The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC last month was one of the best I’ve witnessed in more than 20 years of regular attendance. The policy sessions were packed and genuinely stimulating. I met tons of smart, influential people I hadn’t seen for ages, and we all enjoyed a good chinwag about how better to engage with the public — the meeting’s theme for 2016.He is saying that the scientific elite are ignorant of political views outside their own group. They are disturbed by the rise of Trump. They think that he threatens democracy because the people support him, and not the consensus of the scientific elites anymore.
The only trouble was what was going on outside the hotel — in the United States and the world at large.
In fact, the AAAS meeting took place in a sort of semi-conscious never-never land. The science-policy crowd talked a great game even as the pillars of the republic crashed noisily down around their heads.
Supporters or representatives of Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for this November’s US presidential election, his extremely conservative rival Ted Cruz, or even Bernie Sanders, the Democrat insurgent, were simply not involved in these discussions. They never are. Senior scientists are instead inextricably linked to the centrist, free-market political establishment that has tended to rule, but which is now falling dangerously from public favour.
It is not just in the United States that this consensus — and perhaps democracy itself — is in danger.
Think about this the next time you hear that some Nobel prize winner endorsed some political candidate. These endorsements are based on contempt for the middle class and their wishes.