Monday, December 16, 2013

The Role of Science in Public Policy

I have taken a while off this blog while I was changing jobs and moving to a different state. Lately I have done a lot of reading and research on how science can effect our public policy and how "good science" does not equal "good policy". The gap often applies because of poor understanding of scientific methods or outdated ideas. For this post I will focus on two large policy issues, global warming and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There are many other issues, but these two have seen much time in the press and should be familiar to most readers.

Global warming research and GMO research have been going for decades a piece. Several models and studies have been done on each to determine the validity and safety of both concerns. I will not discuss the merits of either case, just the mind boggling application of policy to these two issues with vastly different scientific reasoning.

Global warming models have been proven to be from a guess at best to patently false. The peer reviewed studies that are available are not conclusive as to a cause for global warming. While many, if not all, agree that warming is occurring, it is not at the rate suggested by many (a rate used to guide policy). However, global policy has been crafted based on this "science". This is major policy being based on results that aren't reproducible or reliable (two key components for any good scientific experiment). For example, gravity is accepted because it always works and anyone can get the results from it. If we let go of an object, it will fall. This principle cannot be applied to global warming. We can test the theories on global warming and they do not hold. To compare to gravity, it would be like dropping an object and sometimes it will fall, other times it stays still, and yet other times it flies up. The "science" of global warming is not science at all. It is skewed statistics and poor models that can't past rigorous testing. Despite the lack of evidence, vast billions in direct costs and in regulations have been designed to address this issue.

GMO crops may still yet hold unseen dangers. More time will be needed to see long term effects on health and nature. However, studies across the world by multiple labs have all not found any negative effects on human health. This isn't proof there is no effect, just that there is a high likelihood the effect doesn't exist or is negligible. The politics of large corporations controlling food supply I will pass over as it does not deal with the main issue of science guiding policy. GMO health studies can be replicated and yield expected results (despite numerous efforts to disprove them). To compare to gravity, these studies say the object will fall and it does. Despite this better and more rigorously tested science, policy is not crafted based on it. Current policy around the world is designed to restrict and limit, despite what the science suggests.

It is mind boggling to see large governments or government bodies crafting legislation based on ideas that are largely unproven and restricting other products that have been tested. This is a bet, that with the national debt ever rising, we cannot afford to take. Science allows for mankind to try and understand the universe we live in. Its not perfect, but can be a great tool if used wisely to craft policy. We need to stop basing policy on bad science and craft policy only on something that can be tested and reliably reproduced. If we continue to base our spending and policy on a science that is flawed, it will ultimately be a waste of money; a waste that we cannot afford to keep paying.