Thinking Like a Scientist: Solution to Politics?

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Is there a science to the way American politics is conducted? Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) argues that more scientific thought is needed when it comes to the political system. Rep. Holt argues that thinking analytically — whether it's when drafting bills, negotiating in Congress, or creating new programs — would lead to higher value political policies. He wrote about this issue for Nature

Rep. Holt is the only physicist in Congress today and is the ranking member of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, which focuses on addressing global warming and climate change. 

"My constituents often say, 'Isn't it wonderful to have a scientist in Congress? We need more scientists in Congress,'" says Holt. But he thinks what is equally important is having more scientific thinking, even among the non-scientists in government. "I mean that for the reasons that maybe aren't obvious," he adds, clarifying that he doesn't just mean for decisions about NASA or scientific research. "I'm more interested in the way that scientists are trained to deal with uncertainty, to deal with evidence and statistical reasoning, things that are lacking in the political debate."

"What is lacking most, I think, is this basic idea that scientists have that it's not how strongly you believe something, it's what the evidence says." Even though scientists are not necessarily wiser or smarter than anyone else, they are open to evidence.

When it comes to global warming, for instance, Representative Holt says we don't need people in congress who understand atmospheric pressure, or glaciation. We simply need them to be open to the idea that evidence might disprove what they think they know. And that, he says, is thinking like a scientist.