In the wake of the federal election, some online communities have begun to speculate on the need for a Science Party in Australian politics. This is something I’ve been considering for some time; with momentum gathering behind the idea, it seems a fine moment to float my musings on how such a party might work.

So I’m posting here on the genesis of an idea, with plenty of philosophical and logistic challenges to discuss. If it piques your interest, feel free to contact me with your ideas.

THE SCIENCE PARTY OF AUSTRALIA proposes to poll impartial scientists and experts to develop policy. Policy will not be constructed by ideologically compelled politicians, but will be established by the statistically favoured options of the members of respected scientific organisations: for example, environmental and climate change policy will be voted on by members of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, the Geological Society of Australia and the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, as well as other independent experts listed with organisations including the Australian Academy of Science.

Party members and candidates will not formulate or dictate policy on their own, but will instead promote and represent the views of the scientific community. The policy development process will be similar to that employed by the Australian Democrats when polling their members, performed by direct online or postal ballot, but poll options will be sent only to experts in their respective fields.

The polls will be developed by a group of statisticians, polling experts and political scientists, aiming to minimise error or misrepresentation. The polls will also be subject to peer review.

In matters of social policy with no apparent scientific background, and matters of conscience or ethics (for example, same-sex marriage), social psychologists, ethicists and any scientists relevant to the particular concern will be polled.

We favour a utilitarian principle: we will ask our scientists when making difficult decisions to calculate what they believe will bring the most benefit for the most people, while causing the least harm, longitudinally.

As politics is the process of compromise, we will ask the members of all affiliated scientific organisations to rank their political priorities, developing a consensus hierarchy of the primary political concerns of the scientific community. Where compromise is necessary in parliament, we will favour the issues ranked highly in this poll.

During elections, party preferences will be allocated to the groups most correlated with the current policies of the Science Party.

We expect that, at times, some scientific organisations may be concerned they were not polled on matters they consider they have expertise in. We ask that they contact us with their concerns, which we will review, and revise our polls accordingly, based on the advice of our polling experts and political scientists.

The Science Party aims to be the small party providing a political voice to those who have studied and gained expert knowledge in matters affecting Australian citizens; we believe the influence of the well-informed is sadly lacking in current political discourse. For example, governments routinely appoint portfolios to elected MPs based not on their experiences and knowledge in the field, but on career interests alone. We would like to see this trend reversed.

I have begun to talk through this concept with some likeminded people. There are a number of problems which are invariably raised:

  1. Making sure the experts are indeed experts.
  2. Navigating the need for science peak bodies to remain apolitical, and making sure participation doesn’t have an adverse impact on their work.
  3. The problematic conflation of science practise and knowledge with values application (that is, science may be able to describe how something works, but the knowledge doesn’t necessarily tell us what we ought to do).
  4. Scepticism around the Democrats-style ballot process.

I’ve also begun to work on my own answers to these problems, but if you’d like to like to join the discussion, head over here.