Politicians, STEM and numeracy

by | Apr 2, 2020

As our politicians are trying to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, we’re all learning fast about things like exponential growth rates, herd immunity and ventilator design.

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a lack of scientists and engineers in the decision-making class. I’m fairly sure it’s always been like this, at least in the UK where I live, and checking our current batch of MPs shows there are 103 with some kind of science, technology, engineering, maths (STEM) or medical background, out of a total of 650. That’s about 16%, or just less than one in six.

It’s not enough, is it? While we don’t expect our leaders to be expert in everything, it’s difficult for anyone from an arts background to have the same feel for figures as a scientist, doctor or engineer, particularly when they’re looking at things like probabilities and risk. I also think there’s also been a general downplaying of the importance of numeracy in recent years, as well as a rejection of ‘experts’ as somehow unnecessary.

At least, in the UK, we’re seeing senior scientists and medics getting a highly visible role in advising the government, and updating the public. It’s a start, but we need the people in power to be more clued up if they’re going to make all the right decisions – or at least, to take advice from the specialists. Here’s hoping.