Skip to main content

science should be more political, not less

February 6th, 2018 | 1 min read

By Matthew Loftus

I just came upon Ari Schulman’s excellent essay in The Hedgehog Review about trying to make science less political:

What we need is not a depoliticized science but a more political science—that is, a science unembarrassed about the legitimate role of politics in resolving what we now call scientific disputes. Public health agencies like the CDC and the FDA are never going to become apolitical, and we shouldn’t expect them to. But we ought to be able to reckon honestly with their political purposes. Their primary purpose is to effect steady improvements in public health outcomes. As an adjunct to this purpose, the agencies have an interest in maintaining their own political legitimacy, and may seek to do so in ways that actually undermine their credibility, as we’ve seen.

Our moral, ideological, and political preferences are always going to affect our scientific inquiry and interpretation — and the people who want to pretend as though they are immune from such preferences are often the most obnoxious when it comes to being swept away. Particularly in the realm of health care, we decide what research to fund based on political urges, we embrace or reject guidelines based on our underlying dispositions, and we judge behavior and research ethics based on our moral principles. Honestly addressing these discrepancies will go a long way to making our debates over science far more useful.

Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at