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Contents:
April Fool's Day as Teachable Moment?
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Technology Policy | The Honest Broker April 01, 2008

Technocracy versus Democratic Control
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker February 11, 2008

Climate Experts Debating the Role of Experts in Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments | The Honest Broker January 31, 2008

Eugene Skolnikoff on The Honest Broker
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker January 29, 2008

The Authoritarianism of Experts
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker January 23, 2008

Radio Interview with Radio Radicale
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker January 10, 2008

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC, Science and Politics
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments | The Honest Broker December 19, 2007

Waxman's Whitewash
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker December 12, 2007

Chutzpah
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker December 10, 2007

How to Get Good Intelligence
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker December 05, 2007

Geotimes Interview
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker November 12, 2007

J.B. Ruhl on The Honest Broker
   in The Honest Broker October 03, 2007

Jonathan Adler on The Honest Broker
   in The Honest Broker September 22, 2007

The Honest Broker 20% Off!!
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker September 20, 2007

The Honest Broker Reviewed in Nature
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker August 23, 2007

The Honest Broker Reviewed in Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker August 17, 2007

Preview of The Honest Broker
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker May 15, 2007

Should the Gates Foundation fund Policy Research?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Health | R&D Funding | Technology Policy | The Honest Broker May 09, 2007

Policy Research? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Policy Research
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker May 07, 2007

Hans von Storch on The Honest Broker
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker May 05, 2007

The Swindle Letter
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker April 30, 2007

Bridges Column on The Honest Broker
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker April 17, 2007

Turn the Trade Balance Around
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker April 09, 2007

NOAA’s New Media Policy: A Recipe for Conflict
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker April 05, 2007

The Honest Broker Available in UK and EU This Week!
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker April 03, 2007

Pay No Attention to Those Earmarks
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Democratization of Knowledge | The Honest Broker March 27, 2007

Whose political agenda is reflected in the IPCC Working Group 1, Scientists or Politicians?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Democratization of Knowledge | The Honest Broker March 26, 2007

Praise for The Honest Broker
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker March 24, 2007

Words of Wisdom in The Daily Camera
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker February 14, 2007

The Honest Broker
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker February 11, 2007

Does the Truth Matter?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker February 01, 2007

IPCC, Policy Neutrality, and Political Advocacy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker January 25, 2007

Hans von Storch on Political Advocacy
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | The Honest Broker January 21, 2007

Kudos for Explicit Political Advocacy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | The Honest Broker January 18, 2007

Received Wisdom
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker January 10, 2007

Politicization of Intelligence
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker November 25, 2006

Walter Lippmann (1955) on Misrepresentation and Balance
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker November 21, 2006

What is Wrong with Politically-Motivated Research?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker November 16, 2006

Honest Broker Sighting
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker November 05, 2006

Facts, Values, and Scientists in Policy Debates
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker October 16, 2006

More on Royal Society’s Role in Political Debates
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Science + Politics | The Honest Broker October 06, 2006

Latest Bridges Column
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker September 28, 2006

To Limit Choice or Expand Choice?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker September 26, 2006

David Whitehouse on Royal Society Efforts to Censor
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | The Honest Broker September 21, 2006

The Promotion of Scientific Findings with Political Implications
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | The Honest Broker September 12, 2006

Do the Ends Justify the Means?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker August 28, 2006

National Journal: Who Turned Out the Enlightenment?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker July 31, 2006

Conflicts of Interest at the National Academies?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker July 26, 2006

Rep. Rush Holt on Science Advice
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker July 25, 2006

The Honest Broker, Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker July 07, 2006



April 01, 2008

April Fool's Day as Teachable Moment?

Today there are no doubt a plethora of jokes bouncing through the interwebs. Whether this is reflective of the mindset in Washington or an attempt at stealth advocacy, I've noted the following from Public Knowledge, a public interest group focused on intellectual property rights.

Public Knowledge Slams New Intellectual Property Legislation

As the title of this post suggests, this is indeed an April Fool's joke. The execution is a bit subtle, but those who dig into the comments embedded in the associated legislation should figure it out.

At the risk of further ruining the joke, I wonder how effective it is to devise a piece of legislation that cobbles together worst case scenarios for content users and throw it into a gag. It's worth noting what parts of their gag legislation are reflective of actual legislation, but I'm not sure how many people will read deeply enough into this that weren't already aware of the issues.

So let me raise this question, independent of the April 1 baggage - how effective can worst-case alarmist scenarios be in evoking meaningful action? Does it depend on the issue?

February 11, 2008

Technocracy versus Democratic Control

In a recent commentary (PDF) NASA’s James Hansen has called for reform in how the government treats scientists, and the creation of special rules for how government scientists communicate with Congress and the public. Hansen’s commentary raises important general questions about democratic governance and the role of scientists in government. Should government scientists somehow be exempt from democratic accountability? Especially on a subject as important as climate change, where (in the words of Jim Hansen) the future of the planet is at stake?

Hansen recommends that presidential candidates be asked the following:

Do you pledge, if elected, to allow government scientists to communicate scientific results without political interference by (1) having Public Affairs Offices of science agencies headed by career professionals with civil service protections, and (2) terminating the practice of White House OMB filtering testimony by government scientists to Congress?

Hansen does not like the political control of government communications, regardless of who has been elected into power:

The Public Affairs Offices (PAOs) of science agencies have become mouthpieces for the Administration in power. This, too, is a bi-partisan problem. Top people in the Headquarters Offices of Public Affairs can and often are thrown out in a heart-beat when an election changes the party in control of the Executive Branch. The Executive Branch has learned that the PAOs can be effective political instruments and, with some success, they are attempting to turn them into Offices of Propaganda, masters of double-speak ("clean coal", "clear skies", "healthy forests"…) that would make Orwell envious. Again it is a bi-partisan problem, the control of PAOs being exercised by top political appointees who are replaced rapidly with a change of administration. It is these political appointees that are the problem – the career civil servants at the NASA Centers, e.g., are professionals of high integrity, as are most people at Headquarters.

The solution, in Hansen’s view, is to take power away from politically appointed officials and place it into the hands of the career civil service – not a surprising view coming from a career civil servant. Hugh Heclo, a famous scholar of the federal bureaucracy, has written in some depth on the complex tensions between political officials and bureaucrats, and recognizes that there are no easy answers. But he does recognize that bureaucracies cannot be allowed free reign in democracies. He writes in his classic book A Government of Strangers (1977, The Brookings Institution):

If democracy is to work, political representatives must not only be formally installed in government posts but must in some sense gain control of large-scale bureaucracies that constitute the modern state. (p. 4)

A commitment to the orderly transition of governmental control via elections necessarily means that those in charge will change (p. 109):

Any commitment to democratic values necessarily means accepting a measure of instability in the top governing levels.

With his proposal to empower civil service scientists and their colleagues, Hansen seeks to wrest control away from democratically elected governments. This form of government is called technocracy and can be a form of authoritarian rule. Hansen recognizes this point when he writes,

"Politicians do not give up instruments of political power AFTER an election that they have won, unless they made an unambiguous promise before the election."

While, as Hugh Heclo observes the appropriate balance of control between political officials and bureaucrats is worth some discussion, it seems rather odd to suggest that democratic governance will be better served by empowering technocrats who are largely unaccountable to the public. Let us imagine what might have happened if rather than a political appointee of the Bush Administration who had refused James Hansen’s request to be interviewed by the media, it was instead a career civil servant. One might argue that the very fact that it was a political appointee hastened that individual’s loss of his job when Jim Hansen complained publicly about the Administration’s efforts to manage his ability to speak to the media. Had that person been a career civil servant removing him from that position would have been immeasurably more difficult, due to the career protections offered to civil servants. Democratic accountability is enhanced when there are clear lines of responsibility. In the case of Jim Hansen’s complaints, it was obvious that the Bush Administration's ham-handed efforts to keep him from speaking were politically motivated and indefensible. Hence, the system worked as it should have and in the end accountability was served.

As an indication of the "success" (cough, cough) of the Bush Administration’s efforts to manage Jim Hansen’s media appearances, consider the following graph (produced from data gathered on Google News) which shows the number of news stories that mentioned James Hansen from 1996-2007. In 2007 Jim Hansen appeared in an average of 25 news stories per day for the entire year! If the Bush Administration was trying to muzzle Jim Hansen, then they failed miserably (which given their track record in a range of areas is probably not surprising).

Hansen in the news.png

Jim Hansen also complains about the coordination of testimony (which includes editing) given by government officials to Congress by the Office of Management and Budget, which resides in the Executive Office of the President. Hansen thinks that government scientists should be exempt from such administrative oversight.

OMB’s editing of the scientific content is invariably designed to make the testimony fit better with the position of the political party in power (yes, it is a bi-partisan problem). Where is it stated or implied in the Constitution that the Executive Branch should have such authority?

While it seems fairly obvious that government officials have an obligation to support the elected officials for whom they work, the specific answer to Hansen’s question can be found in Section 22 of OMB Circular A-11 (PDF), which discusses agency communications with Congress. It says that once the President transmits to Congress his budget -- which represents the Administration’s priorities and policies -- a number of ground rules govern communication with Congress, among them a requirement that the testimony be reviewed by OMB for conformance to Administration policies. It states:

Witnesses will avoid volunteering personal opinions that reflect positions inconsistent with the President's program or appropriation request.

Now what if the president’s official policy for Program X is justified based on the "fact" that 2 + 2 = 5. Does the testifying official have to accept that 2 + 2 = 5 if asked by a member of Congress whether s/he in fact believes that 2 + 2 = 5? No, of course not. They can say the 2 + 2 = 4, and perhaps this will get them in the news for saying something at odds with the Administration, as recently happened when a State Department official contradicted official government policy on North Korea. The government official – whether civil servant or political appointee -- then accepts the consequences of his or her actions, and ultimately, if they feel that they cannot support the government, then they always have the option of resigning. As political scientist J. D. Sobel writes:

All senior leaders, whether appointed or career, serve in an administration and for a principal with broader responsibilities. These officials have special obligations to protect and support their principal and administration as the mechanism of democratic accountability in government. They have strong implicit obligations to stay within the policy framework of their administration and not undermine their principal.

Jim Hansen argues that "trying to make government science submit to political command and control, is a threat to our democracy, and, as a result, a threat to the planet." I have a different view. Those who would argue that government scientists are somehow exempt from democratic accountability are the real threat to democracy, and encourage technocratic decision making if not outright authoritarianism. Democracy and science are compatible, and so too is democracy and effective action on climate change.

If Jim Hansen can’t support the officials of the United States who are elected by the people and for whom he works and takes a paycheck, then he might consider another line of work. University professors can say all sorts of things, and even testify before Congress. Many advocacy groups would jump at an opportunity to have him on their staff, and I have no doubt that his Congressional appearances would continue. And of course, he could always run for office. But should we redesign the government to give more power to experts at the expense of democratic accountability? I don’t think so.

January 31, 2008

Climate Experts Debating the Role of Experts in Policy

In Spring, 1997 a group called Ozone Action issued a statement signed by six prominent scientists calling for action on climate change. The letter prompted an interesting public exchange among leading scientists about who has the authority and credentials to call for political action on issues involving science, and whether or not the IPCC is the sole legitimate voice. The exchange is worth reviewing and considering, and I've reproduced parts of it below..

The Six Scientists letter was criticized by a leading climate scientist, Tom Wigley, who wrote:

I thought I should tell you that, for a number of reasons, I am not willing to sign the "6 scientists" statement you distributed. To the contrary, I strongly oppose it.

While I hold the individuals in high regard, I do not consider them authorities on the climate change issue. From memory, none were lead authors of the recent IPCC reports. While this may be an advantage from some points of view, it is not sufficient to overcome the criticism implied by my first sentence. Their endorsement of IPCC is useful, but their statement goes beyond what IPCC says. This can only be damaging to the IPCC process.

Phrases like (my emphasis) "climate DISRUPTION is under way" have no scientific basis, and the claimed need for "greenhouse gas emissions (reductions) beginning immediately" is contrary to the careful assessment of this issue that is given in the IPCC reports.

No matter how well meaning they may be, inexpert views and opinions will not help. In this issue, given that a comprehensive EXPERT document exists, it is exceedingly unwise for highly regarded scientists to step outside their areas of expertise. This is not good scientific practice.

I urge the authors of the statement to endorse IPCC, but go no further. I further recommend that any other scientist considering endorsement of the present statement think very carefully before so doing. In my view, endorsing any statement that goes beyond IPCC, or which is in any way inconsistent with IPCC publications, will potentially label the individual as an advocate and reduce their credibility as an informed and dispassionate scientist.

John Holdren, an energy policy expert now at Harvard, responded strongly to these comments:

Dr. Wigley's critique of the "6 scientists' statement" on global climatic disruption is surprising and, in all of its principal contentions, completely unconvincing.

Consider first his apparent contention that, the IPCC having rendered its authoritative judgment on the causes, consequences, and implications of climate change, no other scientist or group of scientists now has any business offering a supplemental opinion on any part of the matter. Or perhaps he is saying that no scientists other than _climatologists_ should be offering such opinions. (More about that below.) Either way, it is a disturbing proposition, not least for being so contrary to soundly based and solidly established traditions of both scientific and policy discourse.

Assessments of complex science-and-society problems by interdisciplinary panels can make valuable contributions to consensus-building in the scientific community, to shaping research agendas, and to illuminating policy options (among other benefits), as the IPCC admirably has done. I myself have put a good deal of my professional life, over the last quarter of a century, into participating in and leading such assessments on a wide range of topics in the energy, environment, and international-security fields. But I would never have asserted that the product of any of them was sacrosanct -- not to be commented or expanded upon, never mind criticized, by any group other than the original authors -- as Dr. Wigley appears to be asserting for the product of the IPCC. Does he really think that truth, wisdom, and insight are now to be regarded as the exclusive franchise of giant international panels, and anybody not so empaneled (or even those who are but might wish to speak through another channel) must be quiet?

Dr. Wigley has written that he does not consider the signers of the "6 scientists' statement" to be "authorities on the climate change issue" and that "Inexpert opinions do not help". Since he is a climatologist, one supposes that he would have been at least somewhat less distressed if a statement of this sort had been issued by members of that profession. Do they hold the only relevant "expertise"? What part of "the climate change issue" is he talking about here?

The IPCC process engaged not only climatologists but also atmospheric chemists, soil scientists, foresters, ecologists, energy technologists, economists, statisticians, and a good many other kinds of specialists as well -- and for good reason. Even the relatively narrow question of how much climate change has taken place so far is not the province of climatologists alone (since, for example, the insights of atmospheric chemists, geochemists, glaciologists, geographers, and more are needed to help understand what the climate was like before humans started messing with it).

Understanding how the climate may change in the future, of course, depends on insights not only from climatologists but also from soil scientists, oceanographers, and biologists who study the carbon cycle; from energy analysts who study how much fossil fuel is likely to be burned in the future and with what technologies; from foresters and geographers who study the race between deforestation and reforestation; and so on. Understanding the likely and possible responses of terrestrial and marine ecosystems to climate change -- and the consequences for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, biodiversity, and the distribution and abundance of human-disease vectors and pathogens -- is the province of another whole panoply of types of biologists, as well as agronomists, foresters, epidemiologists, and more.

Understanding what technical and policy options are available for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and how fast and with what costs these options might be implemented, is the province of energy technologists, economists, and policy analysts, among others. And the decision about what measures governments should take to prepare for and/or implement some suitable subset of these options is necessarily a political choice, inasmuch as it entails a value-laden set of trade-offs among costs, risks, and benefits of incommensurable types. Of course people's thinking about these trade-offs ought to be informed by as complete a portrayal as possible of what is known and not known about the climatological, geochemical, biological, techno- logical, economic, and other characteristics of the problem. But to believe that this portrayal will be understood in exactly the same way by any two individuals -- or that, if it were, its ingredients would be weighed by those individuals in exactly the same way, so as to lead them to identical policy preferences -- would be naive in the extreme.

Luckily, society has worked out a way to reach conclusions about what to do in the face of multifaceted, uncertainty-laden choices about problems affecting the common good, and it involves not only science and policy analysis but also, ultimately and appropriately, politics. Neither the science part of this mix nor the policy-analysis part -- not to speak of the political part -- works by designating a single individual or group (no matter how distinguished) as the single arbiter of what is right, what is reasonable, or what is helpful in public discourse. . .

Thanks to folks at Carnegie Mellon University the full exchange is preserved here.

January 29, 2008

Eugene Skolnikoff on The Honest Broker

It is really an honor to see MIT's Eugene Skolnikoff review The Honest Broker in the January Review of Policy Research of the Policy Studies Organization. Professor Skolnikoff has been a leading scholar of science and technology policy for more than four decades. He served on the staff of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, and as a consultant to President Carter, in addition to playing many other roles in the academic and applied communities.

He has these nice things to say about the book:

. . . Pielke’s book is a primer that can be a valuable introduction to clarifying the wide roles scientists can and do play, and can be useful in explaining what lies behind some of the controversies so evident today.

The bulk of the book is devoted to elaborating these four roles [of Pure Scientist, Science Arbiter, Issue Advocate, and Honest Broker], providing some background on what earlier scholars have written, elaborating the roles with illustrative issues, and discussing the important underlying elements of values and uncertainty. Pielke clearly has been through the wars on science policy issues and shows his experience and, by implication, his frustration with those scientists who advocate policies they argue are dictated by the scientific facts, without recognizing (or admitting) that their views are a result of their commitment to certain policy outcomes. He demonstrates a solid grasp of science and policy interactions, a sophisticated knowledge of U.S. science policy and institutions, and can write and express important ideas clearly and convincingly. For those reasons, the book is a valuable addition to the science and policy scene.

Professor Skolnikoff takes issue with several aspects of the book, such as its lack of discussions of engineers and technology. More importantly he suggests that I am "arguing that all scientists who call for action, some action, to deal with what they see as possible consequences of emerging evidence have become advocates, whose scientific views can thereby be considered to be politicized." This is indeed what I have argued. He concludes that "Pielke appears to tar all scientists who have strong views on a controversial issue, notably climate change again, with the claim they have simply become advocates and thus closed to alternative evidence."

I actually do not assert that advocates are closed to alternative evidence nor do I cast advocacy in such a pejorative light. In fact, I make a strong case for the importance of advocacy in democratic politics. It is not "tarring" someone to identify them as participating in advocacy, which I define as working to reduce the scope of political choice. What I do take strong issue with is what I call "stealth issue advocacy" in which an expert claims to be focused only on science (or more generally, truth), while really working to advance a specific agenda. Unfortunately, Professor Skolnikoff does not discuss this distinction among advocacy activities.

Overall, it is a thoughtful review, in which Skolnikoff describes the book as "generally valuable and occasionally provocative," which sounds pretty good to me.

Posted on January 29, 2008 12:29 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

January 23, 2008

The Authoritarianism of Experts

Have you ever heard anyone make the argument that we must take a certain course of action because the experts tell us we must? The issue might be the threat of another country or an environmental risk, but increasingly we see appeals to authority used as the basis for arguing for this or that action.

In a new book, David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith take the appeal to experts somewhat further and argue that in order to deal with climate change we need to replace liberal democracy with an authoritarianism of scientific expertise. They write in a recent op-ed:

Liberal democracy is sweet and addictive and indeed in the most extreme case, the USA, unbridled individual liberty overwhelms many of the collective needs of the citizens. . .

There must be open minds to look critically at liberal democracy. Reform must involve the adoption of structures to act quickly regardless of some perceived liberties. . .

We are going to have to look how authoritarian decisions based on consensus science can be implemented to contain greenhouse emissions.

On their book page they write:

[T]he authors conclude that an authoritarian form of government is necessary, but this will be governance by experts and not by those who seek power.

So whenever you hear (or invoke) an argument from expertise (i.e., "the experts tell us that we must ...") ask if we should listen to the experts in just this one case, or if we should turn over all decisions to experts. If just this one case, why this one and not others? If a general prescription, should we do away with democracy in favor of an authoritarianism of expertise?

January 10, 2008

Radio Interview with Radio Radicale

You can hear a 12 minute interview with me on my book The Honest Broker with Radio Radicale (Rome, Italy) here.

Posted on January 10, 2008 02:51 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

December 19, 2007

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC, Science and Politics

The current issue of Nature has a lengthy profile of Rajendra Pachauri, its "Newsmaker of the Year." In the profile Dr. Pachauri discusses his personal views on the politics of climate change and his responsibilities as IPCC chair. Here is how he characterizes his own efforts, as quoted in the Nature profile:

We have been so drunk with this desire to produce and consume more and more whatever the cost to the environment that we're on a totally unsustainable path. I am not going to rest easy until I have articulated in every possible forum the need to bring about major structural changes in economic growth and development.

AP Pachauri Gore.jpg

In recent weeks and months, Dr. Pachauri, and other representatives of the IPCC, have certainly not been shy in advocating specific actions on climate change, using their role as IPCC leaders as a pulpit to advance those agendas. For instance, in a recent interview with CNN on the occasion of representing the IPCC at the Nobel Prize ceremony, Dr. Pachauri downplayed the role of geoengineering as a possible response to climate change, suggested that people eat less meat, called for lifestyle changes, suggested that all the needed technologies to deal with climate change are in the marketplace or soon to be commercialized, endorsed the Kyoto Protocol approach, criticized via allusion U.S. non-participation, and defended the right of developing countries to be exempt from limits on future emissions.

Dr. Pachauri has every right to these personal opinions, but each of the actions called for above are contested by some thoughtful people who believe that climate change is a problem requiring action, and accept the science as reported by the IPCC. These policies are not advocated by the IPCC because the formal mandate of the IPCC is to be "policy neutral." But with its recent higher profile, it seems that the IPCC leadership believes that it can flout this stance with impunity. The Nature profile discusses this issue:

The IPCC's mandate is to be 'neutral with respect to policy' — to set out the options and let policy-makers decide how to act. The reports themselves reflect this. Every word is checked and double-checked by scientists, reviewers and then government representatives — "sanitized", as Pachauri puts it. But Pachauri is the face of the IPCC, and he often can't resist speaking out, despite a few "raps on the knuckles" for his comments. He insists that he always makes it clear he is speaking on his own behalf and not for the IPCC. "It's one thing to make sure that our reports are sanitized. It's another for me as an individual to talk about policies that might work. I feel I have responsibility far beyond being a spokesman for the IPCC. If I feel there are certain actions that can help us meet this challenge, I feel I should articulate them."

"I think Patchy needs to be careful," says Bert Metz, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in Bilthoven, who is one of the co-chairs of the IPCC's working group on greenhouse-gas mitigation. "One of the things about the IPCC is that it lays down the facts. If you start mixing [that] with your own views that's not very wise. But he gets away with it because of his charm." Steve Rayner, director of the James Martin Institute at the University of Oxford, UK, and a senior author with the same working group, feels that Pachauri's personal statements place too much stress on lifestyles and not enough on technologies. But he also concedes that a certain amount of outspokenness is an essential part of the job. "I don't think you can provide inspirational leadership in an enterprise like this unless you are passionate. That's something Bob [Watson] and Patchy have in common. They are both very passionate about the issue and I think that's appropriate."

In general, those who agree with the political agenda advanced by Dr. Pachauri will see no problem with his advocacy, and those opposed will find it to be problematic. And this is precisely the problem. By using his platform as a scientific advisor to advance a political agenda, Dr. Pachauri risks politicizing the IPCC and turning it (or perceptions of it) into simply another advocacy group on climate change, threatening its legitimacy and ultimately, its ability to serve as a trusted arbiter of science.

On this point reasonable people will disagree. However, before you decide how you feel about this subject, consider how you would feel if the head of the International Atomic Energy Association responsible for evaluating nuclear weapons programs were to be an outspoken advocate for bombing the very country he was assessing, or if the head of the CIA with responsibility to bring intelligence to policy makers also was at the same time waging a public campaign on certain foreign policies directly related to his intelligence responsibilities. For many people the conflation of providing advice and seeking to achieve political ends would seem to be a dangerous mix for both the quality of advice and the quality of decision making.

The IPCC is riding high these days, but as Burt Metz says, they need to be very careful. Saying that your organization is "policy neutral" while behaving quite differently does not seem to be a sustainable practice. Policy makers will need science advice on climate change for a long time. The IPCC politicizes its efforts with some risk.

December 12, 2007

Waxman's Whitewash

One of the themes that I have tried to develop on this blog is that policy arguments should be well founded. So along these lines I have on a number of occasions taken issue with the approach of Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) to issues associated with how the Bush Administration manages scientific information and scientists in pursuit of its political agenda.

In my view Mr. Waxman's investigative approach has been sloppy and unsophisticated, meaning that in some respects his investigation has come to embody those very same characteristics that he has complained about in the Bush Administration, namely, cherry picking of information, selective reliance on friendly experts, and misrepresenting facts. Some people who have heard my complaints naively assume that I am defending the Bush Administration. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I am a strong critic of many (or more likely most) Bush Administration policies, including how they have handled issues of science communication. My critique of Mr. Waxman's efforts stems from my frustration that it has fallen far short of its potential to improve policies involving science, and instead, represents only so much political red meat, furthering partisan differences and serving to reduce that very small space in political discussions for policy analyses.

Here is a perfect example of Mr. Waxman's sloppiness.

In his report he points to a few emails -- including those from Republican staffer in the Senate, and political appointees in NOAA -- expressing an interest in making FEMA look bad and also "killing" the hurricane-climate issue. From this Mr. Waxman sees that then-director of the National Hurricane Center Max Mayfield (with whom I have collaborated on the issue of hurricanes and global warming) testifies before Congress that he see no evidence of linkage of hurricanes and climate change and thus assumes that natural variability still dominates. Mr. Waxman assumes correlation-is-causation and writes in his report, "this political motivation seems to have impacted NOAA testimony and talking points."

Well, it turns out that they did not talk to Max Mayfield to ask his views, but ABC news did:

For example, Mayfield's written testimony read in part: "the increased activity since 1995 is due to natural fluctuations/cycles of hurricane activity driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it and not enhanced substantially by global warming."

Mayfield, however, denies that anyone told him to alter his testimony as the Waxman report suggests.

"I want the record to show that no one forced me to say anything on the subject of climate change and tropical cyclones that I didn't believe at the time," Mayfield told ABC News.

"I accept the fact that global warming is real," Mayfield said. "Most meteorologists with knowledge of tropical cyclones think that there will be some impact from global warming on hurricanes. The debate is over how much of an impact."

He says he never heard from anyone on the committee about the incident. "No one ever asked me about the context in which my testimony was given. No one from this committee or any other Congressional committee ever asked me if I was improperly pressured to change my testimony," Mayfield said.

What does Mr. Waxman's committee do? They went back and quietly re-wrote the report after it was released and incorporated Max Mayfield's comments to ABC news. (Link to most recent version in here in PDF.) On the one hand, it is good to see that Mr. Waxman's Committee has corrected the factual record. But on the other hand it is sloppy, at best, to try to cover up your mistakes by rewriting history, which included removing the false claims by the Oversight Committee in the original release of its report. A more appropriate approach would have been to issue a correction or a new press release.

Is the bumbling by the Waxman Committee proportionate to the missteps by the Bush Administration? Certainly not. But they embody the exact same dynamics of manipulating information for political gain. If Congressional oversight is only about scoring political points, then it will do little to improve actual decision making in government. And on that basis, Mr. Waxman has let slip a perfect opportunity to improve science policies. And that is why I am so critical.

December 10, 2007

Chutzpah

This comment from former Bush Administration official John Bolton is telling, reported in the LA Times,

U.S. intelligence services attempted to influence political policy by releasing their assessment that concludes Iran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003, said John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Der Spiegel magazine quoted Bolton on Saturday as alleging that the aim of the National Intelligence Estimate, which contradicts his and President Bush's position, was not to provide the latest intelligence on Iran.

"This is politics disguised as intelligence," Bolton was quoted as saying in an article appearing in this week's edition.

When new information does not provide support for policy justifications that you have been making, it simply must be politicized. When it provides support for your arguments, of course, it is free from political influence. It was not long ago that intelligence, according to Mr. Bolton's standards, was apparently unpoliticized (ahem). From the archive of The New York Times:

Now John R. Bolton, nominated as United Nations ambassador, has emerged as a new lightning rod for those who saw a pattern of political pressure on intelligence analysts. And this time, current and former officials are complaining more publicly than before. . .

Some of them are prompted by antipathy to Mr. Bolton, some by lingering guilt about Iraq. Some, perhaps, are nervous about the quality of current intelligence assessments at a time of new uncertainties about North Korea's nuclear program, and ambiguous evidence about whether it is moving toward a nuclear test.

One of those critics, Robert L. Hutchings, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, made the point in an e-mail message, even as he declined to discuss Mr. Bolton in specific detail. "This is not just about the behavior of a few individuals but about a culture that permitted them to continue trying to skew the intelligence to suit their policy agenda - even after it became clear that we as a government had so badly missed the call on Iraqi W.M.D.," Mr. Hutchings said. The most recent criticism of Mr. Bolton to emerge comes from John E. McLaughlin, the former deputy director of central intelligence, who has told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Mr. Bolton's effort to oust a top Central Intelligence Agency analyst from his position in 2002 breached what should be a barrier between policy makers and intelligence analysts.

Now I have no idea whether the newest National Intelligence Estimate from the U.S. on Iran is politicized or not, but I do know that its reception reflects a disturbing tendency to substitute criteria of political efficacy for information quality in making judgments about the quality of guidance provided by experts, an argument I develop in The Honest Broker.

It is of course one thing for a die-hard partisan like John Bolton to engage in such behavior, but it is quite another, and of greater concern, when the experts themselves start playing that game.

December 05, 2007

How to Get Good Intelligence

In The Honest Broker I have a chapter that evaluates the role of intelligence in the decision to go to war in Iraq. I argue that intelligence was used by the Bush Administration as a tool of political advocacy rather than policy insight. With the release earlier this week of a new intelligence estimate on Iran, it may be that the intelligence community is regaining some of its credibility. The New York Times today explains some changes that have taken place:

Over the past year, officials have put into place rigorous new procedures for analyzing conclusions about difficult intelligence targets like Iran, North Korea, global terrorism and China.

