The Revolutionary Minds Think Tank blog ( which I mentioned over at A Vote for Science yesterday) is a new pet project to transfer a Seed project over to the ScienceBlogs side of the Seed Media Group. In the initial post the editors asked the following question, to be followed by answers from, one assumes, revolutionary minds.
The boundaries of science are continually expanding as scientists become increasingly integral to finding solutions for larger social issues, such as poverty, conflict, financial crises, etc. On what specific issue/problem do you feel we need to bring the scientific lens to bear?
I am not a revolutionary mind but I have a minor thought on the application of the scientific lens to the political process. The key concepts are "experimentalism" and "sunset provision".
One of the more frustrating and annoying parts of the political process to my perspective is the unfalsifiable nature of political assertions and hypotheses.
The fundamental reasons for enacting a bit of legislation is because it is proposed to cause some change, yes? A change of the economy, a change in State or personal wealth, health or satisfaction. An alteration in personal behavior which, on a broad scale, will result in a proposed good.
When it comes to negotiating over the specific language the predictions and hypotheses fly thick and fierce in the argument over what the proposed law should or should not contain. Since, minor phrasing is going to have a significant impact on the power of that law to effect....change.
Disappointingly from my view, these hypotheses seem only infrequently to be evaluated after a law has been enacted and, most importantly, falsified where appropriate. Laws persist either unexamined or with proponents and opponents sticking to their original hypotheses, uninfluenced by the actual effects of their law.
This is where I believe the scientific lens of experimentalism can be productively brought to bear. Accompany these laws with mechanisms to test the hypotheses advanced. Think a mandate to vaccinate girls against the human papilloma virus will increase sexual activity? Monitor it! Argue for increased investment associated with yet another capital gains tax decrease? Build in an easy before-after comparison. Insist that decriminalization of recreational drugs will not change addiction rates? We can test that.
The point will be first, to structure the arguments for/against a proposed piece of legislation so as to permit an actual test. I realize politicians will be against this since they are not in the business of testing their beliefs. Still, something to work for. Second, it is necessary to build in explicit test benchmarks which everyone agrees will test their opposing proposals. At the outset and as part and parcel of the legislation itself. This will not prevent the usual political nonsense of pretending you didn't predict what you clearly did two years earlier...but it will shine a light on the hypocrisy. Make it more difficult to move goalposts and whatnot.
SourceAn important tool used far too little in the political process is the so-called "sunset legislation". This refers to writing the legislation in such a way that it becomes ineffective at some time in the future. Five years, say, the law becomes null and void. This would be a great addition to the experimentalism proposal. A hard version of sunset would be essential- by which I mean something that managed to force full consideration of the effects of the policy and essentially a re-argument of the law. (This contrasts with many processes by which supposed sunset legislation is renewed by rubber stamp with minimal discussion and consideration.) This would be an open invitation to falsify prior hypotheses advanced in support of a law or in opposition to it. And this would put a clear focus on goal post moving, sand shifting, bad faith arguments and the like. That would seem to be a good thing to me.