Monday, April 2, 2012

The rules

Science Vs Politics series.

Science is a game, with rules. The rules are simple and you can’t break them. People try and cheat, but that never ends well.
  • Research. Find out if people have done this before. If they have, maybe you can learn something from their hard work.
  • Record. Observation is nothing without data to back it up. or as Edwin Hubble put it “Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure, science”
  • Repeat. Your results must be repeatable, not just by you, by others as well.
  • Consult widely. Once you've lost the community's trust, you'll never get it back.'
  • Always try quiet diplomacy first. Once you're in a public dispute, you've already lost.'
  • Follow-through is paramount.'
  • Keep your sense of humour. It makes all other rules possible.

There are a number of laws in science, such as Newtons laws of gravity, the Laws of thermodynamics etc, and the one rule here is, you must obey these laws. but I want to go a little bit more broad with the rules of science. When we do science, what rules do we follow? I have identified the following rules of the game we call science.
Politics is also a game, sometimes it seems like a very immature game of schoolyard name calling, but what are the rules here? and what happens if you break them?

The rules of politics are as follows:

Here’s a clear cut example of how the rules of science and politics differ:
Our Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, had a great idea to enforce a server level Internet filter. This means, that there are certain websites that are blocked from us visiting them. It puts the responsibility of who accesses what onto the server, not the consumer.
This is great, right up until the point where it doesn’t work! Many examples were shown of how this Internet filter does not work, Wikileaks had a whole number of leaks to do with the fact that the filter is useless. During the Internet filter trial, I found a whole heap of instructional videos from teenagers, showing us how to get around it. The ABC program ‘Hungry Beast’ also gave a quick in principle guide about how to bypass the filter. Further, the filter has managed to block sites that are clearly not dangerous. Sites like personal home pages with innocent content and businesses such as a Queensand dentists page. Added to all of that, the government refuses to publish the blacklisted websites.

Here’s where science and politics differ. In science, if your experiment doesn’t work, you have to change your hypothesis. In this case, Stephon Conroy just stuck to his message. Also not only does the experiment have to be repeatable, it has to be be repeated by your peers, It is called peer review, and it is one of the of the backbones of science research. In this case, your peers Senator Conroy, (13 year old school kids) have proven that your results can not be repeated.
This was a fail for politics, and by my reckoning, a fail for science too, due to the fact that the political arguments were accepted, despite ALL scientific evidence against the decision. It begs the question, “who wins?”
All the rules of science have been adhered to, as I said before, you actually can’t break them or, by definition, you are not doing science. Whereas at least 3 of the four identified rules of politics have been been broken.And it seems as though the punishment for breaking these political rules, is lots of funding and waste of public money on a technology that doesn't work.
I can see and agree with the principles of the idea. Protecting children, I'm all for that. But the clear disregard for evidence and common sense annoys me. True, we are not doing scientific research, but a little application of some of the principles of scientific processes would surely strengthen your argument or even help you to get a better policy.
I’m a big advocate of strong social policies, but I would also like to see some scientific common sense and awareness on discussions like this. 
I guess the same could be said for the climate change debate, but I might leave that for another time.

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