Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Brokers of Science in Environmental Policy

I would say "I'm back," but I suspect many current JDN readers are unaware I was ever here. Long story as to my long absence (big surprise--it's all about cumulative effects!); having sent off a 1500-page set of page edits yesterday has taken most of the monkey off my back.

Honest BrokerI'd like to resume my JDN posting with a book recommendation: Roger Pielke Jr., The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (Cambridge, 2007). 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. I am assigning it to all JDN readers.

Pielke is an Environmental Studies scholar at the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. 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.

Like many STS scholars, Pielke condemns the outdated "linear model" of science and policy, under which science acts as an insulated black box supplying information to policy. But what in its place? For this Pielke outlines a "stakeholder model" that divides scientists into four roles based on their level of engagement with policy decision-making:
  • Pure Scientist: No interest in decision-making; interested only in generating and disseminating fundamental findings of science and motivated by purely scientific research agenda
  • Science Arbiter: Also primarily interested in generating and disseminating fundamental findings of science, but interested in doing so as a resource for policy decision-makers
  • Issue Advocate: Interested in convincing decision-makers to adopt a particular position; focuses the production and dissemination of scientific findings toward narrowing policy options to favor that position
  • Honest Broker: Interested in providing scientific information that clarifies or expands the range of options open to the decision-maker, with no interest in any particular position but acting as a stakeholder in the transparent, credible functioning of the policy decision-making process
Pielke suggests that all four of these roles have legitimate places in science and policy, depending on the circumstances. He provides a nifty decision tree based on the level of uncertainty and the degree of policy values consensus. Where uncertainty is low and consensus is high, for example, the Pure Scientist and Science Arbiter are best suited to the role. Pielke provides clear examples of how his model works in each case.

One he has laid out the model, Pielke warns us to be most on guard for cases of "stealth advocacy," which comes in two forms. One involves cases of Pure Scientists being used by policy decision-makers to provide "cover" for decisions made on policy grounds but disguised as science-driven. The other form comes when Issue Advocates pose in Pure Scientist or Science Arbiter clothing, so as to disguise their issue-driven agenda. In what has become a controversial part of the book, he uses the response of many scientists to Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist as an example of stealth advocacy at work.

As I said, Honest Broker takes only a few hours to read through once (though I'd suggest a second read to fully digest the model), so I won't go on more here. I highly recommend it, and look forward to hearing what you think.



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11/10/2009 1:52 AM  

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