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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Politics and the Scientific Process: An unheralded bias.

Last weeks blogs spoke to how political ideation can affect emerging science issues.

I would like to call on your assistance.  Please post comments or email to drphealth@gmail.com .  I am looking for examples where politics has resulted in a bias to the scientific process. 

Politics can affect interpretation of science, such as the debates of evolution and creationism.  Media biases can also bias the interpretation of a situation through "balanced" reporting. 

There is an inherent political bias to support existing science structures rather than explore new branches.  When looking at funding for research, some major issues like mental health and injury prevention are overlooked in favour of the more traditional fields of heart, stroke and cancer - all of which remain very important and burdisome illnesses, but for which research funding remains disproportionately skewed.

There are instances where politics have interferred with the progression of science.   Most of the examples that come to mind, have their genesis south of the border.  The stem cell research limitations in the US are a prime example.  The US biased against certain air pollutants under the Bush administration by refusing to fund research for selected pollutants (eg ozone). 

I recall the impact of one guberneral election in Minnesota that brought the famour WWF wrestler Jessie Ventura to the governors position.  Up until that time Minnesota was an international leader in research related to the health impacts of intensive hog farming. Some of the best resources were only to be found on the state health department website.  Within a few years, the key researchers and administrators were no longer in their health and hog related position, and research material had been removed from the state website and essentially inaccessible.

While we readily acknowledge the challenges in science of controlling for biases in methodology, and appreciate the impact of biases related to non-publication of negative findings. There is little written or appreciated about the affect of political bias on science.

Please post a comment with examples that you are aware of.  Or for the shy amongst the readers, send an email to drphealth@gmail.com so we can begin to amass evidence of the impact.

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