Per a request from the comments on my post criticizing SEED‘s presidential endorsement, I have read the Nature endorsement from the 30 October issue. For a scientific journal like Nature, offering an endorsement is perhaps a riskier effort than it is for a broader interest science magazine. A scientific journal’s stock in trade is the research it prints and the rigor of the review process that controls what goes in its pages. If a journal has something to say editorially, it usually limits itself to topics within its field. An editorial that strays into partisan arguments risks a journal’s reputation as an arbiter of high-quality research. That Nature felt the risk worth taking is notable. That it did so in a much more explicit, and more transparent fashion is encouraging. The endorsement is an example I would recommend to any and all organizations trying to be politically engaged and maintain the rigor, empiricism and other processes that science aspires to.
There is a lot in this endorsement that recognizes what SEED chooses to ignore or hide – that encouraging scientific thinking and science and technology advice in politics and policy is a value choice. This is clear from the lede:
“The values of scientific enquiry, rather than any particular policy positions on science, suggest a preference for one US presidential candidate over the other.”
(The bold is Nature‘s)
SEED spoke of policy positions and scientific enquiry, suggesting that their preference was due to clear advantages on both points. Nature disagrees, making an important point in the process.
“There is no open-and-shut case for preferring one man or the other on the basis of their views on these matters. This is as it should be: for science to be a narrow sectional interest bundled up in a single party would be a terrible thing. Both sides recognize science’s inspirational value and ability to help achieve national and global goals. That is common ground to be prized…”
(This time the bold is mine)
While the “Republican War on Science” rhetoric managed to rouse a lot of rabble and introduce many to the notion that scientists and engineers can be politically engaged, it made it really easy to pigeonhole science as a Democratic issue. This is a terrible thing, a funhouse mirror twisting of political reality, and the political equivalent of shooting oneself in both feet.
Read the Nature endorsement again. Notice who’s not mentioned? SEED made it’s endorsement as much about the past as the future – for no reason other than to advance a well-worn (out) talking point that is much more effective at rallying the scientific base than appealing to the a policymaking center. Nature made a point of acknowledging where both candidates have done well and not so well were scientifically informed policy is concerned. They played to the center, moved beyond the base, and produced a much more reasonable – and hopefully effective – document as a result.
Ultimately, Nature made its choice based on values, values that place science as a useful and effective way to inform – not replace – decision making in politics and policy. Nature recognized that non-scientific factors relate to political choices and value the candidate that, in their view, would take the broadest range of advice and evidence into consideration, and make decisions with that in mind. I’ll close by quoting from the end of Nature’s endorsement, which bears repeating.
“The Oval Office is not a debating chamber, nor is it a faculty club. As anyone in academia will know, a thoughtful and professorial air is not in itself a recommendation for executive power. But a commitment to seeking good advice and taking seriously the findings of disinterested enquiry seems an attractive attribute for a chief executive. It certainly matters more than any specific pledge to fund some particular agency or initiative at a certain level — pledges of a sort now largely rendered moot by the unpredictable flux of the economy.
This journal does not have a vote, and does not claim any particular standing from which to instruct those who do.”
Neither does SEED. Pity they didn’t recognize that.