Jim Al’Khalili has an article in Scientific American called [a] physicist for president? Jim is a physicist, so he’s probably being somewhat provactive. Also, he’s mostly arguing for someone who applies the scientific method to thinking and decision-making and is largely motivated by current events. However, I do think the suggestion is really rather silly.I certainly don’t think that physicists are somehow better at avoiding motivated reasoning than others; it’s not as if physicists aren’t amongst some of the most well-known climate sceptics. Also, as Arthur points out in a comment on Stoat’s post that covered this, it’s not as if physicists are noted for their humility. The last thing I think we need are people who regard themselves as so clever that they don’t think they really need to listen to other experts.
There are, however, a couple of more fundamental issues with the basic suggestion. Scientific evidence doesn’t tell us what decisions we should make. So, just because someone has a good grasp of the scientific method doesn’t immediately mean that they would then make the optimal decisions. I think I understand climate science relatively well, but I certainly don’t think that means that I now know what we should do about climate change. Scientific information can, and often should, be an important part of decision making, but it’s far from the only relevant information. We need to consider what we should do, if anything, how we should do it, and the possible implications of doing so (there are almost always consequences to decision making).
On top of that, I think it would be dreadful if our political leaders were people who thought that decision making simply required considering the scientific evidence. I think it’s important that our political leaders have some kind of ideology; their political leadership should be motivated by how they think our societies should be run, not simply by a sense that they can consider some evidence and then make decisions. This doesn’t mean that we all have to agree with their ideology, just that they should have one.
To be clear, I do think that there will be occasions when the scientific evidence should play a key role in decision making and maybe even some occasion (like now) where the evidence indicates pretty clearly what we should do. However, this really requires a leader who is willing to listen to experts and who knows when to put their ideology to one side and make what might be difficult decisions. The problems we might be currently facing in the UK and the US aren’t a consequence of our leaders not having any scientific training; it’s because they’re largely unsuitable for the role. No amount of scientific training would overcome this.