Analysts from disparate spy agencies are no longer pushed to achieve unanimity in their conclusions, a process criticized in the past for leading to "groupthink." Alternate judgments are now encouraged.

In the case of the 2007 Iran report, "red teams" were established to test and find weaknesses in the report's conclusions. Counterintelligence officials at the C.I.A. also did an extensive analysis to determine whether the new information might have been planted by Tehran to throw the United States off the trail of Iran's nuclear program.

One result was an intelligence report that some of the intelligence community's consistent critics have embraced.

"Just possibly, the intelligence community may have taken a major step forward," Senator Rockefeller said.

Posted on December 5, 2007 07:31 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

November 12, 2007

Geotimes Interview

Geotimes has an interview with me online about The Honest Broker.

The interviewer, Nicole Branan, has this to say about the book:

Any scientist would benefit from reading this book, as it is an eye-opener about the scientist-policymaking relationship.

Buy one for yourself and as the holiday season approaches, don't forget all of your scientist friends!

Posted on November 12, 2007 09:10 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

October 03, 2007

J.B. Ruhl on The Honest Broker

Florida State law professor J.B. Ruhl writes:

There is plenty of excellent scholarship on science, technology, and society, but this is hands down the best treatment of the topic I've seen. . .

In Honest Broker, which takes only a few hours to read, he provides an incredibly concise and insightful assessment of the role of science (and scientists) in policy and a framework for evaluating the fit between the two as well as for identifying cases of "stealth advocacy." The thrust of the book resonates particularly well with environmental policy and its administration through agencies with science-policy missions, such as EPA, Fish & Wildlife, and the Forest Service, although by no means is it limited to that context in either content or usefulness.

Read the review here.

Posted on October 3, 2007 08:27 PM View this article | Comments (0)
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September 22, 2007

Jonathan Adler on The Honest Broker

Jonathan Adler of Case Western University School of Law has written a thoughtful review of The Honest Broker. You can find a link to his full review here.

Through February you can get THB at 20% off via Cambridge University Press.

Posted on September 22, 2007 04:50 AM View this article | Comments (0)
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September 20, 2007

The Honest Broker 20% Off!!

Cambridge University Press is offering The Honest Broker at 20% off -- for the coupon code visit the CUP site here.

Posted on September 20, 2007 04:09 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

August 23, 2007

The Honest Broker Reviewed in Nature

Some quotes from the 23 August 2007 issue of Nature, which has a review of The Honest Broker by Andrew A. Rosenberg from the University of New Hampshire (subscribers can see it here).

Happily, the book by Roger Pielke, Jr. on the engagement of scientists in policy offers a pithy, insightful basis for discussing the contributions scientists can make to advising policy makers. . .

This is a clear, thought-provoking book that helps move us away from thinking of science as 'pure' and distinct from policy. It would make an excellent basis for a graduate seminar. It isn't a textbook, but a think-piece, and we all need to consider carefully our responsibility to engage as scientists in policy making.

Buy your copy today!

Posted on August 23, 2007 10:16 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

August 17, 2007

The Honest Broker Reviewed in Science

Some quotes from the review of The Honest Broker by Georgetown University's Nathan Hultman appearing in the 17 August 2007 issue of Science:

"In The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, Roger Pielke Jr. successfully illuminates these challenges to science and scientists."

"Pielke's framework provides a helpful starting point for investigating factors that complicate the science-society relationship. . . Pielke deftly shows how scientists selections among these options can affect outcomes."

"[T]he book's direct language and concrete examples convey the concepts to a wide audience. By categorizing different roles in the often vexed but necessary relations between scientists and their social world, Pielke clarifies choices not only for scientists but also for the diverse members of democratic society, for whom scientific perspectives are an essential component of better policy."

Buy your copy today!

Posted on August 17, 2007 10:40 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

May 15, 2007

Preview of The Honest Broker

Google provides a limited preview of The Honest Broker.

Posted on May 15, 2007 12:29 AM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

May 09, 2007

Should the Gates Foundation fund Policy Research?

Well, according Hannah Brown writing in BMJ the answer is "yes" (h/t SciDev.net). It turns out that simply investing money in scientific research or technology development is not sufficient to realize benefits on the ground. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already changed he world for the better, and has much future potential, so it is good that it is learning the limitations of the so-called "linear model" of science and society sooner rather than later. Here is an excerpt from Brown's commentary:

Ask anyone with a passing interest in global health what the Gates Foundation means to them and you'll likely get just one answer: money. In a field long fatigued by the perpetual struggle for cash, the foundation's eagerness to finance projects neglected by many other donors raised high hopes among campaigners that its impact on health would be swift and great. And with the commitment last June by America's second richest man, Warren Buffet, to effectively double the foundation's $30bn (£15bn; {euro}22bn) endowment,1 hopes of substantial health achievements grew higher still.

But despite Bill Gates's prediction at a press conference to mark Buffet's pledge that there was now "No reason why we can't cure the top 20 diseases"2 observers are starting to question whether all this money is reaping sufficient rewards. For although the foundation has given a huge boost to research and development into technologies against some of the world's most devastating and neglected diseases, critics suggest that its reluctance to embrace research, demonstration, and capacity building in health delivery systems is worsening the gap between what technology can do and what is actually happening to health in poor communities. This situation, critics charge, is preventing the Gates's grants from achieving their full potential.

Read the whole thing.

May 07, 2007

Policy Research? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Policy Research

From today's New York Times a tale of incredible myopia all too common in the Bush Administration:

When Jon Oberg, a Department of Education researcher, warned in 2003 that student lending companies were improperly collecting hundreds of millions in federal subsidies and suggested how to correct the problem, his supervisor told him to work on something else.

The department "does not have an intramural program of research on postsecondary education finance," the supervisor, Grover Whitehurst, a political appointee, wrote in a November 2003 e-mail message to Mr. Oberg, a civil servant who was soon to retire. "In the 18 months you have remaining, I will expect your time and talents to be directed primarily to our business of conceptualizing, competing and monitoring research grants."

For three more years, the vast overpayments continued. Education Secretary Rod Paige and his successor, Margaret Spellings, argued repeatedly that under existing law they were powerless to stop the payments and that it was Congress that needed to act. Then this past January, the department largely shut off the subsidies by sending a simple letter to lenders — the very measure Mr. Oberg had urged in 2003.

Posted on May 7, 2007 02:31 PM View this article | Comments (7)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

May 05, 2007

Hans von Storch on The Honest Broker

Hans von Storch interprets The Honest Broker in the context of the climate debate in the Swiss newspaper Berner Zeitung. The review is in German. Info on The Honest Broker can be found here.

Posted on May 5, 2007 06:04 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

April 30, 2007

The Swindle Letter

Some of you will be aware that a TV film entitled "The Great Global Warming Swindle" was produced by a company called Wag TV and shown on UK TV. The show, which I have not seen, purportedly debunks the science behind climate change. When aired it generated the sort of tempest in a teapot reaction that so often characterizes these sorts of things.

But subsequently, Bob Ward, formerly a spokesperson for the Royal Society and now in a similar role for a catastrophe modeling firm, RMS, Inc., organized a open letter calling for Wag TV, and the film's producer Martin Durkin, to cease and desist plans to disseminate the show via DVD. The letter has stirred up a debate about free speech and the role of scientists in political debates. Mr. Ward explained the letter as follows:

"Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements. Somebody has to stand up for the public interest here."

This episode is similar in some ways to Mr. Ward's efforts when employed by the Royal Society to silence ExxonMobil using the same strategy.

I have a different reaction to this episode than I did to the Royal Society letter to ExxonMobil. Then I argued that the Royal Society was acting inappropriately, given its mission. In this case I take no issue with the appropriateness of Mr. Ward's actions, I just think that they are wrongheaded. The difference is that the scientists organized by Mr. Ward in this case are speaking on their own with the support of a number of advocacy groups. They are not using the authority of the Royal Society, or any other public interest group, to advance their special interests. This is power politics pure and simple in the public arena.

And from that standpoint, I think that Mr. Ward's letter will prove ineffective with respect to the goals that he seeks, and most likely will have the opposite effect to that intended. In such circumstances, I recall how sales of Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist quadrupled after it was criticized by scientists. A link in the comments here in a previous thread from Francis Sedgemore, who I have not met perviously, points to some of his strong, but on target comments, which I stitch together from his two relevant blog posts:

You can take it that I have little time for Mr Durkin or his junk science film, and there should be no need for me to rehash the arguments against it. . .

Ward’s open letter is a very bad mistake, in my opinion. As well as indicating a contempt for free speech, the signitories display a lack of political nous, and I fear that Durkin will run rings around them. . . what annoys me most about all this is how public scientific discourse on climate change is fast degenerating to a level set by the worst elements of the scientifically-illiterate media. . .

What we need is not calls for censorship, but more scientists and science communicators aggressively putting the case for good science. Stern letters and articles in the broadsheets make us all look ridiculous by association. . . if this is to be our response to inaccurate material in the public domain, and the ravings of lunatics, where do we start? How about the bible? "See you in court, Dr Ratzinger. We have ways of making you shut up!"

This is spot on. When members of the scientific community call for silencing of others in political debates, at best it demonstrates that they believe that they cannot win arguments on their merits, and at worst is demonstrates a complete disregard for democracy and the ability of the public to participate in important political debates. Positioning oneself n opposition to fundamental principles of democracy is always a losing proposition.

April 17, 2007

Bridges Column on The Honest Broker

My latest column for Bridges is out and in it I provide an overview of my new book. Here is how it begins:

When former US Vice President Al Gore testified before Congress last month he used an analogy to describe the challenge of climate change:
If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don't say, "Well, I read a science fiction novel that told me it's not a problem." If the crib's on fire, you don't speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action.

With this example Al Gore was not only advocating a particular course of action on climate change, he was also describing the relationship between science (and expertise more generally) and decision making. In Mr. Gore's analogy, the baby's parents (i.e. "you") are largely irrelevant to the process of decision making, as the doctor's recommendation is accepted without question.

But anyone who has had to take their child to a doctor for a serious health problem or an injury knows that the interaction between patient, parent, and doctor can take a number of different forms. In my new book The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (Cambridge University Press), I seek to describe various ways that an expert (e.g., a doctor) can interact with a decision maker (e.g., a parent) in ways that lead to desirable outcomes (e.g., a healthy child). Experts have choices in how they relate to decision makers, and these choices have important effects on decisions but also the role of experts in society. Mr. Gore's metaphor provides a useful way to illustrate the four different roles for experts in decision making that are discussed in The Honest Broker.

The Honest Broker can be found at Amazon US, Amazon UK (and Amazon.ca has it at 40% off) and also through Cambridge University Press.

And as always, OSTINA has produced an excellent issue of Bridges, this one focused on innovation, read the whole thing.

Posted on April 17, 2007 11:09 AM View this article | Comments (6)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

April 09, 2007

Turn the Trade Balance Around

It is not a prescription drug, but The Honest Broker can be found at Amazon Canada for less than US$20, which is almost US$11 less than at Amazon U.S.. Go figure.

Posted on April 9, 2007 02:40 AM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

April 05, 2007

NOAA’s New Media Policy: A Recipe for Conflict

The Department of Commerce, the parent agency of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has released a new media policy for its employees (thanks to an alert Prometheus reader for pointing us to it). The new policy was prepared in response to criticisms levied against the agency for its media policies related to agency scientists which some viewed as over-bearing and too politicized. Unfortunately, the new policy does little to address the challenges of public communication in highly politicized contexts, and probably makes things worse.

The new media policy can be found here in PDF. It seeks to draw dark lines between different activities and information. For instance, the policy seeks to distinguish a "Fundamental Research Communication" from an "Official Communication." A FRC is defined as:

means a Public Communication that relates to the Department's programs, policies, or operations and takes place or is prepared officially (i.e., under Section 6.03a. 1-4) and that deals with the products of basic or applied research in science or engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, so long as the communication does not contain information that is proprietary, classified, or restricted by federal statute. If a communication also includes matters of policy, budget, or management, then it is not a Fundamental Research Communication.

By Contrast, an OC is defined as:

any Public Communication by an employee that relates to the Department's programs, policies, or operations and takes place or is prepared:

1. At the direction of a superior of the employee;

2. Substantially during the official working hours of the employee;

3. With the substantial use of U.S. Government resource(s); or

4. With substantial assistance of U.S. Government employee(s) on official duty. All news releases and similar documents are Official Communications.

This effort to distinguish research from other activities sets up a first point of inevitable conflict:

Although, by definition, an Official Communication is not a Fundamental Research Communication, for an Official Communication that deals with the products of basic or applied research in science or engineering, the role of the public affairs office is to assist with presentation, style, and logistics of the science or engineering information, not to alter its substance in any way.

It is impossible to preserve the precise substance of a scientific paper in a press release, unless one simply reprints the entire scientific paper. Even the choice of what to present and what not to present will alter the meaning in some manner, and the job of a press release is to simplify. In this circumstance, if a scientist does not like how their work has been presented, they need only cry that their work has been altered in some way, which of course will be true. If the Public Affairs official complains, then the dispute could wind up on the pages of the New York Times. This may or may not be desired, but NOAA should recognize that conflict is the inevitable result.

Or consider a research paper on NOAA's forecast process in the National Weather Service, is this an FRC or an OC? And who decides? There will be considerable overlap between the two, setting the stage for conflict.

Another inevitable point of conflict is found in the description of how communications are to be approved:

Based on the operating unit's internal procedures, all written and audiovisual materials that are, or are prepared in connection with, a Fundamental Research Communication must be submitted by the researcher, before the communication occurs, to the head of the operating unit, or his or her designee(s), for approval in a timely manner. These procedures may not permit approval or non-approval to be based on the policy, budget, or management implications of the research.

The guidelines do not explain how the agency will enforce the prohibition against using criteria of policy, budget, or management as criteria for approval or nonapproval. This is because this directive in unenforceable. Consider the simple example of a scholar doing work on the policy implications of hurricane evacuation planning. If the policy research element of this work is flawed – say, it doesn’t reflect the realities of interagency communication -- does this directive prohibit using criteria of “policy” to request that the author rethink his/her work?

The guidelines then have an odd passage suggesting that individual units within the agency will have accepted scientific positions:

Department researchers may draw scientific conclusions based on research related to their jobs, and may, subject to Section 7.01, communicate those conclusions to the public and the media in a Fundamental Research Communication. However, if such a conclusion could reasonably be construed as representing the view of the Department or an operating unit when it does not, then the researcher must make clear that he or she is presenting his or her individual conclusion and not the views of the Department or an operating unit.

Scientists always have their individual views, which they publish in the literature. Whether or not they conform with an agency perspective would seem to be irrelevant. In fact, while agencies do have to have clear views on policies, why should an agency even have its own views on scientific conclusions?

The following passage might have been the core of a more sensible media policy:

Only spokespeople designated by the Appropriate Public Affairs Office are authorized to speak for the Department or its operating units in an official capacity regarding matters of policy, budget, or management.

