Thursday, February 5, 2009

Scientists and Policy Making - The Honest Broker?

Scientists have a love/hate relationship with policy makers. We want to "do our science" but not necessarily get all into the whole political rangling thing. On the other hand, it displeases us (I'm being nice) to have our science abused by politicians or advocacy groups, who twist it to fit their predisposed ideological view. But it displeases us even moreso (still being nice) to have fellow scientists who forget their ethics. Luckily, they are the rare exception.

But as Roger A. Pielke, Jr. demonstrates in his book "The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics," sometimes the lines get blurred. Over the next few weeks I'll periodically come back to different parts of Pielke's book. To begin with, he defines four idealized roles of science in policy and politics (the roles are Pielke's; any misinterpretation of them are my own):

The Pure Scientist: Provides data and lets the policy maker (or decider?) make their own decisions. The pure scientist really doesn't have an interest in the decision-making process. ["Let me do my science. Get out of my lab now, please."]

The Science Arbiter: Serves as a resource to the decision-maker, and stands ready to answer factual questions that the decision-maker feels is relevant. The science arbiter does not tell the decision-maker what he or she ought to prefer. [Yes, the acid put in that paper cup will eat right through it. Next question.]

The Issue Advocate: The issue advocate seeks to limit choices, and will likely tell the decision-maker what choice he or she ought to prefer, based on the science. [Sir, you really ought to advocate for the cap-and-trade system.]

The Honest Broker of Policy Alternatives: The Honest Broker, as you might imagine, tries to broaden the choices. He or she will provide a range of options to the decision-maker, generally including advantages and disadvantages. Then it is up to the decision-maker to, well, decide. [Okay, everything is on the table. Any questions? Okay, debate.]

The problem comes from what Pielke calls "stealth issue advocacy." More on that at a later date.

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