Parthasarathy addresses relationship between politics and science in Nature podcast series

November 12, 2020

A three-part podcast series by Nature explores the intimate relationship between politics and science. The series, ‘Stick to the science’: when science gets political aims to look at why a journal of science needs to address politics.

Shobita Parthasarathy, director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program, is featured extensively, tapping into her research on the influence of politics and power on scientific inquiry.

“Science and politics benefit from the perception that science is objective, and separate. Because that means that politicians can say, ‘Science agrees with me; this objective evidence, this objective knowledge is on my side,” she says.  

“Politics shapes science in a whole bunch of ways. It really affects everything in the lab, and we don't necessarily think about it. So, for example, governments have funding priorities. And so, whether it's the government doing the funding, or research councils, charities, universities, companies, there are interests and so influence and power dynamics. And so you're going to have politics,” she explains. 

Addressing structural inequity, Parthasarathy says, “Society, power, and politics shape technology, and because we know societies are structurally unequal--they have biases embedded in them--then it's not surprising that we see lots of technologies that reflect those biases and reflect those inequalities.” 

“If, as scientists, we can be a little bit more reflective about it, then we can actually start to think about the systems that shape these kinds of decisions, and then do a better job of addressing these kinds of biases and structural inequalities. But if we assume that they're not there, then we tend to locate the politics in the individual or the bias in the individual. They're actually part of systems. And we don't understand that enough,” she concludes.

Parthasarathy discusses these issues at the intersection of science, technology, policy, and society on her podcast, The Received Wisdom, which she co-hosts with Jack Stilgoe from University College London.

The Nature podcasts can all be heard here or individually:

Episode 1: A brief history of politics and science

Episode 2: Politics of the life scientific

Episode 3: Talking politics, talking science