, actively interested in what happens in the corridors of power. And while they seem to be plenty of lawyers and a communist in government where are the scientists at last count sixteen out of two hundred twenty six MP's in the upper lower house as to seven percent head science related qualifications. A scientists frightened of politics. Joining me Immelman professor Bob Williamson, a distinguished geneticist and former director of the Murdoch. Children's Research institute. He's also been really active on science policy issues in Cambra. Annamaria Arabia is chief executive of the strategy academy for science and in Sydney. We've got Dr Andrea Leon she's laid of the science party and biomedical scientist. Thank you to y'all. Thanks for writing game. Let's not with Andrea. Who's obviously not afraid because she's a new Southwell Senate candidate in this week's federal election. What more scientists or science trained people put their hand up for a laugh in parliament? Yeah. It's an interesting question about why scientists daren't get involved in politics. I was just thinking just now is it the adversary all nighter of it. But I think that's it because scientists say used to getting they work torn apart in peer review. It doesn't say that difficult to get scientists to back a Kohl's and get involved that way. For instance, we had the March for science start off a few years ago and plenty of. Scientists and engineers a happy to back that sort of nonpartisan calls then to get involved in potty politics is another matter the March for science the cause was science at self. It was something diffuse yours, and it could have been perceived as self interest. Perhaps we we saw it as a push to get more respect for evidence in policymaking. So what's motivated you to run for politics? And we will you a political animal from way because it keyed is a teenager as an undergraduate. Yeah, I've gotta think my parents always having the the news on TV. And explain to me what what politics was always about. Then I got to university never got involved in university politics that wasn't for me, but start going to a lot of rallies and getting involved in some different causes. And then it was roundabout the two thousand and thirteen election that I just realized I wasn't I wasn't comfortable with any of the options that I had on the ballot type. So that's when I look into my options, and that was the first election that the future party ran in. Now, the science body and. And decided to get involved shortly after that Maria Arabia. What's your impression of why scientists don't get involved in politics? I mean, of course, scientists cement to be impartial and rejected and let the Dada do the talking and I wonder if that's part of why scientists Steed away from getting involved getting active in politics. There is always a concern that in becoming involved in a political discourse, you can be accused of politicizing your size. And I think that is not correct advice soy often give scientists and others that in being politically active or in engaging in the political process. Does not mean that you are politicizing your science quite the opposite urine. Jetting your knowledge base into unimportant decision making process or wouldn't say they fee for. But, you know, often scientists just concentrate on what I do best and that science so they kind of get on with the job. So if anything I might stay away because the more engrossed in what they're doing every day do become involved. In ways that they see they can make a contribution directly. And of course, there are some scientists who a more. Luckily, oh, more quipped to do that than those. Yeah. I think the problem the tasha is that a lot of scientists really do spend fulltime at science, then they go, and they think really what a have to do. I've got to tell the government about the science. I've got to give them the facts. And unfortunately, often, scientists can be a bit arrogant and lay think sciences, the only thing that's going to decide whether or not the government does something, and that's not true, these issues from the point of view of a politician of very complicated. Let's take something that's very much in the news. Now, the Adani mine, obviously, if you look at it as a scientist, you say global warming is human caused concern anything we can do to stop. It would be good don't allow the mind. So if you're a politician, you have to bear in mind that there might be three or four thousand jobs involves that. Might be several hundred million dollars involved old restaurant and all of these things have to be put together by politician. And I think scientists sometimes don't get it don't actually understand that while the sciences important. It's only one of the things that a politician will take into account a like Andrea, I was very involved in politics when I was young. I think one of the real problems Annamaria is how few scientists really know how to talk to politicians. Anna Maria Arabia there at the academy straddling academy size. You've actually been involved over the easing facilitating all sorts of conversations between scientists and policymakers in politics, there's an annual science mates parliament of in for example, which could just be saying as sort of fan not to share drink in a few giggles. Does it actually have a tangible at come up -solutely does have a tangible outcome. I was formerly the CEO of science and technology strategy of the organization that runs science mates parliament, which. I think is in its twentieth year this year and one of the most important aspects of that event is to provide an opportunity for scientists to understand have policy politics in the media work and to give them the skills to speak with parliamentarians and to understand they world a will that they're not often exposed to so time constrained world one way their various influences at any moment of the day and needing to peach the science order, very -adies. They wanting to communicate to that parliamentarian in a short shop, and concise way, I mean, that's very well. But scientists can come across as just yet another group on getting more money to do what they do or perhaps righteously as pointed out Raj sleep trying to change people's views with the facts, how do you actually promote deeper engagement between science on policymakers? So that there are real outcomes for all of us. The citizens goes to bubble saying earlier, it's absolutely critical that scientists also understand. And that the scientific evidence spice