The following is bizarre:

If, in the course of the Official Communication, an unexpected topic arises that is not the intended subject matter, the employee shall promptly notify the head of the operating unit or Secretarial office, or their designee(s).

In the FAQ explaining the policy, DOC makes matters worse when they try to cleanly separate fact from opinion:

It is not acceptable for government employees to use government resources to promote personal activities or opinions. Department researchers may draw scientific conclusions based on fundamental research related to their jobs and may communicate such information. Personal opinions that go beyond scientific conclusions based on fundamental research related to their jobs are personal communications. If employees wish to publicize their personal opinions, they may do so on their own time, as long as it doesn’t violate federal law.

This is simply unenforceable. Consider that several NOAA scientists signed a joint statement last year on hurricane policies. Their views certainly included their personal opinions. Had they provided their views from their office, on their phone, or identified as a government employee, they would be in violation of the policy. This is nonsense.

I could go on. DOC will, in my opinion, inevitably have to revisit this fundamentally flawed policy. When they do, they should take another look at NASA’s communication policy for some guidance (PDF). When creating such policies, sometimes less is more. The key distinctions to be made are not about what can be said, as drawing bright lines between science and policy, fact and opinion, which are doomed to fail in practice. The key distinctions are to be made between those who are authorized to represent agency policies and those who are not. And any government employee who feels that they cannot support the policies of the agency has opportunities to motivate change from within, and ultimately if they feel strongly enough the chance to resign and seek change from the outside.

Any government employee who uses their position to subvert government performance risks their job. If they lose their job for such a reason, then their supervisor, politically appointed or not, will experience public and political scrutiny. Recent goings on in the Department of Justice speak to this issue.

DOC and NOAA should let the mechanisms of the U.S. government work, rather than trying to over-proceduralize the communications process. Their efforts have likely created the conditions for more not less conflict.

Disclaimer: I am a fellow of CIRES here at University of Colorado. CIRES is a NOAA joint institute. I have benefited from NOAA support of my research over the past 15 years.

April 03, 2007

The Honest Broker Available in UK and EU This Week!

For our readers across the pond, you'll get it first (available here and here). We look forward to comments and criticisms!

Posted on April 3, 2007 07:37 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

March 27, 2007

Pay No Attention to Those Earmarks

According to a column in the Wall Street Journal Congress, in its wisdom, has decided to prohibit the ability of its Congressional Research Service (CRS) to publish reports documenting congressional earmarks, or targeted spending inserted in appropriations bills (aka "pork-barrel spending"). This is a bad decision.

The thinking in Congress must be that if they don't report the existence of earmarks then no one will know what is going on. As has been documented time and again here we see an effort to shape political outcomes by manipulating the availability of information. In this case the incentives are not partisan, but institutional, as members of both political parties in Congress have a shared incentive to keep earmarks out of the public eye. Earmarks are often associated with irresponsible public spending (e.g., the Alaska "bridge to nowhere") and are especially problematic in the R&D enterprise, as I've discussed here previously.

Congress is doing the public a disservice by seeking to aggressively limit information on spending that it makes available to the public. This behavior is likely to be counterproductive when at the same time several Congress committees are conducting useful investigations of the Executive branch's heavy-handed information management strategies. In general, openness and transparency are good principles, and that is the case here as well.

Here is an excerpt from the WSJ column:

Nothing highlighted Congress's spending problem in last year's election more than earmarks, the special projects like Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" that members drop into last-minute conference reports leaving no opportunity to debate or amend them. Voters opted for change in Congress, but on earmarks it looks as if they'll only be getting more smoke and mirrors.

Democrats promised reform and instituted "a moratorium" on all earmarks until the system was cleaned up. Now the appropriations committees are privately accepting pork-barrel requests again. But curiously, the scorekeeper on earmarks, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS)--a publicly funded, nonpartisan federal agency--has suddenly announced it will no longer respond to requests from members of Congress on the size, number or background of earmarks. "They claim it'll be transparent, but they're taking away the very data that lets us know what's really happening," says Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. "I'm convinced the appropriations committees are flexing their muscles with CRS."

Indeed, the shift in CRS policy represents a dramatic break with its 12-year practice of supplying members with earmark data. "CRS will no longer identify earmarks for individual programs, activities, entities, or individuals," stated a private Feb. 22 directive from CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan.

When Sen. Coburn and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina submitted earmark inquiries recently, they were both turned down. Each then had heated conversations with Mr. Mulhollan. The director, who declined to be interviewed for this article, explained that because the appropriations committees and the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) were now preparing their own lists of earmarks, CRS should no longer play a role in the process. He also noted that both the House and Senate are preparing their own definitions of earmarks. "It is not appropriate for us to continue our research," his directive states.

That is sophistry. The House rule making earmarks public, which was passed in January, doesn't apply to earmarks for fiscal year 2007, the year Mr. Coburn wanted his report on. There is no Senate rule, and a proposed statute defining earmarks hasn't become law. OMB's list of earmarks applies only to fiscal year 2005.

And in any case, CRS works for Congress, so it is bizarre for it to claim work being done by the executive branch as a reason to deny members information it was happy to collect and release in the past. When I asked a CRS official if the new policy stemmed from complaints by appropriations committee members, she refused to answer the question, citing "confidentiality" concerns. . .

Today squeeze plays on CRS are not uncommon, and they have come from both parties. In the 1990s, GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey was so angry with a CRS report questioning the workability of a flat tax that he temporarily zeroed out the agency's budget. Rep. Henry Waxman, as a member of a Democratic minority, demanded and got revisions to CRS reports on how prescription drug pricing rules in his bills would work. "Everyone expects Waxman and others to be even more insistent on getting what they want now [that he's in the majority]," says another CRS staffer.

March 26, 2007

Whose political agenda is reflected in the IPCC Working Group 1, Scientists or Politicians?

Recent discussion here on Prometheus and elsewhere has indicated two very different perspectives on who controls the IPCC’s Working Group I on the science of climate change. The different views reflect various efforts to legitimize and delegitimize the IPCC. However, the different perspectives cannot be reconciled for reasons I describe below, placing scientists in an interesting double bind.

The first view is that the IPCC is subject to governmental control at the start and at the finish, and thus is an overtly political document. It is after all the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. From this perspective the IPCC is very much a political document with political officials setting its agenda in the form of of the questions that it is to address and political officials also acting as gatekeepers on the resulting scientific report.

This view on the back end was expressed by Michael Mann, of Penn State University and RealClimate, who commented in New Scientist earlier this month:

Allowing governmental delegations to ride into town at the last minute and water down conclusions after they were painstakingly arrived at in an objective scientific assessment does not serve society well.

On the front end of the report, Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M, suggested that this too was controlled by politicians and not scientists, writing in the comments on another Prometheus post:

. . . you have to conclude that the [IPCC chapter] outline represents the questions member gov'ts want to know in order to respond to climate change.

The second view is that the IPCC is squarely in the control of the scientific community with governmental officials having a right to approve the IPCC report on the front and back ends but with no authority to alter it’s substance in any way for political purposes. Twenty distinguished climate scientists who participated in drafting of the recent IPCC Summary for Policymakers wrote a letter objecting vehemently to an article in the New Scientist suggesting that political officials had any influence whatsoever on the report.

At all stages, including at the final plenary in Paris, the authors had control over the text . . In particular, our co-chair Susan Solomon is robustly independent and has been determined to maintain the credibility of the science throughout the four-year process. . . The wide participation of the scientific community, the scientific accuracy and the absence of any policy prescription in this report are the characteristics that render this report so powerful. . . Another related misconception, promulgated by [New Scientist], is that the Summary for Policymakers was written by and for the government delegations, and changes were made to the scientific conclusions before and during the Paris plenary for political purposes. In fact, the Summary for Policymakers was written by the scientists who also wrote the underlying chapters. The purpose of the Paris plenary was to make clarifications in order to more succinctly and accessibly communicate the science to the policy-makers. The scientists were present in Paris to ensure scientific accuracy and consistency with the underlying report. Those of us also involved in previous assessments were pleasantly surprised that there were far fewer alterations made to the text at this final meeting, and that there were very few attempts at political interference.

So here is the double bind that scientists find themselves in: Some scientists, like Andrew Dessler (cited above), wish to assert that the IPCC is essentially value-free reflecting the revealed truths of the climate system as discerned by objective climate scientists with no political agenda. From this perspective, the only political agenda that the IPCC reflects is that imposed upon it by governments on the front end in the form of questions that they would like to see answered. It is otherwise scientifically pure. Other scientists, like Michael Mann (cited above), hold a very different view seeing the IPCC as reflecting a political agenda of member governments who have in fact corrupted the objective views of the climate scientists. From this perspective, the IPCC does in fact reflect a political agenda that shaped it on the back end.

If governmental representatives in fact have no influence on content of the IPCC only an ability to approve, as suggested by the twenty authors of the letter to the New Scientist, then all decisions made by the IPCC about what information to present in the report reflect the values and judgments of the scientists participating. Many scientists do not like this assertion because it suggests that the IPCC is not accountable to anyone, and stands as a technocratic exercise far from any sort of democratic governance of science. If instead governmental officials do in fact have influence, then the IPCC has some greater accountability and perhaps meets some criteria of democratic governance, but at the same time many scientists do not like this assertion because then the IPCC risks losing its legitimacy as its conclusions would then reflect the political agendas of its overseers. So does the IPCC Working Group I reflect a political agenda or not?

The only way that this double bind could be broken would be for the IPCC to do two things. First, on its front end it would need to have a formal, transparent, and systematic process for eliciting the demands for information from policy makers in the forms of questions asked and information sought. (Dan Sarewitz and I describe such a process in this paper: PDF.) There was in fact no such process on the front end.

Second, on the back end the IPCC would need an accepted process that allowed member governments to ask questions seeking to clarify and focus the report, opposed to changing its content. The IPCC authors suggest that this is in fact what happened, but its critics assert the opposite. So whatever the reality, it seems clear that the following statement from the twenty IPCC letter-writers holds up: "A legitimate criticism perhaps is the poor communication to the general public of IPCC procedures."

Everyone seems to agree that the IPCC reflects a political agenda, the question is who’s political agenda? Is it that of the participating scientists? Do participating scientists in fact have a "political agenda" or instead do they have many competing political agendas? Or is the political agenda of the IPCC that of the participating governments? But do participating governments in fact have a "political agenda" or many competing political agendas?

The answers to the questions are all unclear. The IPCC tries to have things both ways by asserting governmental participation without governmental influence. This makes no sense, and participation is meaningless absent influence. As a result, how people view the legitimacy of the IPCC will therefore most likely be an inkblot test on their views of governance by experts versus the democratization of knowledge. One thing seems clear, global governance of the IPCC would be much more straightforward, and its role far easier to understand, with some explicit answers to who controls the IPCC, scientists or governments?

March 24, 2007

Praise for The Honest Broker

Three people who I have a lot of respect for have read my book and offered some kind (far too kind, actually) words:

With an analytical honesty unmarred by hidden agendas, Roger Pielke brilliantly brings the murky interface of science and politics into perfect focus. Scientists and policy makers alike need to read this book, and need to absorb its wisdom.

Michael M. Crow, President, Arizona State University

Roger Pielke Jr. has produced a beautifully clear account of the often murky relationship between scientific advice and the policy process. While his distinction between pure scientist, science arbiter, issue advocate, and honest broker may not fully satisfy purists in Science and Technology Studies (STS), it ought to be compulsory reading for every science graduate and all decision makers in government, business, the judiciary, or campaigning groups who claim that their decisions are rooted in scientific evidence. It is also an invaluable guide to the ordinary citizen who just wants to navigate through the confusion and contradiction that often seems to surround the use of science in policy debates.

Steve Rayner, James Martin Professor of Science and Civilization, University of Oxford

Decision-making can be an important problem, both in everyday life and when science, politics and policy are involved. The Honest Broker broadens the options of decision-making by going beyond the traditional roles of the 'pure scientist' or the 'issue advocate'. Scientific knowledge can be integrated with stakeholder concerns if the policy context is taken into account in an adequate way. Based on extensive experience in the analysis of decision-making relating to scientific and technological issues, Roger Pielke Jr. goes a long way to be an honest broker himself: between science and democracy.

Helga Nowotny, Vice-President of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council and Fellow at Wissenschaftszentrum Wien

Should be available in a week or so, here is the Amazon link to order the paperback version.

Posted on March 24, 2007 11:55 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

February 14, 2007

Words of Wisdom in The Daily Camera

There is an excellent letter to the editor in today's Daily Camera (our local newspaper) by Robert Davis, who comments favorably in reaction to a recent op-ed by Chris Mooney and Alan Sokal. Mr. Davis wisely distinguishes advice as policy analysis, and underscores the importance of honest brokers of policy alternatives. Here is Mr. Davis' letter in full:

Your editorial pages for Feb. 11 contained an abundance of thoughtful and relevant writing. In particular, the piece by Mooney and Sokal offers a welcome defense of science as evidence-based reasoning that deserves protection from ideologues ("Taking the spin out of science," Feb. 11).

As a policy analyst who worked as a civil servant in the office of one of the president`s cabinet secretaries through three administrations, I would offer the caution that scientists themselves can become ideologues and need to be reminded of their roles in the decision-making apparatus of a government.

Effective and helpful policy analysis for the head of an agency includes laying out all of the alternatives for addressing a particular problem and exploring the consequences of each alternative. It is in this phase that scientists make their most valuable contribution.

In the case of global warming, we need desperately to know the consequences of the actions we might take. I include costs as one of the consequences, and, of course, probabilities must be addressed, because, in any policy-making, certainty is the rarest of commodities.

Scientists are least helpful when they try to short-cut the policy analysis by prescribing what we must do. At this point, they stop being scientists and the most visible among them become pontificating celebrities. Any government has an obligation to keep its scientists from making fools of themselves, but it is a fine line to hoe.

Certainly, we want the opinions of scientists at the appropriate point in the process of making policy. Without judging the Bush administration or its critics, I would maintain that we have a right to expect that scientists be held to the rules of rational, effective and disciplined policy analysis.

ROBERT DAVIS
Boulder

Posted on February 14, 2007 12:32 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

February 11, 2007

The Honest Broker

The Honest Broker is soon going to the printer with Cambridge University Press. Amazon has the cover up, here it is:

hb.jpg

If you are qualified (an editor, in the media, a popular blogger, etc.) and you would like a review copy, please email me at pielke@colorado.edu with your details and I will add you to the list I am sending to CUP. Others can pre-order the book here and here. Thanks!

Posted on February 11, 2007 11:54 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

February 01, 2007

Does the Truth Matter?

Here are seven paragraphs from the conclusion to Alan Mazur’s excellent book True Warnings and False Alarms: Evaluating Fears about the Health Risks of Technology, 1948-1971 (Resources for the Future, 2004, pp. 107-109, buy a copy here)-- the concluding subsection is titled "Does the Truth Matter?" .

Mazur distinguishes between a "knowledge model" and a "politics model" for understanding public debates involving science. These distinctions are somewhat (but not entirely) related to the concepts of the "linear model" and "interest group pluralism" that I discuss in my forthcoming book, which is really about how to reconcile the fact that there are elements of both models in the reality of decision making. Neither of Mazur’s models accurately describes how the world works, we need both. Some of the more useful debates and discussions following my testimony his week reflected a paradigm clash between those who view the world through the lens pf the "knowledge model" and those – like me – who accept that the "politics model" also reflects some fundamental realities as well. Here is the excerpt:

In a democracy, the people or their representatives are free to spend public money as they see fit. Interest groups compete to channel funding to their favorite causes. If U.S. society chooses to allot far more money to cleaning up toxic waste sites, which harm few people, than to prevent teenagers from smoking, which creates an enormous health burden, that is our privilege as a nation.

Still, many risk analysts are disturbed when we fail to maximize the number of lives save per dollar of risk remediation. They point out that actions taken by government to avoid the consequences of an alleged hazard are often unrelated to the severity or scientific validity of the hazard (EPA 1982; Breyer 1993; Graham and Wiener 1995; Mazur 1998). The inference is that policy should be better aligned with science, and that irrational or inefficient elements of policymaking should be eliminated (but see Mazur 1995 and Driesen 2001 for limitations on this positions).

Yet public policy does not always flow directly from scientific knowledge. A value-laden subject decision is always involved, one that requires weighing pros and cons, costs and benefits, winners and losers. A wise policy choice for one party with certain interest may not be the wisest choice for a party with different interests. These considerations raise a question: does scientific evaluation of a warning matter at all?

Essentially two models show how science is applied to public policy. The first – call it the "knowledge model" – assumes that scientists can obtain approximately true answers to their research questions with methods that are fairly objective. This knowledge is used to inform public policy. For example, scientists can determine the health risks from exposure to fluoride at levels adequate to prevent cavities. Policy makers then use this finding as one factor in deciding whether to add fluoride to community drinking water. Such decisions cannot follow from facts alone, but facts ought to influence outcomes. If health risk is high, that should help shift the decision against fluoridation; if low, that should encourage fluoridation. The model makes no sense to anyone who denies that science can find correct answers.

The second model – the "politics model" – can be applied whatever one’s view concerning the objectivity of science. Here partisans use scientific findings as political capital to sway policy in the direction they prefer. If such partisans favor fluoridation, they will claim there is little health risk; if they oppose it, they claim a high health risk. I makes no difference if the findings are correct, objective, or honest as long as they are persuasive. The actors bury findings that work against their position, or attack them as invalid or inapplicable. In the politics model, scientific claims are used polemically, just like any other kind of political argumentation (Mazur 1998; Brown 1991).

The politics model has many proponents. Partisans in a particular controversy often see their goal as sufficiently important to justify any interpretation of scientific data that is favorable to their cause. During breaks from writing this final chapter, I am reading John McPhee’s (1971) laudable biography of David Brower, a major environmentalist of the postwar period. McPhee repeatedly describes Brower’s habit of making up “facts” to support his arguments against industrialists and developers. The biographer seems to regard this as an endearing tactic of the "archdruid" in his advocacy for wilderness preservation. Like McPhee, we sympathize with those who fight the good fight, accepting their argumentation when in other contexts it would be vexing.

But the politics model loses its appeal if applied to the entire array of technical controversies affecting policy. Science that is sufficiently malleable to serve any position in one controversy can serve any position in all controversies, and in that event science does not matter at all. The famous parable of “the tragedy of the commons” tells how each shepherd maximized his own herd’s grazing on the village green until no grass remained for anyone (Hardin 1968). In the same way, if each technical expert interprets data for his or her own convenience, with no attempt at objectivity, there will be no experts left with unimpeachable credibility, and we will all suffer for it. [emphasis added]


January 25, 2007

IPCC, Policy Neutrality, and Political Advocacy

We have commented in the past here about how the leadership of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has flouted its own guidance to be "policy neutral" by engaging in overt political advocacy on climate change. The comments by its Director Rajendra Pachauri reported today again highlight this issue:

I hope this [forthcoming IPCC] report will shock people, governments into taking more serious action as you really can't get a more authentic and a more credible piece of scientific work.

Imagine, by contrast, if the Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, another organization with an agenda to be "policy neutral," were reported in the media to say of the agency’s latest assessment on Iran, "I hope that the report will shock people, governments into taking more serious action." He would be looking for a new job in no time, I am sure. Why should climate change be treated differently?

The past reaction to my comments on political advocacy by IPCC leadership has been mixed. Some who share the IPCC's advocated agenda see no problem in the IPCC leadership engaging in such advocacy. Who wouldn’t want such a group perceived as authoritative and legitimate on their side? (Similarly, I am sure neo-cons would welcome a CIA Director advocating action on Iran!) By contrast some opposed to the advocated agenda have seized upon the obvious inconsistency in the IPCC’s views on "neutrality" to try to impinge the credibility of the organization. From my perspective, while both of these perspectives are to be expected (and I am sure will make their views known in response), there is a third view that matters most -- and that is the question of the appropriate role of organized expertise in decision making, whether it is the CIA or IPCC. This last view is quite independent of (or it should be) what one thinks about the issues of climate policy.

It seems obvious that if the IPCC leadership is inconsistent in its statements on "policy neutrality" then it does risk becoming perceived as an organized interest, not unlike an NGO, which will eat away at its own authority and independence, which derives in no small part from its claims to "neutrality." The IPCC could correct this perception (or reality) of inconsistent behavior by removing its goal of being "policy neutral" and openly admit a political agenda that it is advocating. Alternatively, the IPCC's leaders could eschew public discussions of what they prefer for political outcomes. Neither of these options seems particularly realistic. A formal departure from stated "neutrality" would harm the IPCC’s credibility, so it won’t do that. And the temptation to use scientific authority as a tool of politics is very strong, and won’t stop unless scientific leaders in the IPCC suggest that it should stop.

The best option of all, and which I recognize is fanciful dreaming on my part, would be for the IPCC to present decision makers with a wide range of policy options and their consequences, recognizing that the IPCC is an advisory body, not an advocacy group. There should be room in public discourse on climate change for an authoritative group to comprehensively assess options and their consequences, recognizing that advisors advise and decision makers decide. The tension between the IPCC's stated objective of "policy neutrality" and behavior by its leaders that is decided "non-neutral" is unlikely be sustainable. The IPCC should come to grips with what it means by "policy neutral."

January 21, 2007

Hans von Storch on Political Advocacy

[Hans von Storch posted this very thoughtful comment on the thread from last week on the recent partnership of leading climate scientists and the National Association of Evangelicals to advocate for political action on climate change. We think that Hans' comments deserve a bit more prominence so have reproduced them here. -RP]

I remember that there was a few years ago a web page in UK, which made public a statement of a religious group about climate change; a very concerned statement. It was signed by, among others Sir John Houghton (who signed in his capacity of former IPCC chair), Bob Watson and other brass of the IPCC guild [The UK statement referred to can be found here. -RP]. Thus, the disclosure of the encroachment of religion into top climate science levels is nothing new. It would have been better if this group had been open about this fact earlier.

We all are bound by certain culturally constructed values; religion is just one, and it has been particularly barbarian in times. In other times rather humanitarian. For a scientist the problem is that these values interfere with our analytical skills; not in the sense that we would execute statistical tests in a biased manner or that we would fail in our maths. But in the way we ask; in our preparedness to accept certain answers or to remain skeptical to certain answers. And finally, it may lead us to misuse our scientific authority to push for conclusions, which are beyond the realm of science.

None of us is free of this interference: this group is to be applauded for being explicit and honest. But they should also accept that claims of independence have to be given up when speaking about the social implications of anthropogenic climate change. They are, and likely have been, issue advocates. They are certainly still scientists, but they are advocates as well. In a sense they are publicly paid NGOs. NGOs play an important and welcomed role in the public discussion and decision process, like most other lobbying groups – but everybody knows what their agenda is.

Those of us who want to try to limit the influence of our values on our scientific analyses, should try to analyze these values and their potential influence on our professional performance. We should see our present activity in a historical context and reflect upon our cultural and social conditioning. We may be able to limit the degree of subjectivity of our work to some, maybe just a very minor, extent.

Posted on January 21, 2007 04:43 PM View this article | Comments (33)
Posted to Author: Others | Climate Change | The Honest Broker

January 18, 2007

Kudos for Explicit Political Advocacy

A number of prominent scientists -- including the well-known James Hansen, Judy Curry, Paul Epstein, and Rita Colwell -- have joined with the National Association of Evangelicals to advocate for political action on climate change. They released a statement (PDF) yesterday which stated:

We believe that the protection of life on Earth is a profound moral imperative. It addresses without discrimination the interests of all humanity as well as the value of the non-human world. It requires a new moral awakening to a compelling demand, clearly articulated in Scripture and supported by science, that we must steward the natural world in order to preserve for ourselves and future generations a beautiful, rich, and healthful environment. For many of us, this is a religious obligation, rooted in our sense of gratitude for Creation and reverence for its Creator.

Here at Prometheus we often call out scientists who hide their political agendas behind science, particularly on climate change. But in this case, there is none of that, to these scientists' credit. These scientists are explicit about their political values and their efforts to use a seemingly "strange bedfellows" association with a major religious group to influence the political process (PDF).

The role of science in policy and politics is much more straightforward when scientists clearly identify when they are advocating for values that they strongly hold, rather than suggesting that it is science that compels particular political outcomes.

January 10, 2007

Received Wisdom

The folks at Demos (my favorite think tank) in London have done it again. Alan Irwin, Kevin Jones, and Jack Stilgoe have produced a magnificent, readable, and erudite report on the role of expertise in decision making titled The Received Wisdom. Their report complements nicely (rather than makes obsolete before release, whew!) my forthcoming book, The Honest Broker. Below I’ve provided a set of lengthy excerpts on points I thought interesting and/or exceptionally well made. Anyone interested in the role of experts in democratic decision making should read this report carefully. I’ll be adding it to my syllabus for the spring.

Experts are woven into the fabric of government. But they tend to be talked about only when things go wrong. They are a resource, we are told – "on tap, not on top", according to Churchill. Behind the veneer of their advice, they are normally portrayed as neutral. And yet their authority is codified in the legislative process. They are often asked to speak beyond their immediate area of specialist knowledge, but their status as scientists – usually independent university scientists – gives them rhetorical power. Like expert witnesses in court, their evidence resists challenge because of their status. In the last 20 years, however, the politics of expertise have been exposed all too dramatically. Rather than making the best use of expert knowledge, politicians were seen relying on expert authority, shedding their own responsibility for making decisions. (p. 17)

. . . . . .

Governments rely on committees of experts rather than individuals because the committee will have a collectively wider range of knowledge and the committee’s discussion will strengthen their advice. However, we need to ensure that these committees do not fall into the trap of groupthink. When a new disease is discovered or a new technology brings a new set of concerns, it may not be clear what sorts of expertise are relevant. Experts in any particular area will ask certain questions. But other questions will remain unanswered and unasked. New issues demand cognitive diversity – different ways of looking at things. Opening-up needs to mean more than showing people how expert advice works. Opening-up needs to mean open-mindedness, it needs to mean asking new questions and it needs to mean listening to a much wider range of perspectives. (p. 22)

. . . . . .

In November 2006, a report from the Commons Select Committee on Science held a mirror to the fashion for evidence-based policy. In some areas, the committee argued, "evidence-based" has become a way to justify policy rather than a way to make policy – the evidence is found to suit the decision. Evan Harris, a committee member and
Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said that the way some policies claimed to be evidence-based was a "fraud which corrupts the whole use of science in government".

Unfortunately for civil servants, far from providing easy answers, the rise of evidence-based policy forces more questions to the surface. As we have seen in the last few years, controversies involving expertise frequently involve questions such as: What counts as evidence? Whose evidence? Evidence of what? Evidence for whom? What do we still not know? As Arie Rip puts it: "There are deep problems, with "evidence", with "-based", and with "policy"." The inescapable paradox is that "policy is about the future, and evidence is about the past".23 As BSE reminded us, by accentuating the positive – what is known – evidence-based policy often overlooks the uncertainties that come to define our problems. (p. 23)

. . . . . .

Far from taking power away from experts, we are suggesting that they contribute more, in a role that extends beyond evidence to wisdom. Experts should be encouraged to speak up, to contribute to debate and challenge its terms. We are taking the first steps towards a new social contract between experts and society. This means rethinking science – as a process rather than as a body of facts. It means looking at "the public" more respectfully. And it means appreciating the complexity of policy-making. (p. 25)

. . . . . .

As one civil servant told the inquiry: "One was aware of slightly leaning into the wind . . . we tended to make more reassuring sounding statements than might ideally have been said."39 According to a quip attributed to Bismarck, there are two things that it is better not to see in the making – laws and sausages. The assumption at the time of BSE was that expert advice should be a third. The then chief scientific adviser described the instinct "to hold the facts close" so that a "simple message can be taken out into the market place". But BSE had taught him that ‘the full messy process whereby scientific understanding is arrived at, with all its problems, has to be spilled out into the open’.40 The Phillips report stressed several points that, in the wake of BSE, have become central to the UK policy mantra when dealing with matters of risk and science:

Trust can only be generated by openness.

*Openness requires recognition of uncertainty, where it exists.
*The public should be trusted to respond rationally to openness.
*Scientific investigation of risk should be open and transparent.
*The advice and reasoning of advisory committees should be made public.
(p. 34)

. . . . . .

The new rhetoric of open expertise has been widely heard. But there is a real question of how and to what extent such messages can be translated into governance practice. How do we spill "the full messy process" of scientific practice "out into the open" while continuing to make effective decisions about science, technology and society? As Sir William discovered, while it is important to talk about uncertainty, judgements must be made about how much uncertainty to acknowledge and in what form. And there is a risk that the acknowledgement of uncertainty is seen as a collapse of leadership and responsibility. (pp. 38-39)

. . . . . .

Blair describes himself as "evangelical" when it comes to science.80 The last thing experts need is moral certainty. The spirit of science is sceptical, exploratory and uncertain. The place of political leadership is not "standing up for science"81 – a model of science that few scientists would recognise. Science is not one thing. And it does not need defending; it needs debating. In the last ten years, with a move towards public dialogue about science, we have seen how vibrant such debates can be. Scientists who get involved are often surprised and enthused by the questions that people ask.82 These new questions are not a threat. They can help us build better scientific advice. There can be many reasons why technical experts and policymakers struggle to hear the voices of outsiders. Science is comfortable with universal statements expressed without obvious emotion or personality. "Non-experts" can shout too loudly, ignore professional codes of behaviour and make it clear that they care very deeply about the issues. Public groups will define the issues in their own way: what’s at stake can appear very different from varying social standpoints. The exchange of expertise and experience may not be straightforward. It is all too easy for insiders to become dismissive, to think that the public is failing to recognise the real issues or that the quality of debate is too low, that we knew all this already and so on. Learning to listen means suspending the tendency to dismiss what appears irrelevant, anecdotal or ill-informed until a real effort has been made to hear how the issues appear from a different point of view and to see what lessons might be learnt. This will also involve a willingness to acknowledge critical messages about how scientific institutions currently operate and not to become defensive in the face of criticism. Rather than trying to fit other voices into already established ways of thinking and acting, it means seeing things through different eyes. (p. 52)

. . . . . .

