Technology and Politics

Our local IEEE section celebrated it’s 60th anniversary this year.  And by some coordinated coincidence we managed to get a meeting with the Governor, and a commendation.   It is tempting to say “that, and $4 will get you a cup of coffee.”
Engineers and technologists tend not to be outgoing, press-the-flesh type of folks, we leave that to management and sales.

But, we also leave to management and sales the insight and understanding of technology and it’s impact on society.  Since we provided some of the key text for the commendation to the statehouse, the Governor had some idea of what we actually do.  And she asked us “what can I tell 4th graders to get them interested in STEM fields?” — a delightfully insightful question given that this seems to be where kids start to lean towards or away from STEM education.

It turns out that this same week I went on to Washington DC to meet with the staff of various Representatives in the US Congress and Senators.  We had an “agenda”, along with technologists and scientists from a batch of other organizations: — promoting on going basic R&D and STEM education funding by the US Government.  This is an area at risk due to the U.S. budget battles, debit and now sequestration. Again this tends to be counter intuitive for Engineers and Technologists — we like meritocracy, ideas that are proven with data, facts that drive decisions — in short we don’t like politics.  Unfortunately politics drives money, and legal rights, and legal prohibitions.

There are a bunch of folks out there who speak against science, technology and to put it bluntly, ‘the facts’.  These folks do not hesitate to invest face time, and money to influence political actions and investments.  Some simply do not know, or deny the facts … this may be related to climate change, medical research, or science education.  Some have vested financial interests that are best served in ways that do not align with merit or facts.  Some truly believe in different facts.  And some are just running off what they learned years ago, having no need to stay current.

This makes it critical that folks in the technology fields take some time for politics. If we leave the interpretation, spin, story telling, and so forth to other perspectives, then we relinquish control of the related policy and funding decisions.  This is not just a U.S. or even national issue.  Decisions are made in every country, by states, by school boards, by local town councils.  Should we fund the chemistry lab or the football team?  Should we support a science museum?   Should we ask the PE instructor to cover the math class, or hire someone with a math degree?

Look back at the issues surfaced in this set of blog entries (and forward for that matter)  Do you really want to relinquish the policy decisions that these types of issues raise to folks that have little awareness, much less interest in the reality of technology and science?

What are examples of ill-informed proposals that your political bodies have considered?