Science and technology are now major players in the public policy
arena. While much of the media ignore the science behind many
political issues, at least one show takes it on squarely.
TechnoPolitics, a half-hour public television show, is helping its
viewers make sense out of technical information and also see how the
policies that evolve will affect their lives.
Hosted by James K. Glassman, a Washington Post columnist who also
hosts CNN's Capital Gang Sunday, TechnoPolitics is designed to
"distinguish the science from the politics in policy debates,"
according to the producers. Thus, it deals with issues such as
electronic communications, air defense, fat substitutes, medical
research, and global warming.
The show delves into one topic at length and then follows with a
briefer look at two other subjects. Film clips provide background
information usually followed by a debate by experts representing
both sides of the issue.
What distinguishes TechnoPolitics from other shows dealing with
topical issues is its willingness to air views that get short shrift
elsewhere. In a recent show, the World Bank came under close
scrutiny. It is supported by the American taxpayers to the tune of
$789 million a year and relies on the American government to
guarantee its loans. Glassman dug in with queries on the bank's
hefty salaries, its new $314 million headquarters, and its often
risky loans, which no private bank would consider.
For another show, TechnoPolitics tackled pornography on the
Internet. One side weighed in with the view that children must be
protected at all costs and government control is essential. The
opposing side suggested parents should do their jobs, rather than
allow the government to gain a foothold on the free flow of
information over the Internet. Another emotionally charged issue
tackled recently by TechnoPolitics was medical research using
animals. News footage with an animal rights activist and a patient
battling AIDS introduced the segment, then in the studio two
scientists presented contradictory "scientific" evidence. There were
no clear winners or losers in this debate, but it highlighted the
complexity of making public policy about animal testing.
Whether the subject is a replacement for the F-16 or saving human
lives, TechnoPolitics doesn't shy away from the hard issues. The
joint strike fighter, for instance, is intended to meet the needs of
all the military services, but the development time, as Glassman
noted, stretched well into the next century. Even more attention to
the costs behind the science would be a welcome addition.
The last segment of each show does not examine an issue so much
as raise an interesting subject. A New York Times reporter told how
alternative medicines can deter patients from seeking effective
treatment from conventional sources. A writer from Scientific
American explained that all great scientific discoveries have
already been made and from now on we will just be refining the
details. Interesting, yes, but there is no debate and viewers are
left in limbo waiting for the point that is never made.
TechnoPolitics might be better leaving these stories to another
program and sticking with the clear, rapid exchange of views that
distinguishes the earlier portions of the program.
TechnoPolitics is produced by the Blackwell Corporation in
association with South Carolina Educational Television and it is
distributed by the Public Broadcasting System. It is broadcast on
180 stations and reaches 40 of the top 50 markets. It airs on Sunday
mornings in most markets.
Linda E. Platts is an editorial associate at PERC (Political
Economy Research Center) in Bozeman, Montana.