Issues involving science do not arrive with a script. And they do not bring with them a body of relevant evidence. Knowledge and wisdom must be marshalled to make sense of new challenges. Hard decisions will have to be made on the basis of pretty soft science. Facts will be hard to come by and uncertainty is likely to be rife.101 In such cases, experts and policy-makers need to be open-minded and intellectually humble. As they make sense of issues, they need to explore rather than assume. We have learnt from experience that, as well as shedding light on problems, expertise can blind us to our ignorance. We still need to learn how to take decisions openly in these situations. This exploratory, adaptive mode of expertise involves, as the Chief Scientific Adviser suggests, listening to new voices and seeking out diverse areas of expertise. And it also involves changing how we see science in policy. We cannot expect that science has all the answers. Theoretical models and predictions therefore need to be augmented by monitoring and research focused on answering specific questions. This provisional mode casts experts differently. It asks them to broaden their remits, to question, challenge and apply their wisdom. Policy-makers should expect what Andy Stirling calls "plural and conditional advice" as opposed to recommendations that are "monolithic and prescriptive".102 Minority reports from committees should be considered part of the process of making robust decisions rather than a dangerous break from unanimity. Scientific uncertainty does not mean that "anything goes". But recent debates do tell us that we need to find new ways to talk about uncertainty, as part of a richer conversation about expertise. (p. 70)

. . . . . .

Expert uncertainty does not have to sit uneasily with policymaking. Governance is a process of negotiating ambiguity, a messy business consisting of compromises, partial decisions and continuous renegotiation. But the problem with facts is that they are easy to hide behind. Complexities are obscured by discussions of evidence and knowledge. Uncertainty isn’t just about the limits of knowledge. It is also about the untidiness of policy. Buzzwords like openness and transparency need to be extended to the ways in which advice is used, or disregarded, in policy.

Putting the politics back into policy means politicians and policymakers taking greater responsibility for decisions. It means restoring legitimacy to the decision-making powers of government. It means being honest with the public about why decisions were made. And it means being open to criticism and conflict. (p. 73)


Posted on January 10, 2007 12:39 AM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

November 25, 2006

Politicization of Intelligence

The role of military intelligence in policy making is not unlike the role of science in policy making, a point I make in my forthcoming book. In the Los Angeles Times last week Jennifer Glaudmans has an excellent op-ed about the politicization of intelligence under Robert Gates, former CIA director and current nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld. Her piece provides an interesting lens through which to think about the pathological politicization of science. Here are a few relevant excerpts (emphases added):

. . . we were asked, in 1985, to contribute to the National Intelligence Estimate on the subject of Iran.

Later, when we received the draft NIE, we were shocked to find that our contribution on Soviet relations with Iran had been completely reversed. Rather than stating that the prospects for improved Soviet-Iranian relations were negligible, the document indicated that Moscow assessed those prospects as quite good. What's more, the national intelligence officer responsible for coordinating the estimate had already sent a personal memo to the White House stating that the race between the U.S. and USSR "for Tehran is on, and whoever gets there first wins all."

No one in my office believed this Cold War hyperbole. There was simply no evidence to support the notion that Moscow was optimistic about its prospects for improved relations with Iran. All of our published analysis had consistently been pessimistic about Soviet-Iranian relations as long as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was alive.

We protested the conclusions of the NIE, citing evidence such as the Iranian government's repression of the communist Tudeh Party, the expulsion of all Soviet economic advisors and a number of Soviet diplomats who were KGB officers, and a continuing public rhetoric that chastised the "godless" communist regime as the "Second Satan" after the United States.

Despite overwhelming evidence, our analysis was suppressed. At a coordinating meeting, we were told that Gates wanted the language to stay in as it was, presumably to help justify "improving" our strained relations with Tehran through the Iran-Contra weapons sales.

This is another example of ends-justify-the-means thinking that seem to be behind just about every pathological politicization of science. If your desired policy actions are virtuous, then it shouldn't matter how you cause those actions to occur, right? In the end we will all be better off, right? Glaudmans indicates that this was the thinking on intelligence behind Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra effort, it was also the thinking behind the neo-conservatives push in Iraq, and it is behind those pushing for immediate and drastic action on curtailing emissions of greenhouse gases such as described in the Stern Review (which we have discussed at some length).

Glaudmans continues:

It's possible that the Reagan administration would have gone ahead and made its overtures to Iran regardless of what was said in the NIE, but having the coordinated assessment of the intelligence community support its views certainly added legitimacy to its rationale. What's more, if the policymakers had received better and more accurate intelligence, perhaps someone would at least have questioned the false sense of urgency. Instead, our intelligence was used as expensive intra-government propaganda. . .

During those years, the government was clearly dominated by people who had a strong ideological view of the Soviet Union. But their conflict was not with people who were "soft" on communism, it was with people who looked at all the available evidence, without much bias one way or another, and who had been to the USSR and witnessed its hollow political and social structure, seeing not an omnipotent superpower but a clumsy, oafish regime often stumbling over its own feet.

What is interesting about this passage is Glaudmans' description of how those people seeking to provide good intelligence found themselves in conflict with the ideologues. This conflict occurs because those seeking to politicize intelligence beyond its limits are not necesarily threatened by their ideological opponents -- indeed such stark contrasts actually make the ideological differences more apparent and thus serve more effectively as a political "wedge." Instead the greatest threat to ideologues seeking to pathologuically politicize intelligence comes from those presenting solid analyses, which have a stubborn tendency to win out in the long run. On such conflicts, see for example a few of my own experiences described here.

Glaudmans concludes:

Is all this ancient history relevant today? It is if you believe that policymakers are poorly served when analysis is concocted to support their preexisting positions. It is relevant if you believe that the failure to learn the lessons from the 1991 Gates hearings harmed U.S. foreign policy when, a decade later, we went to war on false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It is relevant if you believe that Congress should take its oversight responsibilities seriously.

It is certainly the case that the current Bush Administration has contributed to the pathological politicization of intelligence, economics, and science across a range of areas. Of this there is no doubt. Fortunately, these issues are suffering from no lack of attention. The concern that I have and discuss frequently on this blog, which I see almost every day, is the contributions by scientists (and other experts) to the pathological politicization of science. Once you lose the capability to provide solid policy analyses, pathologically politicized information is all that remains.

November 21, 2006

Walter Lippmann (1955) on Misrepresentation and Balance

Some things don't grow stale with age. The writings of Walter Lippmann are among them. Here are a few excerpts from Lippmann’s 1955 book The Public Philosophy that remind us that the politicization of information is far from a new concern and the importance of open debate in response.

. . . when the decision is critical and urgent, the public will not be told the whole truth. What can be told to the great public it will not hear in the complicated and qualified concreteness that is needed for a practical decision. When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often a radical distortion. The complex is made over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative into the absolute. Even when there is no deliberate distortion by censorship and propaganda, which is unlikely in time of war, the public opinion of masses cannot be counted upon to apprehend regularly and promptly the reality of things. There is an inherent tendency in opinion to feed upon rumors excited by our own wishes and fears. [p. 27]

On balance in the media and in public debates Lippmann is quite clear about maintaining conditions that foster debate and the exchange of perspectives.

. . . when the chaff of silliness, baseness, and deception is so voluminous that it submerges the kernels of truth, freedom of speech may produce such frivolity, or such mischief, that it cannot be preserved against the demand for a restoration of order or of decency. If there is a dividing line between liberty and license, it is where freedom of speech is no longer respected as a procedure of the truth and becomes the unrestricted right to exploit the ignorance, and incite the passions, of the people. The freedom is such a hullabaloo of sophistry, propaganda, special pleading, lobbying, and salesmanship that it is difficult to remember why freedom of speech is worth the pain and trouble of defending it.

What has been lost in the tumult is the meaning of the obligation which is involved in the right to speak freely. It is the obligation to subject the utterance to criticism and debate. Because the dialectical debate is a procedure for attaining moral and political truth, the right to speak is protected by a willingness to debate. . . .

And because the purpose of the confrontation is to discern truth, there are rules of evidence and of parliamentary procedure, there are codes of fair dealing and fair comment, by which a loyal man will consider himself bound when he exercises the right to publish opinions. For the right to freedom of speech is no license to deceive, and willful misrepresentation is a violation of its principles. It is sophistry to pretend that in a free country a man has some sort of inalienable or constitutional right to deceive his fellow men. There is no more right to deceive that there is a right to swindle, to cheat, or to pick pockets. It may be inexpedient to arraign every public liar, as we try to arraign other swindlers. It may be a poor policy to have too many laws which encourage litigation about matters of opinion. But, in principle, there can be no immunity for lying in any of its protean forms.

In our time the application of these fundamental principles poses many unsolved practical problems. For the modern media of mass communication do not lend themselves easily to a confrontation of opinions. The dialectical process for finding truth works best when the same audience hears all the sides of a disputation. . . Rarely, and on very few public issues, does the mass audience have the benefit of the process by which truth is sifted from error – the dialectic of debate in which there is immediate challenge, reply, cross-examination, and rebuttal.

Yet when genuine debate is lacking, freedom of speech does not work as it is meant to work. It has lost the principle which regulates and justifies it – that is to say, dialectic conducted according to logic and the rules of evidence. If there is not effective debate, the unrestricted right to speak will unloose so many propagandists, procurers, and panders upon the public that sooner or later in self-defense the people will turn to censors to protect them. An unrestricted and unregulated right to speak cannot be maintained. It will be curtailed for all manner of reasons and pretexts, and to serve all kinds of good, foolish, or sinister ends.

For in the absence of debate unrestricted utterance leads to the degradation of opinion. By a kind of Gresham’s law the more rational is overcome by the less rational, and the opinions that will prevail will be those which are held most ardently by those with the most passionate will. For that reason the freedom to speak can never be maintained merely by objecting to interference with the liberty of the press, of printing, of broadcasting, of the screen. It can be maintained only by promoting debate.

In the end what men will most ardently desire is to suppress those who disagree with them and, therefore, stand in the way of the realization of their desires. Thus, once confrontation in debate is no longer necessary, the toleration of all opinions leads to intolerance. Freedom of speech, separated from its essential principle, leads through a short transitional chaos to the destruction of freedom of speech. [pp. 96-101]

November 16, 2006

What is Wrong with Politically-Motivated Research?

This quote from Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen provides a clear example of seeking political ends through science:

Prominent scientists, among them a Nobel laureate, said a layer of pollution deliberately spewed into the atmosphere could act as a "shade" from the sun's rays and help cool the planet.

Reaction to the proposal here at the annual U.N. conference on climate change is a mix of caution, curiosity and some resignation to such "massive and drastic" operations, as the chief U.N. climatologist describes them.

The Nobel Prize-winning scientist who first made the proposal is himself "not enthusiastic about it."

"It was meant to startle the policymakers," said Paul J. Crutzen, of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. "If they don't take action much more strongly than they have in the past, then in the end we have to do experiments like this." [Emphasis added. RP]

In 2004 I characterized (in PDF) the "politicization of science by scientists" as "the use of science by scientists as a means of negotiating for desired political outcomes." Dr. Crutzen's description of his work clearly fits this definition.

I characterized the problem with such a strategy as follws, "many scientists encourage the mapping of established interests from across the political spectrum onto science and then use science as a proxy for political battle over these interests."

Why does this matter? "when politics is played out through science with the acquiescence and even facilitation of scientists, the results can serve to foster political gridlock to the detriment of science and policy alike because science alone is incapable of forcing a political consensus."

Starting with a desired political outcome and then generating the science to support that outcome is not the most effective way for science to support policy, even coming from a Nobel laureate.

November 05, 2006

Honest Broker Sighting

Just over the horizon.

I'd like to see if we can push up that 30 April 2007 date. I'll also see if we can swing some sort of discount for Prometheus readers ;-)

Posted on November 5, 2006 06:21 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

October 16, 2006

Facts, Values, and Scientists in Policy Debates

Politics, according to famed political scientist David Easton, is about “the authoritative allocation of social values.” Values refer to desired outcomes which include both the substance of policy and the procedures used to achieve outcomes. For instance, good health is an example of valued substantive outcome. Public participation in the making of policy is and example of a valued procedural outcome. Politics is necessary because people, as individuals and collections of individuals, have different conceptions about what substantive and procedural outcomes, or what rankings of outcomes, are desirable in society.

From this perspective consider this view of the relationship of science and values, written last week by Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS, in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Credible scientists never contradict or go beyond the available data. We should never insert our personal values into discussions with the public about scientific issues. On the other hand, it is important to recognize that the rest of society is not constrained in that way and can mix facts and values at will.

That is another principle scientists find hard to accept, as they often have strong moral values. When a scientist brings personal views on, say, the beginning of life into a supposedly scientific discussion on the use of embryonic stem cells in research, his or her credibility as a source of neutral facts is automatically diminished. No matter what a scientist believes about moral issues, if an opponent in a debate introduces values or beliefs, the scientist should disclaim any ability to comment on those issues as outside the scientific realm.

Leshner’s perspective has been called the "fact-value distinction," which holds that facts and values can be cleanly separated. Scientists, the argument goes, focus only on facts, and not values. There are of course some situations in which it makes good sense for scientists to focus on narrow technical questions, like “Where is the tornado heading?” But scholars who have studied the roles of science in society have come to a robust consensus that the situations in which policy making is best served by the scientific arbitration of facts are limited to some very unique circumstances.

From the perspective of theory, scholars of science in policy and politics have for many years understood that the fact-value distinction doesn’t hold up. As an example of this research, consider the following excerpts from Shelia Jasanoff's excellent book, "The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policymakers" (1990), (at pp. 230-31). Jasanoff, a leading voice in the discipline of science, technology, and society, focuses on science advisory bodies and organizations that bring science to decision makers and the public,:

Although pleas for maintaining a strict separation between science and politics continue to run like a leitmotif through the policy literature, the artificiality of this position can no longer be doubted. Studies of scientific advising leave in tatters the notion that it is possible, in practice, to restrict the advisory practice to technical issues or that the subjective values of scientists are irrelevant to decision making.

She also writes (at p. 249),

The notion that scientific advisors can or do limit themselves to addressing purely scientific issues, in particular, seems fundamentally misconceived ... the advisory process seems increasingly important as a locus for negotiating scientific differences that have political weight.

In practice, scientists are always introducing their values into public debate. In fact, any effort at public communication is necessarily an expression of a scientist’s values – the procedural value that the public would be better off with whatever information that the scientist is sharing. And in many cases scientists go well beyond procedural values and make public statements to advocate for specific political outcomes. For example, Leshner (along with AAAS president John Holdren) recently wrote (in PDF):

There is a clear message in the growing torrent of studies revealing that impacts of global climate change are already occurring: It is time to muster the political will for serious evasive action. . . The United States -- the largest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet -- needs to become a leader instead of a laggard in developing and deploying serious solutions.

