Sunday, December 29, 2013

Scientifying our lawmakers

I wished for every Member of Parliament to understand the impact of emerging technologies and be able to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. It has been in my wish list for a long time to engage MPs and scientists in a dialogue to bring science to the corridors of power.

Sounds like an uphill task? It dawned on me that if you don’t try, you will never know if our lawmakers are interested in science. So I started to explore the possibility of organising the inaugural dialogue between scientists and MPs – from both sides of the political divide during the recent parliamentary session. I wrote to almost all the MPs.

The topic was on GM crops and its impact on food security and sustainable development, optimistically thinking the two challenges will be close to our MPs’ hearts. True enough, a number of MPs responded saying they are interested and some asked for a change in date.
It was a pleasant surprise that the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBC) not only helped in getting their MPs to attend, but was also present to facilitate their participation and to get first-hand information on the subject.

The dialogue was a success in spite of its small scale but the main challenge in organising such dialogues bogged me down – getting public sector scientists to participate. It is either the public sector scientists or the opposition MPs, not both under the same roof!

I can only conclude that we need to become a more matured society and sit on the same platform for discussion, especially on topics that are of utmost importance to nation building.
Science has its role and so has politics and the twain must come together for the betterment of society – especially on matters pertaining to climate change and food security. I trust it is not the politicians who set the “gag rule” for public sector scientists but these are self-imposed rules by their management. One need to understand that engaging the MPs from both sides on science and its policies will only strengthen the government’s robust initiatives.

On a positive note, to end 2013, the BNBC executive secretary and BN’s research assistant were more than happy to help organise future dialogues and concurred that such meetings are important for our lawmakers. This is a milestone for MABIC and an inroad towards science literacy and making science a culture.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan