Science and Politics: Three Principles, Three Fables

Science is a creative endeavor that requires the free and open exchange of ideas to thrive. Society has benefited immensely from scientific progress, and in order for science to continue to better the lives of individuals and nations scientific work must be evaluated on the basis of scientific merit alone. Over the past decade, however, scientific departments and organizations have become increasingly politicized, to the point that the development of science is now being significantly impeded. This time the assault originated from the radical left, but conservatives have done their share of meddling in science and are likely to meddle again in the future. Keeping politics out of science is something that all people of good will, both Democrats and Republicans, should be able to agree on. Or so, once upon a time, one would have thought. How can we ensure political neutrality in science? I want to propose three critical principles for the protection of science from politics, and to illustrate them with three playful, slightly naughty fables about what has been happening when they are violated. The three principles are: (1) all scientists need to be able to say and argue whatever they want, even if it offends someone else; (2) universities and academic societies need to maintain strict neutrality on all social and political issues; and (3) hiring needs to be done on the basis of scientific merit alone. These principles have been lucidly outlined in three important documents at the University of Chicago, where I teach geophysical science: the Chicago Principles on Free Expression, which were issued by the university in 2014, and the Kalven Report “on the university’s role in social and political action,” from 1967, and the Shils Report on the “criteria for academic appointments,” from 1970. All these reports assume, as the Kalven

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