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Friday, August 21, 2015

It all turns out badly.

Economist Noah Smith considers what happens when people start crossing their politics with their science: 
Basically, I think societies where scientists obey this norm will generally be more effective - whatever their goals - then societies that don't. For example, suppose there are two societies, Raccoonia and Wombatistan, and both are suffering from lots of bacterial diseases. Both countries generally subscribe to a religion that says that invisible gnomes cause disease. But Raccoonia is committed to the norm of science that I described above, while in Wombatistan people think that politics and science should be mixed. In Raccoonia, scientists put aside their religion and discover that antibiotics fight bacterial disease, while in Wombatistan, scientists publish papers calling the Racconian papers into doubt, and arguing for gnome-based theories. Raccoonia will discover the truth more quickly and manage to save a lot of its people. 
WAIT!, you say. Isn't the goal of stopping disease itself a political goal? Well, sure. There's a clear division of labor here: The politicians tell the scientists a goal ("Find the cause of disease!"), and the scientists pursue the goal (actually, the scientists could even assignthemselves the goal for political reasons, then try to disregard politics while pursuing it, and they'd still be following my norm). When the scientists go into a "science mode" in which they disregard all political considerations, they are more effective in reaching the goal. 
This norm I'm suggesting won't solve all of society's problems, obviously, because that depends on what you think is a problem. If you have bad politics - for example, if you think disease is a just punishment for sins and shouldn't be cured - then all the scientific discoveries in the world won't help you much (I think the Soviets kind of demonstrated this). But whatever your goals, following my norm of science will make you more effective in accomplishing them.

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