I’m not by nature a political person. I do have my own strongly held convictions on the political issues of the day, and I vote in every election I can get my hands on, but I generally refrain from discussing politics in person, in writing, on Facebook, or in this blog. I’d much rather write about writing or science or the environment. Those are topics I feel much more strongly about, than, say, the length of Donald Trump’s ____. (You fill in the blank.) But in this day and age, politics is all about us, like a miasma that infects every aspect of our lives. Ignoring it is difficult. Everywhere you turn, you are pummeled with facts, pseudo-facts, opinion, pseudo-opinion, and all manner of intellectual graffiti, designed solely to influence you to believe someone else’s opinion. My feeling about all this is: I have my own opinion; don’t mess me up with yours.
Perhaps that’s why I became a scientist. I like the rigidity of the scientific process. Sure, there’s room for opinion in science; in fact it’s full of it. But your opinion in science is supposed to be based on the facts. You have to quote chapter and verse in order to be believed in science. You have to be able to list the reasons you believe something. No “alternate facts” here, just the realistic facts and data that support and bolster your opinion. Do viruses cause cancer in humans? What are the facts concerning the existence of dark matter? What is the evidence that the Zika virus causes microcephaly in newborns? And so forth. Just the facts.
Politics, on the other hand, is largely reactionary. I’m not talking about extremely conservative politics which wants to take us back to the 1700s or 1800s, but reactionary in the sense that it rarely generates anything new, but mostly reacts to what has come before. Science, on the other hand, is progressive. It is what generates the forward motion in many fields. Science found the Higgs boson; politics has yet to react to it. Science showed that chlorine kills bacteria and viruses in water; only later did political organizations make it mandatory that drinking water be treated to reduce the number of water-borne diseases in the US. Science developed the transistor, the integrated circuit, the computer, the internet, and now politics has to regulate it. Science is on the cutting edge; politics trails and many times cuts itself on the cutting edge.
That’s not to say politics isn’t necessary in our lives, and I’m not trying to say here that politics is unnecessary. Politics concerns itself with the relations between various groups of people, and regulates and restricts those relations. Important, certainly. Politics also takes it upon itself to codify the important discoveries and make them law. In many cases that’s also necessary. But it’s far more satisfying, enjoyable, and rewarding to be in the front of discovery, to be doing what no one else has done before, and to know facts that no one else knows. Especially the politicians. Science is like being in the Lewis and Clark expedition up the Missouri River. Can you imagine how exciting that must have been? Especially after they crossed the Continental Divide and began to work their way down the western side of the Rocky Mountains toward the Columbia River and eventually the Pacific Ocean. No white man had ever been there. I would like to have been there. I couldn’t, obviously, so I explored the interactions between virus particles. It’s the explorer in me.
Damn the politicians—full speed ahead.