is about one influence on a decision. So for them to understand that there are the factors influencing policy outcomes and decisions my parliamentary and other decision makers. But also to convey the scientific information they wished to convey, speaking to the values of the public understanding putting this on in a context so that it is relevant. So it's not just, you know, a bunch of facts and figures, which let's be honest convinced very few people when speaking to people and convenient information in a why that goes to communicating to the values contextualising signs that way we have a much much bitter out. But valley's are so murky. They are so volatile. But they are so murky and scientists have really been challenged that kind of discourse Andrea Leon instead of knocking on the doors of politicians. You wanna get rotting amongst it. This is why you running with the science potty. And I just want to depict. People get why you and others of created this party with the woods science in it. Yeah. I just wanna make clear that we're not a single issue party. We're not just about advancing science. Although that is of course, something that we wanna push. I guess we can you know, what's in a name, the labor party isn't only about workers rights and labor protections. The science potty is not just about science. We with future party beforehand. And we thought that name was a little bit vague and not exactly cutting through. So we change down. We went with the signs potty because we thought that does in a moment encapsulate that we are about research and education and healthcare and looking to the future and long-term planning what we do have a full policy sweet as well. And also, I want to make clear that we're not we're not trying to be a party just four and of scientists, you know, we are for everyone. We've got people from all different sorts of walks of life. So while the name science does communicate a few important things about us. It's so so what does it? Communicate because you save it. For example, your approach to developing policies will be policy by peer review, which of course, is fundamental to the scientific process that you'll policy will be evidence based now that's all lost on on voters, potentially. What what does that actually look like then when you trying to develop a response to k- policy issues when we say evidence based policy, it's not the way without values. We have a set of core principles and from there. That's how we develop how policy in line with the best evidence that we can find. So anyone is welcome to challenge. Our policies and say, hey, you said that you want to do this in a policy area that your your policy doesn't actually serve that aim. So he has some evidence to show you that this would be a better policy. If you actually want to serve that aim but Williamson I wondering though, if there's something about the scientific months the way that scientists conceive of the world conceive of problems tests type prophecies that may change the way in which politics. Gets done. So onto used to looking five or ten years into the future longtime. See that thing scientists do that all the time. And I think that politicians often don't do that they often think at maximum to the next elections. Sometimes it's busy not allowed to do that even though they might desire to Bob. I think that if there were a few more scientists around it would help to develop rather more in the way of a long term analytical way of looking at things you're at the other end of research career to Andrea distinguished trial. Blazing career engineering makes politics got onto your skin very early. You were politically active in the fifties. In the UK. You've observed some interesting changes in terms of how the political arena response to scientific evidence. But also scientists as a profession it has changed. No doubt about that. I was very involved in left politics. Having said that when I meant to people in science, I tell them I don't care if you go into less. Left or right politics. What you learn going into politics is about policy and the relationship of facts and science to what's going on in the community, which is over no value. In fact, one of my PHD students is now a liberal candidate. And that's absolutely fine. So far as how how it's changed. It's changed dramatically biz in the fifties and sixties everyone. I remember talking to cabinet ministers in the MacMillan government. This is the conservative government in Britain in nineteen fifty six fifty seven fifty eight and they all believed in science. They all thought science was going to transform the world in which we live. Harold Wilson elected labour prime minister in sixty one I think on a policy the white heat of technology. The white heat of technology will change the world in which we live. So there was a universal appreciation that science was what was. Is going to change the world to make it better that went and whether it went because of nuclear bombs, or whether it went because of genetically modified this or that or all of the reasons the truth is a very large proportion of the population is not anti-science. But is certainly skeptical of the idea that scientists and untrammeled good that's a response to what could be I you'd was scientific hubris that scientists had the solutions they had the atomic bomb the Manhattan project excetera scientific arrogance is part of the problem part of the problem. Also is the fact that the media cycle now jumps on anything in one of the most distressing things for scientists is the fact that ninety nine point nine percent of scientists can agree on something. But when it goes out on the media, you have someone representing. The loony fringe and someone representing the ninety nine point nine percent of scientists who agree on something these sort of odd official conflict situations, which as you know, the media absolutely love fell spell. Yeah. Having said that I think that we have so many examples look at reality we have grown when I was a kid. There were three billion people on earth. Now there are seven billion people on earth. And there is far less starvation now than there was fifty years ago. I'm not saying all the problems assault. Why is that that scientific modern agriculture that is totally transformed that if you look at conditions like cancer when I was a kid cancer was a killer, you got cancer, and you died on the other hand. I people might argue that cancer right to increasing. Because of various variables that, we can never