Editorials

Editorial: The intersection of science and politics

By
Thursday, February 25, 2016

We applaud Professor of Biology Kenneth Miller ’70 P’02 for his continuous role as an advocate of public science. Miller attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting Feb. 13 and spoke about his experience as first witness in the historic Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. Partially thanks to Miller’s testimony, the judge ruled that teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution is the same as teaching creationism, which violated the Establishment Clause and is therefore unconstitutional. As this case demonstrates, political activism and science, two fields that seem fairly unrelated, often intersect. In fact, Miller said in a press release earlier this month that “Effective public advocacy on the part of science is as necessary today, maybe more necessary, than it was in (the Kitzmiller v. Dover)trial.”

Indeed, tension between the scientific community and the religious right leads to many conflicts, including debate over using embryonic stem cells and climate change. Advocacy on these issues is important, and Brown students passionate about people having access to comprehensive educations, medical advancements and clean resources should be involved. But for many students interested in politics and activism, scientific concepts such as these might seem intimidating. On the other side of the disciplinary spectrum, many students passionate about science may not have extensive political experience. Here we encounter one of the few pitfalls of the Open Curriculum.

We have long lauded the freedom that Brown’s open curriculum presents in allowing students to consume ourselves in our studies, learning for the sake of learning and educating ourselves about our passions. But the ability to take only the courses required for our chosen concentrations and those that immediately interest us means that sometimes we are not exposed to important material we would not expect to find intriguing.

We take this opportunity to remind students of all the possibilities beyond Brown to combine areas of interest that could seem at first glance unrelated. While it is not required to take a biology class in order to graduate with a political science degree, having a basic understanding of the subject might help future politicians understand policy concerning issues concerning the environment, curricula required in public schools and public health issues. While most students graduating with science and math degrees do not need to take any public policy or political science classes, understanding government can be helpful when dealing with policy that affects research funding and public school curricula.

While we are lucky to have a curriculum that allows us the freedom to immerse ourselves in studying what we love, Brown students should make a point to take classes that fall outside of our comfort zones. Our four years here present a unique opportunity to educate ourselves in areas about which we may never have otherwise learned. For the future of public science advocacy, it will not be enough to have people who understand science and people who understand persuasion and how the law works. We will need more people like Kenneth Miller, who understands both.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Emma Axelrod ’18 and Emma Jerzyk ’17, and its members, Eben Blake ’17 and Leeron Lempel ’19. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.