The latest article of Lawrence M. Krauss in the New Yorker (link) is calling for a statement about the connection between science and politics. I strongly recommend reading the linked piece before going on in this post. I also would like to write that this subject is very complex and it may lead to prolonged debate.
All right, let’s go. The basic is about how much political control should be applied to scientific research, both about funding and public debate about scientific matters. In a perfect world, national governments and international agencies should prioritize a number of matters of public interest that have scientific implications and find ways to fund as much research projects they can, hoping to harvest in the near future ideas and discoveries useful to solve problems and/or to upgrade the existing industries. That may sound good as a theory. But who will be in charge to establish what to research and what not?
Science is not a matter of direct consequences. Many different fields interlocks and ideas will have unpredictable developments both in related and in unrelated fields. So, thinking about an ideal agenda is not viable. The concept of public interest, while interesting, is also too loose to be used for a real world situation. Add to this chaos the notion that many lawmakers worldwide do not have any scientific formation, not to mention the vast number of them that believe in undemonstrable factoids. Yes, there are also lawmakers on private industries payroll.
On the other hand, science could be wrong sometimes. Until theories are fully supported by demonstrated facts, there be always the chance that a theory is incomplete or utterly wrong. The bigger the theory, the harder it will be to fully demonstrate. That leaves a ground for heated debates about what’s real and what not. Think about climate change as an example. There are a number of full-front deniers, well politically represented in many countries. The growing mass of evidence in support of such theory apparently is not enough to dwindle this number, they’re looking more and more heated year after year.
Debating a theory could be the right thing for politicians if they can get a scientific support to discuss reasonably such arguments. Using subpoenas is another matter. It will be no more a discussion than an intimidation, performed with the full weight of the law against opponents that are out of the national institutions. To be absolutely clear: this kind of stuff is intimidation, no less. It’s also a wrong way to deal for politics and scientists.
This kind of “relationship” between science and politics is a weird kind of Ouroboros, maybe shaped like a Moebius strip. We can’t destroy it, we can’t force it down. All we can do is support science and hope that the fatcats get it right.