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Friday, August 22, 2003

Lawrence Kuhn, moderator for the PBS series Closer To Truth, has an interesting advocacy article in American Scientist Online that proposes a causal connection between science and democracy.

science, even "pure" science, can strengthen democracy and promote public participation in the political process
He struggles with correlation and causation...
In general, countries that have stronger sciences have stronger democracies. And in countries where science has little strength and scientific ways of thinking have no apparent impact, governments tend to range from undemocratic to totalitarian. This is quite obviously correlation, not cause—and even if cause, the direction of the causation arrow is unclear. A democratic country might foster science, perhaps as a second-order effect of the prosperity and high literacy conventionally coincident with democracy, just as logically as a scientific country might foster democracy.
but asserts a credible causal connection...
A key to changing the way people think is "critical thinking," the ability to draw logical conclusions, or (more often, in the messy world of social issues) the reverse—to discern gaps in logic, to detect broken conceptual links in the causative chain of, say, campaign promises. Science amplifies our power of discernment; the scientific way of thinking enables us to assess whether facts fit theories, or, in the political arena, whether actual circumstances support proffered positions. Critical thinking is the essence of the scientific method. Knowing the difference between assumption and deduction, and between presumption and proof, can alter one's outlook and transform an electorate. The cognitive skill to distinguish among hope, faith, possibility, probability and certitude are potent weapons in anyone's political survival kit and can be applied in all areas of life and society.
and enumerates the benefits of clear thinking for societies as well as the threats.
A fully democratic political system gives all its citizens the right to choose their leaders and representatives; the reciprocal responsibility, implicit in the social contract, is that citizens exercise their franchise with dedication and discernment. Democracy works successfully only when participants are informed and able to make independent judgments. The degree to which they can be swayed by demagogues, influenced by parochial interests, incited by jingoism, or inflamed by ethnic or religious chauvinism is the degree to which democracy does not work.
It is interesting to review the issues of agricultural subsidies spoken about in previous posts using this lens. Doesn't it seem that the efforts of The Guardian, Oxfam and others are demagogic, parochial, jingoistic? Can we discern the gaps in logic and detect broken conceptual links in the causative chain of their campaigns?

Of course we can as individuals, and have done so, but Kuhn's assertion that the "responsibility, implicit in the social contract, is that citizens exercise their franchise with dedication and discernment" also means that we should speak out and confront the miscreants.

posted by back40 | 8/22/2003 11:24:00 AM


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