You might ask, quite reasonably, what valid insight would a scientist, especially an astrophysicist, have with respect to politics?

The simple answer to that is that many of us, including me, have side interests in many aspects of science including: biology, computational science, and social science. As a result of that interest we read journal articles and attend lectures on those subjects, and thus become reasonably knowledgeable in those areas.

In the case of voting, sociology is important.

In general, scientists approach problems in a manner significantly differently from most people. We are very analytical. We attempt to block all emotion from our decision making process (I have been criticized by some of my non-scientific friends for not letting faith have enough say in my decisions).

However, to do good science, you must be guided by the facts, not what you wish were so. Sociological studies have shown that for most people emotion trumps (excuse the pun) logic. A part of this is that people remember negative and forget positive. It is part of a survival mechanism that is now hard wired into us as human beings.

From what I have seen in the debates, and political advertising, the candidates and their committees are well aware of this. It is almost impossible to find good discussions of the issues.

A scientific approach to an issue would be, what is the problem, how would I address it, what are the problems with that approach, and here is why I think my approach will work.

Instead I seem to only hear and read about what disgusting and or negative thing the other candidate may or may not have said or done.

Another interesting result of Sociological studies is that the dominant factor in peoples’ emotions is fear. These studies are based on questions presented to many people, so it is statistically significant. Our politicians seem to be well aware of that fact and are using it to the maximum.

I just can’t get out of my mind one of FDR’s inaugural statements, “..we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”  

As a scientist I am always keeping in mind the results of these studies. They tell me why the politicians are saying what they are. As a scientist I am always asking what is real and WHY is he or she saying that.

Another perspective I have is a result of a media training course I took. When I worked for NASA, part of my job became doing TV and radio interviews. NASA sent me to the school, so I could do a good job at this. It is not something that comes easily to a research scientist.

Two main points I learned were: 1) keep your message very simple, and 2) if they ask a question you don’t want to answer, answer the one you do want to answer.

Number 1 makes it very hard to get real and complex issues across to the voter. It means that the written media needs to do an excellent job in this area. Number 2 tells you why the debates are so frustrating to watch or listen to. If they don’t like the question, they ramble on about whatever they want to say.

 I hope this article has given you some insight into how you are deciding this election. How you are being played by the candidates. If you are voting your emotion, understand that is what you are doing and why. If you are voting the facts, be sure they are the real facts.