Science has always been political. The Enlightenment brought forth a series of revolutions that transformed both our understanding of the universe and our role in it. New scientific discoveries often threaten the justification for power of those in authority, placing scientists at the center of politics. Galileo’s confrontation with the Catholic Church comes immediately to mind, but tensions between scientists and political authorities erupt with relative frequency. One of the early figures of the English Enlightenment, Thomas Hobbes, fled to Paris over concern about how his political works would be taken by Parliament (Hobbes was a royalist, and hostile to the Catholic Church).
This was not without good reason, as Bertrand Russell would later recall in The Impact of Science on Society: “After the Plague and the Great Fire, a House of Commons Committee inquired into the causes of those misfortunes, which were generally attributed to divine displeasure, though it was not clear to what the displeasure was due. The Committee decided that what most displeased the Lord was the works of Mr. Thomas Hobbes. It was decreed that no work of his should be published in England. This measure proved effective: there has never since been a plague or Great Fire in London.”
Some of the greatest scientists of the 20th century were vocal advocates of political freedom and democracy. Growing up in Russia-controlled Poland, Marie Curie attended a clandestine “floating university” that circumvented the restrictive educational system, and she was an opponent of authoritarianism throughout her entire, two-Nobel-Prize-winning life. While neither Albert Einstein nor Stephen Hawking were ever photographed at a Vietnam protest with Vanessa Redgrave, both were peace activists and staunch defenders of democracy.
In recent decades, political scientists have worked to support the Voting Rights Act of 1965, developing statistical estimates of voter registration, malapportionment, vote dilution and other quantitative measures of constitutional violations. To address racial gerrymandering and redistricting plans, political scientists developed ecological inference procedures, and formal models of electoral system performance based on the relationship between votes and seats.
Full Article: The Science of Elections – Scientific American Blog Network.