CNN’s first Democratic Presidential Debate aired on Tuesday night, reminding us here at The Scientific Parent that scientific issues that affect our health aren’t a priority in big-ticket politics.

If you caught our coverage of CNN’s Republican Presidential Debate last month, you might have seen my *ahem* slightly irate post about how Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson sidestepped acknowledging that vaccines and autism are in fact, not connected. While it was disappointing, it wasn’t surprising.

Regardless of which side of the mythical party line you stand on, there’s one thing that’s pretty obvious…politics, particularly political campaigns, aren’t heavily driven by scientific or quantitative topics (as this science literacy drinking game reminds us). Driven by the behavioral science of voting and viewing patterns, yes. But political scientific topics like vaccines and vaccine legislation, a healthcare system that focuses on maintaining good health rather than our current system that focuses on care for chronic illness, or maternity leave legislation, to name a few?

Nope. 

There are a few considerations on this point, so let me be clear – I’m not in the business of shaming people for avoiding topics, or even botching them when they try to address them. We all try, and we’re all bumbling through this life the best that we can. I also really do believe that we as individuals need to make sure we have reviewed all facts and evidence before we make an educated judgment call on topics of this nature. Even more so when we’re taking a public platform as a potential representative of the people.

To that end, Tuesday’s glaring science gap on topics thatNdGT Meme tangibly impact our children and families might be largely a good thing. It doesn’t work for politicians to not have any clear understanding on the science of an issue and then try to push an agenda. Like the Trump-Carson-Vaccine-Fail, when you talk about science that you don’t understand, and you say it with authority, you spread misinformation. Misinformation in the wrong hands can be tragic, and fatal.

However, that’s just one half of a problem called a glaring lack of science literacy. It’s a prevalent issue with all of the high-profile candidates, and on both sides of the proverbial political aisle. It’s not just their ability to study it or understand it, it’s their lack of ability to be able to impart it on others, with accuracy.

A few glints of health topics did peek through on Tuesday, though. Hilary Clinton briefly addressed the practicality of maternity leave from the perspective of a working mother, and also Planned Parenthood in relation to women’s rights. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley echoed those sentiments, though for those three candidates, it boiled down more to discussing the economic aspects of those topics rather than the family and human impacts.

Again, none of this is surprising. Politicians aren’t going to sacrifice their campaign trajectory and what little national airtime they’re given for debating scientific facts, and understandably so. There are plenty of politically charged topics, a mash up of economics, social issues, morality, and ethics that they need to cover in these debates. These obligatory political popularity contests are aimed to get the most amount of votes in the shortest amount of time, not to alienate people.

Judging by the avalanche of hate mail we’ve received here at The Scientific Parent (read: a lot), hot topic conversations about science absolutely can and do alienate people, especially those who don’t have an in-depth understanding of some issues. They inflame people. They incite completely rational, calm people into attacking one other and tearing each other’s character down into a pile of rubble. Especially when it comes to triggering the protective instincts of any parent who feels like their children are under attack, at risk, or their mechanism of trying to protect them (i.e. their parenting style) is being shamed.

The prevailing concern for us here, is the answer to a very simple question. If you’re scientifically illiterate and have the means to become literate, what do you do?

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Categories: Policy, Politics, + Pop Health, Science 101 + Mythbusting