Don’t teach Congress about science and technology; teach the voters

M. Anthony Mills has a short piece at Politico advocating the return of the OTA (Office of Technology Assessment), which was defunded in the 1990s as a budget cutting measure.  The argument is that congress needs to know more about science and technology, that maybe if they knew more, they’d make better decisions.

Except, politics doesn’t work that way.  Individual senators and representatives in Congress make decisions largely based on what their constituents demand from them, or at least what those constituents will tolerate.  Of course, the demands of major donors also come into the picture, which is often the real reason anti-science decisions happen.

The solution to this problem isn’t to educate those senators or representatives.  Even if they sit still long enough to receive that education, it won’t work, since the sentiment of their constituents and major donors will win out.

What will work is educating those constituents, that is, the voting public.  That’s admittedly harder since the public is far larger, and getting them to sit still for education is just as difficult.  Yet, in a democracy, there really is no other path.  Getting movement on climate change and other areas will only happen when voters overwhelmingly demand it, with enough force to override the influence of major donors.

Incidentally, this applies to just about any other policy area anyone wants to see progress on.  Progress on gay and lesbian acceptance only happened once it was clear that the voting public was on board.  (The show Will & Grace did more to bring it about than any direct lobbying of politicians.)  Likewise for movement on sexual harassment issues.  This fits the historical pattern, where civil rights only happened once the public demanded it.

Politicians don’t lead, they represent, and representatives, if they want to keep their job, recognize swings in voter sentiment.  To see change, don’t focus on the politician.  Focus on the voter.

Unless of course I’m missing something?