know. Well, they might say that that's probably not true. The. Important thing. Now is that for disease, particularly say, colorectal cancer, breast cancer. The great majority of people will die of something else. They will be cured. And that's the result of science. That's the result of research research is the fact that gives us the power to be able to transform society in a positive direction, and that used to be axiomatic that used to be something everyone agreed on unfortunately, it's not every anymore. And we really should be thinking. How do we one way we can get back to it? I I hope whoever is elected in a week's time. I hope we have a minister facade, and I hope that minister science is a cabinet minister. And I hope that every department in government appoints achieve scientists. Well, we've had five ministers of science in the last five years. So there's certainly a lot of change there. Over the years and at one point for year there we didn't have minister of science at all Andrew Young. The science party says that quote technology should be allowed to develop as quickly as possible to maximize the benefit to people living both now and in the future. Many would argue that that is a sort of blindly techno utopian mission that you have the that technological change. Yes. It brings benefits as bulb indicated, but it sometimes blonde to people's needs. Yes, we follow that statement up by saying that the benefits of technology should be available to all and governments need to make sure that that's the case that the benefits of democratized that it is in fact serving the people, but it needs to be bottom up as well. The people have to be involved in the siding priorities. Education is important. It's not top down. It's not scientists saying. Wow. Do we have the answers for you? Well editing is with us now and eat for the first. Time in my lifetime. I can probably say with confidence that much changed the face of humanity within off Tom that technology, and that's not either bloated which lets looking up. What would talking about here is a social license to operate? Really? So scientists will go about their work, and that's fine. But it is incumbent on decision makers as well as scientists to communicate their findings and their progress in a way that is respectful of the community and to bring the community with them wise that important it's important for scientists because frankly that community votes, and if scientists want to remain relevant effective, and as I said early appeal to people's values, I need to translate what gene editing means to them. It doesn't it shouldn't main by these born in China who have had the genome edited. But it could mean bitter agricultural techniques could be the elimination of certain diseases in populations. So we absolutely need to contextualized that, but it's also relevant for parliamentarians at the moment. Technology is moving at a faster pace than the legislative process. So if will laws regulatory laws in a range of areas. Have not kept up with technology, and we saw in the two thousand sixteen election when then Malcolm Turnbull ran on an innovation platform. He spoke a lot about innovation beyond that election. All we heard was how much of a negative term that was that's really dangerous for science, and it was not a good outcome for Malcolm Turnbull. There's no doubt why wasn't negative because innovation doesn't just maintain a logical progress which could be positive, but it also means loss of jobs automation that sort of thing. So it it is absolutely incumbent on everybody, the scientists and parliamentarians and others to come together and communicate this on sufficiently and ensure scientists retain social license to operate the library is one example has said that they would consider entering a memorandum of understanding with the astray and academy of science, which you see of to inform policy three something like a national scientific expert panel. Wouldn't that compromise? The Kennedys new. Trilogy and independence. I'm in. The academy is not a political adviser at its heart. Don't you need to keep an arm's length from government rather than risk being captured by them. It would not compromise. Our independence academies of Sohn's around the world have many functions but one important function that they have is to be independent. Formal advises to government it is not an unusual situation in a strenuous the strand kademi of science, and indeed the other learned academies do not enjoy that status. So that commitment by Bill shorten was welcomed because it does recognize the unique position that academies of science to have thirties. They are able to draw on the best and brightest minds in the country. The fellows of the academy and bring to bid the scientific evidence base for consideration. By the parliament that is independent at the moment. Governments receive scientific advice from other sources such as government departments publicly funded research. I see such as your sorrow. I am not. For one single minute doubting the quality of that advice. But what I can say is that it's not always transparent. It's not advice that he's always seen by the public. It's not advice that is made available enor- doesn't necessarily drawer on that intellectual source that is a fellowship of these Trading Academy of science, and we have always said that we would put forward that advice in a way that he's public. Unless of course, they're very very good reasons, why shouldn't be they might be a commercial in confidence raising our national security reason. But the vast majority of advice that would be provided would be done in a independent and transparent way and to be fully transparent. Yes, you've would see of the people. He starts tehnology Estrella. And yes, you with the general manager of Chris tacona? Now, you odyssey of the trillion academy of science, but you will so were principal advisor to Bill shorten in a in a previous role as well. Absolately? What that's allowed me to bring to the table is an understanding of the parliamentary system in that role. I worked as a policy advisor and I worked with both sides of parliament because. There's a lot more cooperation than the public tends to say across the parliament. So it's allowed me to have very good understanding of parliamentary process tasha Williamson often the public thinks research that's a load of Buffon's in white coats doing things that no one really cares about. That's not true medical research on Tiffin research, astronomical research, all of