Should You Need A License To Vote?

Posted By James Campbell 20238971

Probably, but let me explain myself…

Would the public as a whole be better off if a government could go ahead and make unpopular decisions that will benefit us in the long term? For example, the stem cell debate in Western Australia is being revisited. We are the only state that has restrictions on the technology. Many claim that the state has been left behind in medical research as a result. If the government had been able to go ahead and legalise it without fear of being voted out by an uninformed and scared public, would we be ahead?

Would we be much more productive in the agricultural sector if we had been allowed to use GM technology 10 years ago and have had the time to be able to develop it to adapt better to WA, instead of the government having to stall it to please a scared public?

If the government had acted 20 years ago and built a large amount of nuclear power stations (in one of the most tectonically stable countries in the world), fossil fuel power generation in Australia could just be a relic of the past. Would we be better off if the government did not have to please a scared public? A public that reverts to images of Chernobyl and Fukushima (two accidents in 30 years out of hundreds of plants throughout the world) in their mind every time nuclear energy is mentioned.

If the government did not have to please an irrational public, would John Howard still be in power, and would detention centres be over-flowing, with more boats on their way as is the case with the current government? Would Temporary Protection Visas still be in effect – where genuine refugees are protected until the threat has passed, and queue jumpers sent home? This would provide a reason for would-be asylum seekers to re-think a decision to risk theirs and their family’s lives to get to Australia, while also taking away a people smuggler’s ability to guarantee a permanent home in Australia as they are currently able to do because of soft government policy.

The paper by (Bauer, Allum et al. 2007) outlines the concerns that scientists have about the Public Understanding of Science (PUS), and the ability of the public to make informed decisions. It believes that the voice of the people is only beneficial if the people command knowledge of science and politics, and that at present there is a gross lack of public literacy in science.

This begs the question: Should the public be forced to pass a mandatory literacy test in order to vote? Or should we just leave the important scientific decisions to scientific panels that review and decide on scientific issues of the day? While obviously the public does not directly vote on issues of the day, governments are forced to make wrong decisions for the country because the better alternative is unpopular with the voting public and they fear being voted out.

Either way it is a hard decision that when put down to a public vote will never get passed anyway, which is my point.


Bauer, M. W., N. Allum, et al. (2007). “What can we learn from 25 years of PUS survey research? Liberating and expanding the agenda.” Public Understanding of Science 16(1): 79.


6 comments so far

  1. Feston Kwezani on

    Hi James,
    I agree with you that either way is difficult.
    But we should agree that those in power were voted by the public and they are supposed to satisfy the wishes of those who voted for them. This explains why we have members of parliament who are supposed to bridge the gap between the public and the government.
    On the other hand not all the wishes of the those who voted for will be addressed as there were others who voted against. As the government is for all the citizens, then their wishes are supposed to be addressed as well.

    So too in science, there is need for an effective communication strategy which should bridge the gap between scientists and the public.


  2. rusa20245779 on

    Hi James Great article!

    I personally believe that with big decisions such as those discussed above like nuclear power and stem cell research the public should have a say and the decisions should not be made only by the professional and political ‘big wigs’. I understand that some people may not have the knowledge to fully comprehend the ideas talked about, but this is no reason to decline all people the opportunity to have a say in important decisions.

    People do not need to pass a literacy test to vote-everyone needs the right no matter what their educational background!

  3. Rosanna Margetts on

    Hi James,

    I agree with the point you are making that decisions in our current government are not getting made quick enough, if at all. It would be great if we could for one day see how much faster decisions would be made if Politicians weren’t trying to please everyone in order to get the next vote in.

    I’m curious to know did Bauer and Friends go on to suggest any strategies to make the public more informed about issues in Science?


  4. clayte01 on

    Sure, it is difficult, but what about us? Do you think that we, the sometimes over-informed public should not be able to vote? What about us science students, who, without a full degree behind us, do not really appear any different to the “scared public”. I am enrolled in a BSc, but until the end of the year, all I can really say is that I have graduated high school, yet I feel I have more right to have my say on scientific issues than the politically-and-not-scientifically-trained leaders of our country. Yet if we do not allow the general public to vote, that excludes us, too.

    Yes, political leaders should be able to act for the best interest of the nation, but I would feel a lot more confident about letting them do so, if my vote didn’t go to “the lesser of two evils”.

    Yes, we elected them. No, that doesn’t mean we should trust them to make our decisions.

    As Feston has suggested, I think the need is–not for the government to make our decisions– to communicate the science involved, so that everyone can understand. It was not until I got to uni that I understood fully the controversy behind stem cell research. This was not for lack of ability to understand, but because all we, in the general public, hear about it is the politics behind it. Let us hear the science, and let us not assume that the “scared public” won’t hear it, and won’t understand it.


  5. gracerussell89 on

    a very provocative and controversial piece of writing. I must agree on some of the points you have raised, such as the public not being well enough informed on some current issues that surround the world at the moment, for example, nuclear power was bought up by yourself.
    However one paragraph caught my attention. The refugees. Im not sure if you have heard of the Kosovo situation, where thousands of refugees were given a temporary visa to stay in Australia while their country was under threat and not safe for its citizens. This was fine until they were given very poor living conditions and very little money to survive in a western society. After a short time thousands of Kosovo refugees were forced out of Australia back to Kosovo, which was still a very unsafe country. This was under the Howard government. So i pose the question, is there really any sound solution to what you call “genuine refugees” and how does the government decide who is rightfully granted entry to Australia and who isnt? As humane people can we actually make that harsh decision? and where is the line drawn? just because their county is not in civil war are they are not aloud to seek a better life for themselves and their family?

    In the eyes of the public,the government will never always make the right decision. Public pressure may be an influencing factor, but someone will always disagree with their decisions.

  6. Beau Gamble on

    The refugee paragraph caught my attention too.

    It sounds like you imply the harder the government stance on asylum seekers, the more rational. But many rational and educated people would take the opposite view.

    Our ‘soft’ government policy on asylum seekers has actually just days ago been condemned by the United Nations chief human rights expert as racist and inhumane.

    It is entirely legal under both UN law and the Australian Immigration Act of 1958 to seek asylum in Australia, even if arriving by boat. And yet we ‘detain’(i.e. imprison) asylum seekers for inordinate lengths of time – sometimes seven years or more.

    The whole notion of ‘queue jumpers’ has been exaggerated in the media beyond anything representing reality. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat make up less than two percent of Australia’s annual migration, and the vast majority of these are genuine refugees fleeing terror and violence.

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