TED Conversations

Samantha Massengill

Engineer, Southwest Research Institute


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How immune should science be from the political environment of its time?

Many scientists have been affected by the political environment of their time. Max Planck, the father of quantum mechanics, protested the German treatment of Jewish scientists and professors as he watched his friends become dismissed from their positions. Similarly, Walther Nernst openly voiced criticisms of the Nazis and was forced to end his career as a scientist. More recently, President Obama overturned the Bush administrations' limit on federal tax dollars towards stem cell research. President Obama also supports scientific efforts towards a clean energy economy. If political leaders do not encourage scientific research, proper funding will not be allocated. However, much research has been made possible by involvement due to politics. Do you think there should be a separation between science and politics?


Closing Statement from Samantha Massengill

Thank you all for joining me in this conversation. It really helped me to solidify my own beliefs towards political involvement in my scientific endeavors. Hopefully others have gained from this experience as well!

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    Feb 2 2012: I think there should be a separation between scientists and politics (as a former polsci student :) ). But there shouldn't be a separation between scientists and reality, including social reality. Right now scientists de facto serve as high priests in our society, in the same way that high priests were responsible in former times to say if the chief / king had the sanctification of god in his doings. When politicians nowadays want to do something (important) they usually come up with a study of this or that. Which is almost without alternative - while on the other hand, scientists that write biased support articles for a cause because their sponsors appreciate it (not even ask - but could do well with) is not without alternative.
    It is for politicians to allocate fundings out of political (namely societal not power politics) reasons for science. And for scientists to use those fundings out of scientifical curiosity and interest. Of course there will always be transgressions, but I thing society should be vigilant not indulgent about it.
    If on the other hand, a scientist should speak his voice on societies behalf - which is what I think about Max Plank - it should not be for this or that politician or party - but for the reality itself as it presents to him (which is after all what scientists ar good about finding out).

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