TED Conversations

Samantha Massengill

Engineer, Southwest Research Institute

TEDCRED 50+

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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?

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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 6 2012: Great question Samantha! What is and what ought to be are two different things.

    Science, not just research and medical advances, but also technology and its impact on our community, cannot operate outside of the social constraints that govern us. Humans, in my experience, are political animals most often motivated by their own prejudices and priorities.

    We (as a community, country, society what have you) also need to redefine/ clarify what we mean by science...The ability to do something does not always have to translate into a policy--but more often than not, people who feel they "don't understand science" feel compelled (often by fear) to stop it.

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