Politicization of science  

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"Science is politics by other means"

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The politicization of science is the manipulation of science for political gain. It occurs when government, business, or advocacy groups use legal or economic pressure to influence the findings of scientific research or the way it is disseminated, reported or interpreted. The politicization of science may also negatively affect academic and scientific freedom. Historically, groups have conducted various campaigns to promote their interests in defiance of scientific consensus, and in an effort to manipulate public policy. On the other hand, policy makers are under pressure from their electorates to take timely action regardless of the raging debates and/or apparent credibility of alternative viewpoints. Politics cannot be completely divorced from policy.


Many factors can act as facets of the politicization of science. These can range, for example, from populist anti-intellectualism and perceived threats to religious belief to postmodernist subjectivism and fear for business interests.

Politicization occurs as scientific information is presented with emphasis on the uncertainty associated with the scientific evidence. The emphasis capitalizes on the lack of consensus, which influences the way the studies are perceived. Chris Mooney describes how this point is sometimes intentionally ignored as a part an "Orwellian tactic." Organizations and politicians seek to disclaim all discussion on some issues as 'the more probable conclusion is still uncertain' as opposed to 'conclusions are most scientifically likely' in order to further discredit scientific studies.

Tactics such as shifting conversation, failing to acknowledge facts, and capitalizing on doubt of scientific consensus have been used to gain more attention for views that have been undermined by scientific evidence. "Merchants of Doubt," ideology-based interest groups that claim expertise on scientific issues, have run successful "disinformation campaigns" in which they highlight the inherent uncertainty of science to cast doubt on scientific issues such as human-caused climate change, even though the scientific community has reached virtual consensus that humans play a role in climate change.

William R. Freudenburg and colleagues have written about politicization of science as a rhetorical technique and states that it is an attempt to shift the burden of proof in an argument. He offers the example of cigarette lobbyists opposing laws that would discourage smoking. The lobbyists trivialize evidence as uncertain, emphasizing lack of conclusion. Freudenberg concludes that politicians and lobby groups are too often able to make "successful efforts to argue for full 'scientific certainty' before a regulation can be said to be 'justified' and maintain that what is needed is a balanced approach that carefully considers the risks of both Type 1 and Type 2 errors in a situation while noting that scientific conclusions are always tentative.

President of the American Council on Science and Health Hank Campbell and microbiologist Alex Berezow have described "feel-good fallacies" used in politics, where politicians frame their positions in a way that makes people feel good about supporting certain policies even when scientific evidence shows there is no need to worry or there is no need for dramatic change on current programs. They have claimed that progressives have had these kinds of issues with policies involving genetically modified foods, vaccination, overpopulation, use of animals in research, nuclear energy, and other topics.

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