When should politicians take guidance from scientists?

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Credit: Javier Jaén/Getty Images

Why should politicians listen to scientists? Are scientists always right? What happens when scientists disagree among themselves?

In an ideal world, an intimate relationship between science and public policy should be regarded as integral to the advancement of society to higher planes of development.

This, of course, assumes that both public policy and scientific enquiry are pursuing the paths of unbiased objectivity and intellectual integrity. While these are the essential requirements of a healthy relationship between science and public policy in any domain, they become all the more necessary in the exposition and application of knowledge in the arena of public health.

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However, scientists cannot be the sole arbiters of the public good. The excitement of scientific discovery and the exuberance of new technologies may blind scientists to potential dangers, be it developing nuclear weapons or gene-edited babies. What may affect all of society must be debated by all of society, whether it is evidence on genetically modified crops or the safety and efficacy of a new vaccine, for acceptance or rejection on the strength of evidence provided. For this to be meaningful, scientists must frequently engage with the wider community and communicate with clarity and conviction.

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