Leshner may believe that the substantive (action on energy policy) and procedural (U.S. leadership) values that he is expressing are not just his own personal values, but also in support of common interests, but they are an expression of values nonetheless. If Leshner stuck to his own advice about not expressing values "beyond the scientific realm" he would have refrained from calling for certain types of policy action. In fact, if scientists generally followed Leshner’s advice there would be essentially no public views expressed by scientists. This of course is neither realistic nor desirable. Effective policy making requires the integration of science and values, not their separation.

Leshner’s views on facts and values is contradicted by the AAAS, ironically enough in a story on its home page right next to Leshner’s Chronicle piece, containing calls for more scientists to play a role in overt political advocacy.

The important distinction to be made is not whether or not scientists should express values in their public statements. It is how they express those values. They can chose to serve as political advocates by seeking to reduce the scope of choice to some preferred outcomes, or they can seek to expand or clarify choice. In all but the most simple of decision contexts there is simply no option to "disclaim any ability to comment on those issues as outside the scientific realm." Those who give scientists such advice far out of step with robust knowledge of the roles of science in society only contribute to the pathological politicization of science.

October 06, 2006

More on Royal Society’s Role in Political Debates

In various comment threads I have sought to identify clear criteria that the Royal Society applied when deciding to target Exxon and its funding of advocacy groups. I have asserted that this decision was political. Several readers and Bob Ward have suggested that the decision was based solely an effort to police misrepresentations of science by Exxon and groups that it funds. In this lengthy comment I explore this issue a bit further. Please read on if you are interested.

Why does this issue matter? I have often made the case that there is absolutely no problem with interests organizing to advance their agendas. Organized interests are an important part of how democracy works. What I have frequently objected to is the hiding of political agendas behind the notion of scientific objectivity or facts. Such action leads to a pathological politicization of science where debates about "what should we do?" are transformed into "whose science is right?" losing sight of the first question. This is even more problematic when institutions like the Royal Society participate in such pathological politicization, because such institutions have a unique and valuable role to play as what I have called "honest brokers of policy options." Such honest brokering is jeopardized when institutions take on the characteristics and behavior of an interest group, like for instance, Exxon.

What do I mean by "political"? I mean that the Royal Society is acting in a manner that seeks to gain advantage over others in debates over what society should do about climate change. In my opinion, the Royal Society letter was about far more than policing (mis)representations of science in public debate. If the Royal Society was in fact interested in the misrepresentation of science, and not political action on climate change, then presumably it would have developed general, unambiguous criteria to identify how one knows a "misrepresentation of science" when one sees it and then applied these criteria indiscriminately across organizations and issue areas. From Mr. Ward’s letter it appears that he started with Exxon’s Annual Report, which suggests that the Royal Society decided to start with Exxon based on some other criteria, which I would assume resulted from identification of Exxon as a strong interest against action on climate change. Action that the Royal Society favors, and has openly said so, such as in its joint statement prior to the G8 last year.

Further evidence for the political nature of the Royal Society’s action appears in the substance of Mr. Ward’s identification of a misrepresentation by Exxon in one of its reports. As shown below, the alleged misrepresentation is pretty weak stuff and I don’t even think that it rises to the level of misrepresentation. Certainly Exxon has engaged in cherrypicking to advance its perceived self-interest. Would the Royal Society suggest that any organization that cherrypicks information should not receive funding? If so that would likely lead to the end all public debate on all subjects!

Let’s take a look at the complaint and examine whether it is in fact a misrepresentation of science. Here is what Mr. Ward wrote to Exxon (link):

Thank-you for your recent letter and accompanying copies of the 2005 ExxonMobil 'Corporate Citizenship Report' and the 'UK and Ireland Corporate Citizenship' brochure. I have read both with interest, but I am writing to express my disappointment at the inaccurate and misleading view of the science of climate change that these documents present.

In particular, I was very surprised to read the following passage from the section on Environmental performance under the sub-heading of 'Uncertainty and risk' (p.23) in the 'Corporate Citizenship Report':

"While assessments such as those of the IPCC have expressed growing confidence that recent warming can be attributed to increases in greenhouse gases, these conclusions rely on expert judgment rather than objective, reproducible statistical methods. Taken together, gaps in the scientific basis for theoretical climate models and the interplay of significant natural variability make it very difficult to determine objectively the extent to which recent climate changes might be the result of human actions."

These statements also appear, of course, in the Exxon Mobil document on 'Tomorrow’s Energy', which was published in February. As I mentioned during our meeting in July, these statements are very misleading. The "expert judgment" of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was actually based on objective and quantitative analyses and methods, including advanced statistical appraisals, which carefully accounted for the interplay of natural variability, and which have been independently reproduced.

Furthermore, these statements in your documents are not consistent with the scientific literature that has been published on this issue.

Let’s take the claims one-by-one. For those interested in the original Exxon Mobil report itself, the relevant text cited in the Royal Society letter can be found here.

Does the IPCC rely on expert judgment?

Answer = YES.

According to the IPCC instructions for preparation of reports: "Be prepared to make expert judgments and explain those by providing a traceable account of the steps used to arrive at estimates of uncertainty or confidence for key findings . . ." (PDF)

Does the IPCC distinguish between expert judgment and objective methods?

Answer = YES

From an IPCC report on presentations of uncertainty in its reports: "The [IPCC] text should distinguish between confidence statements based on well-established, "objective" findings versus those based on subjective judgments."(PDF)

Does determination of the recent warming that can be attributed to increases in greenhouse gases require expert judgment?

Answer = YES

According to Real Climate:

In public discussions there is often an emphasis on seemingly simple questions (e.g. the percentage of the current greenhouse effect associated with water vapour) that, at first sight, appear to have profound importance to the question of human effects on climate change. In the scientific community however, discussions about these 'simple' questions are often not, and have subtleties that rarely get publicly addressed.

One such question is the percentage of 20th Century warming that can be attributed to CO2 increases. This appears straightforward, but it might be rather surprising to readers that this has neither an obvious definition, nor a precise answer. I will therefore try to explain why. . . In summary, I hope I've shown that there is too much ambiguity in any exact percentage attribution for it to be particularly relevant.

Thus, was there anything factually inaccurate or inconsistent with the IPCC in the Exxon statement objected to by the Royal Society?

Answer = NO

But let’s also not overlook the obvious, was Exxon selectively presenting information from the IPCC to imply that there are uncertainties in climate science in order to sow doubt about the need for action?

Answer = YES, OF COURSE

Is the Royal Society trying to exert influence in the political process to counter Exxon’s potential influence in the political process?

Answer = YES, OF COURSE

The Royal Society’s action is thus the very essence of political behavior. This leads to two final questions.

Should the actions of the Royal Society be characterized as political actions?

Answer = YES. LET’S JUST BE OPEN ABOUT IT.

Should the Royal Society seek to "call out" Exxon for its cherrypicking?

Answer = This depends upon the role one sees for a science academy in public debate.

I personally believe that science academies should not seek to replicate the characteristics of organized interest groups for two reasons. One is that the special expertise and legitimacy of science academies give them unique potential to serve as honest brokers of policy alternatives, which are all too few in policy debates. The other is that science academies are typically funded almost entirely by public money and yet pretty much outside the political system of democratic accountability. Any particular decision on what issues to advocate for and against by such an institution will be warmly received by like-minded advocates, but in the end, such decisions represent the parochial interests of those in the organization and not necessarily reflective of broader interests. This then will have the effect of turning an institution that was meant to serve common interests into just another special interest group.

In closing, I do recognize that reasonable people can disagree on the role of science academies in public debate. But we should all be able to agree that hiding an advocacy agenda behind assertions of scientific purity is not good for either science or policy.

September 28, 2006

Latest Bridges Column

The latest issue of Bridges a publication of the Office of Science and Technology of the Austrian Embassy in Washington, DC, is now online. As always Bridges provides a wide range of interesting and stimulating essays and discussions. In particular, Stefan Kalt's column on Heidegger and technology is especially interesting.

My column in this issue is titled "Self-Segregation of Scientists by Political Predispositions" and can be found online here and as a podcast here (and regular Prometheus readers will see that it draws on several earlier discussions on our blog - thanks to all who contributed!). My essay ends with some specific recommendations for scientists -- I think along the lines specifically asked for by Judy Curry recently in the comments. As always, we welcome your feedback and comments.

Posted on September 28, 2006 07:12 AM View this article | Comments (6)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

September 26, 2006

To Limit Choice or Expand Choice?

In a paper out yesterday, NASA's Jim Hansen recognizes the difference between a scientist serving as an issue advocate versus as an honest broker of policy alternatives when he writes (PDF):

Inference of imminent dangerous climate change may stimulate discussion of "engineering fixes" to reduce global warming. The notion of such a "fix" is itself dangerous if it diminishes efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, yet it also would be irresponsible not to consider all ways to minimize climate change.

So which is it? Dangerous or irresponsible? Should scientists openly discuss all ways to minimize climate change, including little-mentioned technologies like air capture? Or should scientists seek to limit research agendas in order to take some options off the table and privledge others in political debate?

It can't be both ways at the same time. Should scientists seek to limit choice or expand choice?

Posted on September 26, 2006 01:51 PM View this article | Comments (11)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

September 21, 2006

David Whitehouse on Royal Society Efforts to Censor

David Whitehouse is a former online science editor for the BBC. He has sent a letter to Benny Peiser, a prominent climate provocateur from the University of Liverpool who oversees the CCNet mailing list. Benny included Dr. Whitehouse’s correspondence on the Royal Society’s letter to ExxonMobil (PDF) in his compilation yesterday (Guardian story here). There is also apparently a second letter from the Royal Society to journalists, asking them to ignore people with perspectives outside the IPCC consensus.

Let me say in no uncertain terms that in my opinion the actions by the Royal Society are inconsistent with the open and free exchange of ideas, as well as the democratic notion of free speech. Here in the U.S. we have recently won a battle to allow scientists employed by government to speak freely even if their views are inconvenient to the current Administration. Such lessons should work in all directions. The Royal Society is seeking to use the authority of science to limit open debate. This is not, to put it delicately, the most effective use of scientific authority in political debates. Climate scientists and advocates confident of their positions should welcome any and all challengers, and smack them down with the power of their arguments, not the weight of their influence or authority. A strategy based on stifling debate is sure to backfire, not just on the climate issue, but for the scientific enterprise as a whole.

Here is Dr. Whitehouse’s letter, which I endorse 100%:

Dear Benny,

I wonder if I am not alone in finding something rather ugly and unscientific about the letter the Royal Society has sent to EssoUK (part of Exxon). It is reproduced in today's Guardian newspaper.

It demands EssoUK stop giving money to groups and organisations who do not believe that human activities are totally responsible for global warming. It also asks EssoUK to provide details of all the groups it funds so that the Royal Society can track them down and vet them, "so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public," the letter says.

My disquiet about this is nothing to do with the status of the debate about anthropogenic global warming but about the nature of the debate and the role of the Royal Society in it and the sending of such a hectoring and bullying letter demanding adherence to the scientific consensus.

Theories come and go. Some become fact, others do not. As scientists our ultimate loyalty is not to theory but to reason and to open enquiry even when some think it ill judged. We should value that above all and I am surprised the Royal Society is acting this way. Einstein once said, "Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."

However the Royal Society sees its role in debates about science, is it appropriate that it should be using its authority to judge and censor in this way?

Yours sincerely,

Dr David Whitehouse

September 12, 2006

The Promotion of Scientific Findings with Political Implications

In the Houston Chronicle today, Eric Berger has a thoughtful article about the state of the debate over hurricanes and global warming. One question that it raises is the degree to which scientists should be actively engaged in partnering with advocacy organizations to promote their work. Here is an excerpt from the Chronicle article:

While nearly all scientists agreed Earth has warmed considerably in the last century, there was no consensus on whether that warming world was causing more and stronger hurricanes to form.

Now some of those scientists have changed their minds, saying a consensus has indeed emerged.

Such talk was sparked Monday when 19 respected climate scientists published a research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluding that human burning of fossil fuels has warmed the oceans, providing the fuel for tropical cyclones to become monster hurricanes.

"The work that we've done closes the loop," said Tom Wigley, an author of the new paper and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The message for the public should be clear, added Robert Correll, a senior fellow of the American Meteorological Society: Humans are the "primary driving force behind increased hurricane activity."

In a post-Katrina world, this is a question public policy-makers and the public have sought an answer to, leading to a flurry of research in the last year.

But some researchers who study the complicated interplay between hurricanes and global warming suggest little has changed in the last few months to suggest that scientists have come to a consensus.

"Honestly, I don't think anyone's changed their mind," said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University. "To me, this looks like the same people saying the same thing over and over again."

Earlier this year, Klotzbach published a paper suggesting that, despite a rise in ocean temperatures during the last 20 years, hurricane activity worldwide has decreased.

When Klotzbach published his paper, however, he did not issue a press release or organize a teleconference.

This week's PNAS article was accompanied by a teleconference with Correll, Wigley and two other prominent hurricane scientists, Kerry Emanuel and Greg Holland.

"What concerns me," Klotzbach said, "is the politicization of this issue."

The teleconference being referred to was organized by a group called Resource Media which describes itself as "dedicated to making the environment matter. We provide media strategy and services to non-profits, foundations and other partners who are working on the front lines of environmental protection." Resource Media’s "partners" are a long list of environmental advocacy groups. I’ve personally given money to some of these groups, and in most cases I am not opposed to their advocacy. But I am concerned about scientists who align themselves with one political agenda in a politically contentious debate putatively over science. This feeds the pathological politiicization of science.

On this subject last March I wrote about how a different group of hurricane scientists participated in a media briefing organized by the group TechCentralStation, an organization that values "the power of free markets, open societies and individual human ingenuity to raise living standards and improve lives." Here is what I said then about the self-segregation of scientists according to their political predispositions:

Let’s take a look at this behavior from two perspectives. First, from the perspective of the individual scientist deciding to align with an interest group, it should be recognized that such a decision is political. There is of course nothing wrong with politics, it is how we get done the business of society, and organized interest groups are fundamental to modern democracy. Nonetheless, an observer of this dynamic might be forgiven for thinking when they see scientists self-select and organize themselves according to political predispositions that different perspectives on scientific issues are simply a function of political ideologies. We can see how contentious political debates involving science become when filtering science through interest groups is the dominant mechanism for connecting science to policy.

Aligning with powerful interests can certainly help a scientist to amplify their message in the media and elevate their prominence in political debates. This sort of amplification has long been a tactic of the political right, and it seems that the left is rapidly catching up. But the battle over perceptions of science in the media is not the same as scientific debate.

Resource Media’s campaign is disingenuous because it presents the scientific debate over hurricanes-climate change as if it has been settled, and the climate scientists they are promoting have contributed to this misinterpretation. Consider that the PNAS paper being promoted this week focuses on a subject that has never been at issue in the scientific debate:

National Hurricane Center scientist Chris Landsea said warmer water doesn't lead necessarily to stronger hurricanes.

"I agree with the paper's conclusion that the warming trend in the tropical oceans is likely due, at least in part, to greenhouse gases," Landsea said. "But this paper certainly isn't the 'key link' between hurricanes and climate change. Its focus is on something that I thought was settled quite some time ago."

As far as the scientific debate over hurricanes and climate change. It remains exactly where it has been for the past year – a debate.

