Science is Inherently Political

When speaking about science to scientists, there is one thing that can be said that will almost always raise their indignation, and that is that science is inherently political and that the practice of science is a political act. Science, they will respond, has nothing to do with politics. But is that true?

Let's consider the relationship between knowledge and power. "Knowledge and power go hand in hand," said Francis Bacon, "so that the way to increase in power is to increase in knowledge."'

At its core, science is a reliable method for creating knowledge, and thus power. Because science pushes the boundaries of knowledge, it pushes us to constantly refine our ethics and morality, and that is always political. But beyond that, science constantly disrupts hierarchical power structures and vested interests in a long drive to give knowledge, and thus power, to the individual, and that process is also political.

The politics of science is nothing new. Galileo, for example, commit¬ ted a political act in 1610 when he simply wrote about his observations through a telescope. Jupiter had moons and Venus had phases, he wrote. which proved that Copernicus had been right in 1543: Earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around, as contemporary opinion— and the Roman Catholic Church—held. These were simple observations, there for anyone who wanted to look through Galileo's telescope to see.

But the simple statement of an observable fact is a political act that either supports or challenges the current power structure. Every time a scientist makes a factual assertion—Earth goes around the sun, there is such a thing as evolution, humans are causing climate change—it either supports or challenges somebody's vested interests.


In such remnants of thinking from the Middle Ages, economics was a zero-sum game: "Without a common power to keep them all in awe," men in Hobbes's time fell into war. There was finite wealth and opportunity, and to get ahead one had to take some away from another. In its capacity to create knowledge, science had the tools to break that zerosum economic model and generate wealth, health, freedom, nobility, and power beyond Hobbes's wildest dreams. It has given us tremendous insights into our place in the cosmos, into the inner workings of our own bodies, and into our capacity as human beings to exercise our highest aspirations of love, hope, creativity, discovery, compassion, courage, wonder, and charity.

Each step forward has come at the price of a political battle. As we continue to refine our knowledge of the way nature really is, indepen¬ dent of our beliefs, perceptions, and wishes for it, we must also refine our ethics and morality and assume more responsibility as humans. Inevitably this is uncomfortable, because the process compels us to give up, alter, or somehow intellectually sequester many comforting notions, notions that are often profoundly powerful because they are our most deeply rooted and awestruck explanations about the wonders of creation, the specialness of our identities, our history, and the possibility that our spirits may somehow live on after death.


Knowledge is power, science creates new knowledge, new knowledge challenges established orders.

Folksonomies: politics science knowledge

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Political philosophy (0.959842): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
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 Fool Me Twice
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Otto , Shawn Lawrence (2011-10-11), Fool Me Twice, Rodale Press, Retrieved on 2013-01-08
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  • Folksonomies: politics science