Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bill of rights for scientists? No, thanks!

I just read the Scientists and Engineers for America's Bill of Rights for Scientists.

I really did not like the whole issue.

The proposed rights themselves are flawless. But I do not think that these should be special rights for scientists. Most of them should be standard citizen's rights, not tailored rights for an elite.

Here it is:

1. Public policy shall be made using the best available scientific, technical, and engineering knowledge.
2. No government organization shall knowingly distribute false or misleading information.
3. Government funding for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education shall only be used for evidence-based curricula.
4. No one should fear reprisals or intimidation because of the results of his or her research.
5. Scientists, technologists, and engineers conducting research or analysis with public funding shall be free of unreasonable restrictions in discussing and publishing their work, and the results of governmentally-funded research and analysis shall be made open to the public without unreasonable delay.
6. A clear, public, and transparent process shall be used to make decisions about restricting public access to information for reasons of national security. There shall be a process for challenging decisions, and remedial measures to correct mistakes and abuses of the classification system.
7. Employees exposing what they believe to be manipulation of research and analysis for political or ideological reasons shall be protected from intimidation, retribution, or adverse personnel action resulting from the decision to speak out.
8. Appointments to publicly funded advisory committees shall be based on professional and academic qualifications, not political affiliation or ideology.


1: Public policy affects us all, not only scientists and engineers. It must be a right of everybody that policy making is not affected by ideology and is ruled by fact and not by wishful thinking. Americans should know that this is not a Science-only issue.

2: Why should this be a right for scientists and engineers? This is a right of every person and those who act against this right deserve no place in any government.

3: This should be instead a children or student's right. A right to education based on facts, not on misconceptions.

4: Again, why only for scientists? What about journalists? Or bloggers, for that matter?

I won't keep commenting on each right by itself. I think that every single individual should have those basic rights. Not only scientists, but every government employee should have the right to speak about coercion and manipulation at their work caused by other officials or as a explicit government policy, as is needed here in Venezuela.

We need an educated and free society to keep building the future, we need boldness and creativity to beat the problems we face now. This is particularly important in these days when a skilled workforce is needed for further economic growth and social change. This is important, when issues like irrational fear of GMOs and/or creationism plague the policy making and the minds of the citizens of the most wealthy and developed countries on Earth. From another point of view, this is mere self-preservation. After all, if current technological giants stop developing Biotech or teaching evolution, others won't commit the same mistake. Having educated citizens (and not only scientists) is necessary for rationalism and democracy to succeed. Americans now are victims of their extremely dumb policy concerning university costs, forcing students to endure years of expenses and begin their working life in enormous debt, even though a skilled population is retiring and there are not enough personnel to replace them. They have also arrived at plain stupid situations, as debating whether to immunize school girls to prevent cancer, grounded on "moral" reasons. And now, thanks to paranoia and lousy health care, it is not such a good destination to live as it was decades before for skilled foreign people. So, policy making based on almost Libertarian and very conservative viewpoints, but not grounded in reality has contributed to the present day situation.

Is it really only a scientist's problem? I really do not think so, and the people of Sefora should know much better. These inquiry rights should be part of the rights for everybody, claiming them only for ourselves won't change a lot of things and will divorce us from reality.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

People can only speak for themselves. Perhaps the original bill of rights should have applied to more than just the United States, but the U.S. could only speak for itself. It seems these scientists are trying to assure certain, completely valid, rights for themselves. I'm sure they would not ask that others are denied the same rights, but would like these rights for themselves, at the very least.

Guido said...

I am not sure about your arguments applied to rights. After all, I support International Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. They press for rights for everybody, not only for citizens of developed countries.

On the other hand, I am a scientist. And these rights are supposed to be rights for me (since it does not claim to be a bill of rights for American scientists), so in a way, they are speaking for me. Or for the scientists and engineers in America that neither agree with them.
These scientists are also citizens and live in a democracy. I am sure also that they do not pretend to deny these rights to other people, but, asking for themselves only is very near sighted, in my opinion. We have seen what policy making not based in evidence is able to do. These rights are a very good idea but not only for scientists. After all, their funding depends of elected officials.

Quoting Carl Sagan:

"We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend
on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one
understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We
might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later, this combustible
mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."


And it is us scientists who should understand this better. It seems all of us do not.

Ál said...

I totally agree with you guido, Those rights shall be for everyone; make special rights for elite classes only make it worst, in denying the fact that all citizens shall be equal.