On the very professional (but password protected) website that Resource Media has set up to promote the latest paper, they provide a long list of publications related to the hurricane-global warming debate, but conspicuously fail to include any work by Landsea, including his comments on Emanuel’s work, Chan, including his comments on Webster et al., or a link to the joint statement led by Kerry Emanuel and colleagues (including several who participated in the Resource Media teleconference) on the policy significance of this debate. Do they take reporters for rubes? Do they think that reporters are not aware of the broader literature? Do they not know that most reporters know a promotional campaign when they see one?

Such tactics have been criticized as cherrypicking and misrepresentation by critics of the use of science by those on the political right, and appropriately so. It seems to me that cherrypicking and misrepresentation is improper no matter who is doing it. Advocacy groups and politicians will always make the best case they can for their agenda, at the known risk of being called out by the other side.

However, when scientists willingly participate in such tactics to promote their research, and presumably a political agenda hitched to that research, they place their long-term credibility at risk. On the climate issue, many of the scientists who have aligned themselves with the political right have seen their credibility evaporate, even as they have received considerable media attention. The hurricane scientists who are now amplifying their message by aligning with the political left should take a close look at this lesson from recent history, as it may foretell their own future.

August 28, 2006

Do the Ends Justify the Means?

On climate policy many people apparently believe that the answer is "yes!" I do not. As an example of this perspective, consider the following comment from climate sceintist Andrew Dessler:

As a citizen, there are many issues on which I have a strongly held positions (tax reform, the Iraq war, privacy issues, and yes, AGW). For each of these, I have a preferred policy. I want my policy adopted, and I don't really care why it gets adopted. Not everyone has to agree with *my reasoning* and I don't have to agree with theirs. If some people support action on AGW because they misunderstand the science ... well then they cancel the people that oppose AGW because of a cancelling misunderstanding.

I don't excuse misrepresentation of science, and I correct it wherever possible ... but if, in the final analysis, Katrina helps get a GHG policy enacted, then I'm fine with that. [emphasis added]

[Note: To be perfectly clear, this post is not about Andrew specifically, but about the more general attitude, using Andrew's comment as an example of this perspective, which is apparently widely shared.]

From my perspective, a view that bad policy arguments should be acceptable so long as they help us "win" in political battle is exactly the sort of thinking that motivated the Bush Administration's selling of the Iraq War. Not only did a bad policy result (i.e., one that has not achieved the ends on which it was sold on), but it has harmed the ability of the President to act (maybe a good thing in this case), and certainly diminished the credibility of intelligence. The exact same dynamics are at risk in the climate debate when scientists support their political preferences with bad policy arguments, or stand by silently while others speak for them.

Apparently my perspective is also widely shared. Hans von Storch, Nico Stehr, and Dennis Bray have written (PDF) of this attitude:

The concern for the "good" and "just" case of avoiding further dangerous human interference with the climate system has created a peculiar self-censorship among many climate scientists. Judgments of solid scientific findings are often not made with respect to their immanent quality but on the basis of their alleged or real potential as a weapon by "skeptics" in a struggle for dominance in public and policy discourse.

Oxford's Steve Rayner provides a similar perspective (here):

The danger of using bad arguments for good causes, such as preventing unwanted climate change, is two-fold. Generally, it provides a dangerous opening for opponents who would derail environmental policy by exposing weaknesses in the underlying science. Specifically, it leads to advocating policies for reducing future storm impacts that are likely to be ineffective in achieving their declared aim. With or without greenhouse gas emissions reductions, the costs of storm damage are bound to rise. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have far less impact on storm damage costs than moving expensive infrastructure away from coastal margins and flood plains.

For good or ill, we live in an era when science is culturally privileged as the ultimate source of authority in relation to decision making. The notion that science can compel public policy leads to an emphasis on the differences of viewpoint and interpretation within the scientific community. From one point of view, public exposure to scientific disagreement is a good thing. We know that science is not capable of delivering the kind of final authority that is often ascribed to it. Opening up to the public the conditional, and even disputatious nature of scientific inquiry, in principle, may be a way of counteracting society's currently excessive reliance on technical assessment and the displacement of explicit values-based arguments from public life (Rayner, 2003). However, when this occurs without the benefit of a clear understanding of the importance of the substantial areas where scientists do agree, the effect can undermine public confidence.

This is of course an issue much broader than climate change, and at its core is about how science is to operate in a democracy. The practice of science, insofar as it is related to action, is all about questions of means. That is, science can tell us something about the consequences of different possible courses of action. Science however cannot tell us how to value those consequences, which is the territory of ethics, values, religion, ideology, etc..

Once a scientist (a generic scientist!) decides to elevate ends above means in the area of their own expertise then they are in fact giving up on what their science can most contribute to the political process, and that is knowledge relevant to the means we employ in pursuit of desired ends.

If you want insight on the contemporary pathological politicization of science within the scientific community, look no further than the perspective held by many scientists that on issues related to their expertise, the ends do in fact justify the means. In my view this is bad for both democracy and for the sustianability of the sceintific enterprise.

Posted on August 28, 2006 03:50 PM View this article | Comments (47)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

July 31, 2006

National Journal: Who Turned Out the Enlightenment?

In this week’s National Journal Paul Starobin has an extremely thoughtful cover story on the politicization of science. He appropriately finds that the pathological politicization of science occurs on both the left and the right, but astutely also recognizes that the scientific establishment itself bears some responsibility for today’s hyper-politicization of science:

. . . the modern professional research scientist is not, by any stretch, a blameless figure -- in this tale, that scientist emerges as an increasingly partisan and self-interested figure, dependent on government grants and largely an inhabitant of Blue America.

Starobin does a nice job characterizing how science is used as a tool of politics from the political Left and Right. He registers complaints similar to those that we have expressed about those who would politicize the politicization of science by labeling it only a problem of the Right, or at least, only a problem worth worrying about from the Right. Starobin expresses plenty of concern across the political spectrum, which will likely inevitably mean that his analysis will be dismissed by most partisan observers. But this is good news as the side he aligns with is that of science and democracy. Of the scientific community, Starobin has some strong medicine to offer, and I pull the following excerpt at length:

It is tempting, in this tale, to take pity on the scientist. Assailed from all sides, he -- yes, most top scientists are still men -- may appear to be just as much a casualty as the Enlightenment mind-set itself.

Alas, it is not that simple. Inevitably the scientist has been dragged, or has catapulted himself, into the values and political combat that surround science and has emerged, in certain respects, as just another (diminished) partisan.

This is plainly the case in the matter of the Religious Right's mugging of evolution. Darwin, anticipating just such a beating, had a ready response in the true spirit of science, which was that there was nothing in his scientific observations, nor could there be in any scientific gathering of evidence, that proved or disproved the existence of God. But that sort of agnostic caution seems to have lapsed as an example for today's scientists.

Among neo-Darwinian biologists on both sides of the Atlantic, a kind of counter-militancy has gathered force. Prominent evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins of Britain are proudly proclaiming their atheistic beliefs -- even suggesting that anyone who believes in God is a fool. "Of course it's satisfying, if you can believe it," Dawkins has said about faith in God. "But who wants to believe a lie?"

But it is Dawkins who looks dim for seeking to claim more from science than science can, by definition, provide. "He is an evangelical atheist" and "he is killing us," Alan I. Leshner, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in an interview.

If modern scientists were the classical liberals that they like to say they still are, then they presumably would not be clustered on one side of the partisan divide. In fact, they display a deep-blue orientation. A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 87 percent of "scientists/engineers" (representing a random sampling of members of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering) disapproved of the way Bush was handling his job as president. In the fall of 1997, by contrast, 78 percent of scientists/engineers approved of Bill Clinton's performance.

What gives? The answer, in part, is that scientists have a long-standing tendency to believe that some societal problems -- global warming is a current example -- demand collective solutions of the sort that laissez-faire Republicans tend to be reluctant to support. In the 1930s, scientists widely embraced FDR's New Deal, and a number of researchers, blind to Stalin's crimes, were in fact Communist sympathizers or party members.

Today's Lab-Coat Liberal, as opposed to a Jefferson-style classical liberal, is also a product of the 1960s. Leading research scientists, as National Academy members generally are, inhabit an academic environment that was radicalized by the Vietnam War protest movement and civil-rights struggles. Although most scientists balk at the New Left's fixation on identity politics, science academia, even as it subsists on government grants, tends to take an anti-establishment posture that embraces a false view of science's own purity.

"Through its actions in Vietnam our government has shaken our confidence in its ability to make wise and humane decisions," the Cambridge, Mass.-based Union of Concerned Scientists declared in its founding document in 1968. Never mind that elite research scientists -- members of a secretive government-connected team dubbed "The Jasons" -- advised the Pentagon on certain Vietnam war-fighting strategies.

This mind-set, pitting the purportedly apolitical concerns of scientists against the connivers who wield political power in Washington, endures. In a recent Web posting on the prospect of a confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, the Union of Concerned Scientists declared that Iran "does not represent a direct or imminent threat to the United States." That is a policy judgment, not a scientific conclusion, and it is a dubious one at that, given the clear signs that Iran, a backer of Shiite militias in neighboring Iraq and of Hezbollah in Lebanon, is complicating the mission of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

The Bush administration as a whole, not just its military policies, is in the Cambridge outfit's gun sights. Citing climate change, childhood lead poisoning, reproductive health, drug abuse, and other issues, the group declared in 2004: "When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions." Signatories included Edward Wilson, the Harvard entomologist once taken to task by the New Left.

In an interview, Cornell physicist Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists and a drafter of that founding declaration, denied that the group, or scientists generally, had a pronounced partisan disposition. "I do not believe that 77 percent or 87 percent of scientists vote Democratic normally," he said. But the available data, as scientists like to say, suggest otherwise. In 15 years of polling, scientists "have always stood out as among the most Democratic of the elites," Michael Dimock, associate director of the Pew Research Center, said in an interview.

Thus the science community, even if at times a reluctant warrior, is itself contributing to the polarization that afflicts America's political culture. Viewed by the Founders as part of the glue that binds American democracy, the scientist is in danger of becoming a force for its increasing fragmentation.

The last sentence is exactly the dynamic I was referring to when I criticized scientists at RealClimate last week for serving as agents of divisiveness in political debates.

Starobin, like many of us, loses momentum when talking about what might be done to address the pathological politicization of science. But from where I sit, that means there might be a good audience for The Honest Broker ;-) Jokes aside, Starobin has written an extremely thoughtful article. It will certainly appear on my fall syllabus.

Posted on July 31, 2006 02:29 AM View this article | Comments (13)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

July 26, 2006

Conflicts of Interest at the National Academies?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a very interesting report (PDF) this week which found substantial conflicts of interest present among members of study panels at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS, and more specifically its National Research Council which oversees its study panels).

Why should we care about conflicts at the NAS? According to CSPI:

Self-interested parties, including Congress, government agencies, and corporate lobbying groups, are increasingly turning to the NAS to define the scientific state of play on controversial topics, whether it is global warming, stem cell research, or a specific toxic chemical. For the NAS to maintain its credibility in this role, it must be vigilant in rooting out even the appearance of conflicts of interest among its committee members.

What did CSPI conclude?

. . . we found serious deficiencies in the NAS’s committee-selection process that could jeopardize the quality of future NAS reports. The NAS has allowed numerous scientists (and others) with blatant conflicts of interest to sit on committees. Compounding that problem, those conflicts of interest usually are not disclosed to the public

The CSPI defines a conflict of interest as "a financial tie within the last five years to a company or industry that is relevant to the committee topic." Under this definition, of the 21 committees it it looked at CSPI found that "Nearly one out of every five scientists appointed to an NAS panel has direct financial ties to companies or industry groups with a direct stake in the outcome of that study." The NAS did not acknowledge publicly many of these financial interests.

The CSPI further alleged that the NAS did not take efforts to balance the perspectives of its committees finding a ratio of more than 7 to 1 appointees favoring industry perspectives over environmental or public interest group perspectives. The CSPI recommends that the NAS "should expand its definition of balance on committees to include bias and point of view, in addition to areas of expertise." This perspective is contrary to that taken by the NAS itself which has supported non-disclosure of information such as "voting record, political-party affiliation, or position on particular policies."

We have periodically raised the issue of NAS committee composition at the NAS, for instance on reports on Hubble Space Telescope, perchlorate, and on the advisory process itself. Advisory committee composition is an important subject, and I agree with the CSPI that in many cases the NAS could be more transparent and balanced. At the same, we should resist the lure of believing that there are heroic philosopher kings out there with no biases except for the truth. As I have argued before (e.g., Washington Post PDF), what an advisory committee is asked to do is as important as who they ask to do it. An advisory committee tasked with placing science into the context of a range of policy options may be less likely than a committee focused only on science or a single course of action to slip from advice into advocacy.

Posted on July 26, 2006 07:37 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

July 25, 2006

Rep. Rush Holt on Science Advice

From Represenatative Rush Holt's statement (PDF) prepared for today's House Science Committee hearing on science advice to congress:

There is no shortage of information and no shortage of wisdom. We are swamped with experts. We need help in weaving it into policy-relevant fabric.
Posted on July 25, 2006 12:42 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker

July 07, 2006

The Honest Broker, Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You

This week I shipped off to Cambridge University Press my final revisions on my forthcoming book, The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. It is scheduled to be published early next year. Consequently, I’ll be shamelessly promoting the book here until then! An article in this week’s Nature on science and advocacy (Thanks CW!) makes me think that the book is well timed, here is an excerpt:

For conservation biologists, it's the question that won't go away. Should they make the leap from describing the facts of a case, to telling people what ought to be done?

Biologist Reed Noss of the University of Central Florida believes they should. Addressing a meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) in San Jose, California, last week, he tried to convince the crowd that they have a responsibility to be not just scientists dealing in objective facts, but also advocates pushing particular policies.

But Mike Scott of the University of Idaho, organizer of the symposium, thinks the SCB should stick to the facts. "We need to position ourselves as the go-to authority on conservation matters worldwide," he says. "We can more forcefully do that if we do rigorous science, and then leave it for the decision-makers to figure out what to do with that."

The advocacy question is perhaps more difficult for conservation biologists than many other scientists. Their field is already premised on the value of having lots of species around. And most of these scientists got into the field because of their strong feelings about nature, the wilderness and often particular species.

Peter Brussard, a population biologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, points out that the debate goes back to at least 1951. Then the Nature Conservancy split from the Ecological Society of America because of a dispute over whether scientists should do more than just describe.

These days, he thinks, "the debate has been reframed a little bit", with more researchers willing to be advocates. In the end, he says, much depends on the definition of advocacy. "We never seem to get beyond semantics."

For example, does advocacy include sending a paper to policy-makers? Or to the press? Or reiterating your findings if you don't think policy-makers have taken enough notice of them?

Back in San Jose, the US Geological Survey's Susan Haseltine warns the meeting of the harm a scientist can do to their credibility by being an activist. "I don't believe you can be strong in science and in advocacy," she says.

Hopefully my book will help to inform such a discussion about advocacy and the role of scientists in policy and politics.

Posted on July 7, 2006 12:45 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | The Honest Broker



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