Very few elected officials in America have professional training in science or technology. Does this inhibit the effective governance of science and technology?
Governance of any particular matter can only be effective if the laws are written by individuals that understand what they are governing. Unfortunately, regulations tend to come from either public perception or after a disaster of some type. Disaster is used a broad term, however the example provided in Excelsior’s module 8 notes about boilers in the 19th century falls within this category. Public perception can sway a lawmaker’s opinion based on giving the people what they want or in an attempt to get more votes and support. Gun control is a prime example of this. The American people’s outcry over AR style rifles has swayed many politicians into creating legislature to ban them. The appearance and modular parts make them appealing to sport shooters, hunters, collectors, and gun enthusiasts. The misconception is that they shoot or function any different than other rifles. Unless you have a special license and can buy a fully automatic version, then the typical AR sold at your local gun store is a small caliber semi-automatic rifle, nothing more. Just like every rifle that doesn’t have a bolt, the weapon functions the same and fire each time you pull the trigger.
Do you think that the American government would be substantially different if most senators and congresspersons previously worked and scientists or engineers instead of lawyers, as is the case today?
I think that the American government should form committees like what Congress does with the Armed Forces Committee, however each “board” should be made of half lawmakers and half subject matter experts (SME). Equal votes on both sides would ensure that the facts are at least entered into the equation and that the field is represented. Without SMEs there is blind guidance which is so often rewritten or lobbied against. One of the biggest threats to the American way of life is across the board in the way we make laws.
Should it be a requirement to serve on science and technology committees?
The requirement to serve on a science and technology board should be for our elected lawmakers, and not a requirement for the SMEs. I believe that by being elected it is your responsibility and job to effectively write legislation. Although the SME side shouldn’t be mandatory, unless paid and legally protected against their employer, because it isn’t their job. It should be a place of honor and professional responsibility to ensure your field isn’t being unjustly regulated. A mixed committee would ensure a fairer and more objective outcome.
Find an example of a piece of legislation or political movement that was wrongly founded on the misunderstanding of basic science and technology. Give a brief background. Should this movement/bill have been supported or unsupported?
The FIRST act was a good example of Congress not fully researching and developing a plan for legislation within the science and technology field. According to an article from Scientific American, “Congress’s unprecedented effort to cap spending on specific scientific research projects has created a stir that has reached as high as the White House. The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014 H.R. 4186 (pdf) seeks greater accountability from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the way it spends its $7-billion annual budget—a reasonable goal that few have argued against. The controversy is over the less-than-scientific approach that FIRST would take to decide which projects get funded. As written by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee, FIRST seeks to prioritize research and development in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering and mathematics to specifically address national needs. The bill requires the NSF to provide clear justifications to Congress for why grants that receive taxpayer dollars are in the national interest, although the legislation would not change the NSF’s peer review process, according to Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R–Texas).” (Greenemieier, 2014) Although the concept sounds fair for using national level funding from the federal taxpayer, it limits and removes any flexibility for the grant money.
How will this continue to affect our country’s rank in science and technological development in the future, should this model of governance continue?
If we continue to govern based off of fear, voter support, or a lack of understanding; then we will eventually create so much legal “red tape” that progress will be essentially impossible in the worst case. Nothing good ever comes from uninformed decisions. Side effects of these bad decisions cannot be predicted, especially if there is no understanding of what you are trying to govern. Emily Badger discussed the SOPA act, in which normal people started to take notice in Congress’s inability to discuss internet piracy. With the phrase “No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works” popping up all over the internet, it was blatantly obvious that lawmakers didn’t understand what they were trying to write legislation for. (Badger, 2017)
Greenemeier, Larry (2014) What Makes Congress’s Latest Effort to Curb Science Funding So Dangerous? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-makes-congress-s-latest-effort-to-curb-science-funding-so-dangerous1/
Excelsior (2020) Module 8: Module Notes: Governing Technology. Retrieved from https://excelsior.instructure.com/courses/16361/pages/module-8-module-notes-governing-technology?module_item_id=1345434
Badger, Emily (2017) SOPA Debate Highlights Congress’s Ignorance. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/news/sopa-debate-highlights-congresss-ignorance-38666