Science has always been political
BY Grant Piper
Much has been made regarding the politicization of science during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The issues have divided people across the globe and have proponents of science pulling out their hair. But science has always been political and likely will continue to be political. This is not a new issue. In fact, injecting politics into science has been happening for thousands of years.
Whenever new scientific discoveries emerge that threaten the status quo, those in power scramble to protect themselves and their way of life. The movement to discredit and coverup good science and new discoveries has been ongoing for a very long time. It is human nature.
Here are three times science was politicized throughout history leading to unfortunate consequences.
Socrates’s way of thinking: Socrates is known for being one of the most influential philosophers in western thinking. Back in his day, science and philosophy were deeply intertwined to the point where much of science fell under the guise of natural philosophy. Socrates’s methods of questioning everything around him, questioning the assertions of others, and encouraging others to do the same eventually led to his execution.
The Socratic Method is still used as a valuable tool for thinking through problems today but it rankled the people in power at the time. He was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens due to his demand that his students think for themselves and question the world around them. Those two principles are important pillars of both philosophy and science today. The rulers of Athens at the time found this mode of thinking dangerous and insidious.
Socrates was infamously forced to drink hemlock and killed. While his legacy lived on, there is no doubt a great mind was executed for political reasons and his death scared many young people in Athens who might have picked up his legacy.
Galileo’s defense of the heliocentric model: Galileo was imprisoned by the Catholic Church for advocating for the emerging theory of heliocentrism — the idea that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than the opposite. This view directly contradicted the position of the church which claimed that the Earth was the center of the solar system, and indeed, the universe. If the Earth revolved around the sun it would severely damage the credibility of the Catholic church and the bible. Both were seen as unacceptable.
Galileo was put on trial and convicted of heresy. He was sentenced to house arrest. Galileo was one of the most instrumental scientific minds of the day and his discoveries laid the foundation for our understanding of the universe today.
Unfortunately, his career was severely hampered by the Catholic church. If Galileo’s ideas were picked up quickly or if he were allowed to continue his research as a free man who knows how much further people could have advanced during his lifetime.
Questioning vaccines: Vaccine hesitancy has been around as long as vaccines themselves. The first vaccines were developed to combat smallpox and from the earliest days, they caused people alarm. Smallpox vaccine hesitancy emerged in the 19th century and has been a factor in health science and public policy ever since.
The movement to discredit vaccines has had wide-ranging effects from new outbreaks of measles in the United States to protests over the ongoing efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine worldwide. While many vaccines eventually win over the population the hesitancy and the lagging vaccine rates have had effects on global health for decades.
Vaccine hesitancy continues to be an issue today and has roots that stretch back hundreds of years.
It is a frustrating force affecting global health leaders.”