In a democracy, the people rule.
To rule well, the people, and their chosen representatives, need information that is true. This makes science not only a very important tool, but an exemplar for those who govern. The ideal of science is to discover the facts, whatever they may be, which is also, ideally, the practice of those who make laws and set policies. The job of scientists is to pursue the truth of some particular matter: even if it disproves their hypothesis, even if it seems to invalidate work to which they have become attached, even if it is not the answer their funder hoped for, even if it means difficult choices are ahead. This is difficult enough for scientists and even more of a challenge for politicians, since public policy is a matter of opinions and values, not simply facts. But it must have a foundation of fact, where facts can be ascertained.
When political leaders set themselves against science, watch out. No matter what they may say in softer tones, their actions shout a warning that they intend to found the law upon lies.
George Orwell’s picture presides over this first entry because he was a political thinker who approached political matters with a scientist’s creed: observe, and record and publish what you observe, even if it displeases your allies, “plays into the hands of” your opponents (a phrase he despised), challenges your deepest assumptions, or requires you to change your ways. And so his warning about the perils totalitarianism holds for literature applies as well to science:
A society [that] becomes totalitarian . . . , no matter how long it persists, can never afford to become either tolerant or intellectually stable. It can never permit . . . the truthful recording of facts. (“The Prevention of Literature,” published in Polemic [January 1946])
I have some (though not unlimited) faith in the flip side: that the truthful recording of facts will help create a tolerant, intellectually stable, and free society. And so this blog’s purpose is to publicize examples of political leaders, policymakers, and other influential people ignoring science, dismissing its discoveries, distorting what it tells us, or seeking to prevent scientists from pursuing and publishing the facts.