these things represent the agenda for change. They tell us where we want to be in five ten years time and making this clear the one on one or through the learning academies is not only something that scientists should know how to do. It's always seemed to me to be a responsibility that goes with being Assan. So you believe that scientists have an obligation to the politically engaged -absolutely. They have to be politically engaged, but not party, politically engaged. They have to be engaged in. The sense that they will broadcast the outcomes of their research in a meaningful way for the community, which hasn't really significant consequences for them. Sometimes if we take climate scientists, for example, when climate scientists decided that they could no longer seat by watch rhyme, burn based on the data that they were extracting from their experiments about the future of, you know, human induced climate change in in the world a number of them stepped up. And consequently, they received death threats they Correze were might on voluble in some cases, and it head immense personal consequences. Sometimes defending science means you have to be willing to put your head above the parapet that doesn't happen often. One must say eager to climate. Scientists didn't happen that often. But I think that if we believe in the sanctity of science. We believe that science is something that is of great importance to the community. We have to be ready to defend it having said that that should not be confused with saying will the liberal party must do this or the labor party must do that. Very tricky. When they're cleared points of difference between different parties onsite climate change policy. I think that the Alba Gatien of the scientists, first and foremost is to put forward the science, the real obligation of a scientist is to make sure that the science is clear and is understood yet. So when we talk about the potential science to become politicized, in many cases, it's already become politicized. By the time. The scientists trying to jump in and give their expertise. So in that case, there's no getting out of politicizing the science of scientists have to go ahead and give their evidence in as much of a relevant context as possible everything. Political life is political sciences, political potentially Annamaria, everything is actually political and our think scientists like every other part of society need to be prepared to be part of that to bite into participate in it, if they don't they leave an enormous gap. And what we will see is that gap filled with nonscientific voices. We will see other factors that influence funnel decisions being part of the decision making process, but the scientific evidence by snot being considered and we are all poor on if that's the outcome. Chafe finally to you all what science related issues or especially on your mind in the late up to the federal election. Andrea Leon one of the the policy areas that's motivating a lot of our candidates to run. This time is climate science. You know, we would love to be talking more. And we talk a little bit about things like how are we going to regulate biotech and autonomous weapons. So we do get a little bit of a chance to talk about that. But just recognizing climate science is just so at the forefront of politics right now. So that's motivating a lot of us, but Williamson acid geneticists, you won't be surprised that I think about your Nomex and not just, you know, mix in the sense of the sort of things that are going on in China with their altering the genome of embryos offficial intelligence intro mix. Here we all we have a health system, which is the envy of much of the world. We have an enormous amount of data. How are we going to get the balance ri-? Right. The tween using the symphony Shen for better health and at the same time protecting the privacy of individuals getting those balances right is a real challenge in twenty or thirty years time, we're going to have a very large number of elderly people. How are we going to guarantee their healthy without compromising of basic values? Ece community basic human rights, ice, acumen writes in this is the sort of issue where a science minister and chief scientists are going to be able to talk about it in relation Anna Maria, not just to industry in education, but in relation to agriculture in relation to defense, all of these issues come together and all have a scientific mainspring which has to be looked at. I've sent Louis not heard about any of that in this campaign leading up to the federal election funnel comment. To you. Anna Maria Arabia there at the kademi of facades. Thanks to all split morning to three policy for science. What are those things that we need for the science sick to thrive things like workforce issues, which include having diversity incorporating? All of the available talent. Particularly those underrepresented groups like women average aboriginal interest-rate all into scientists funding infrastructure education and international collaboration. The second goes to science for policy so wake in the scientific evidence base really influence policy on issues that are pertinent today. Climate science has to be up there with them water absolutely out official intelligence, and the third is absolutely that social lessons to operate all of the underlying ethical issues and regulatory issues that we have to make sure we have in hand, so that artificial intelligence technology, the internet of things all low sort of future Farkas technologies that actually with us today. Genetic modification are able to move forward in a way that is acceptable. By the community will Annamaria Arabia. Professor Williamson and Dr entry Ilian. Thank you so much for joining us on radio national in on science fiction this week. Thank you. Thanks for having us joining Megyn assist. Professor Bob Williamson who has also led science policy development. These strategy kademi four science of which Anna Maria Arabia is the chief executive officer. And also with a stop to Andrea Leone later of the science potty and anew Southwell Senate candidate in the federal election. Good luck. At the polls, folks, listen to all the live coverage across the including here on our in with Frank Kelly and ref. Epstein thanks to co. A Jane Lee and two studio engineer, Melissa my on the Tesha Mitchell love to hear from you on Twitter at Mitchell by. You've been listening to an ABC podcast. Discover more great ABC podcasts. Live radio any exclusives. On the IB say listen up.