An antiscience movement has developed in North America. You see it in hostile skepticism expressed toward accepted research on vaccines and climate change, and in the rise of politicians like U.S. president Donald Trump and former prime minister Stephen Harper, both of whom clamped down on government scientific research for political reasons.
In response, scientists are fighting, some of them by entering politics.
The most notable of these in British Columbia is Andrew Weaver, leader of the provincial Green party and the MLA for Oak Bay–Gordon Head. In a telephone interview, Weaver said the team of candidates he’s putting together for the May 9 election already includes six people who hold PhDs. (That’s about 19 percent of the 31 Green candidates announced so far.)
“They are concerned about a move towards more decision-based evidence-making as opposed to evidence-based decision-making,” Weaver told the Straight. “People have the answer for what they want to do, and then they are seeking evidence to support that answer, as opposed to saying, ‘What’s the problem? How do we solve it?’ And putting forward a solution to the problem based on the evidence that exists.”
Weaver himself holds a PhD in applied mathematics; Janet Fraser, the Green candidate for Vancouver-Langara, has a PhD in organic chemistry; Peter Hallschmid, the candidate for Burnaby North, has a PhD in computer engineering; Chris Maxwell, the candidate for Victoria–Swan Lake, is a medical researcher who specializes in childhood diseases; Allison Shaw, the candidate for Kelowna–Lake Country, has a PhD in sustainability and climate-change science; and Michael Markwick, the candidate for West Vancouver–Capilano, has a PhD in communications (applied sciences).
In a separate interview, Fraser told the Straight that experience with the scientific method reinforces sound decision-making.
“It helps me to remember that while some issues are simple, many issues are very complex,” she said. "To make sure that you are looking at all the difference pieces of a problem and looking at all the different pieces of evidence as you try and come up with a solution.
Weaver said he’s dismayed by the onset of “an era of alternative facts”. He similarly argued that with backgrounds in research, these politicians will be less likely to manipulate facts. “Scientists, when asked questions, they’ll tell you what they think,” he said.