Sep 27, 2009

The Honest Broker

The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics
by Roger Peilke Jr., (2007, Cambridge University Press)

Pielke believes global warming is a problem that requires a response. As readers of his blog know, he's a moderate, pragmatic, sane voice who frequently disses extremism and foolishness on all sides of the global warming debate.

This book was no doubt partly written to serve as a textbook in Prof. Pielke's classes, so it isn't always the most entertaining of reads. But there's lots of thought-provoking stuff here about how scientists, the media, and the public might think about science when partisan politics become a major consideration.

Pielke argues that an "honest broker" scientist is one who presents a variety of options to the public, who expands our range of choices - rather than advocating a single course of action.

Below is a quick-and-dirty list of some thought-provoking lines/quotes. Page numbers refer to the US paperback edition:
  • "we are often very certain and very wrong" p. 23
  • "The scientific enterprise is diverse enough to offer information that can be used to support a diversity of perspectives on just about any subject" p. 89
  • "entrenched interests need not produce 'junk science' when they have a wide selection of credentialed scientists to choose from in support of their positions" p. 62
  • "one might develop numerous equally plausible theories" p. 69
  • "information by itself does not compel a particular decision" p. 54
  • "Battles take place over whether science is sound or junk instead of debating the value or practicality of specific policy alternatives." p. 126
  • "A decision may have unexpected consequences, including the opposite of those desired" p. 65
  • "there is considerable randomness or chance in the world" p. 75
  • "Science in the service of common interests is threatened as scientists and policy-makers have come to see science mainly as a servant of interest group politics." p. 10
  • "For some scientists stealth issue advocacy is politically desirable because it allows for a simultaneous claim of being above the fray, invoking the historical authority of science, while working to restrict the scope of choice." p. 7
  • "If a debate is really about science, then surely it can take place on the pages of seldom-read peer-reviewed journals. But if the debate is about more than science, then it would likely spill over into the media, the internet, and legislative chambers." pp. 88-89
  • "One reason for the high esteem in which science is held is its independence from overt political influence." p. 93
  • "If the public or policy-makers begin to believe that scientific findings are simply an extension of a scientist's political beliefs, then scientific information will play an increasingly diminishing role in policy-making" p. 95
  • "deciding a course of action and then finding information to support it is common across the political spectrum" p. 110
  • "In many instances science has become little more than a mechanism for marketing competing political agendas, and scientists have become leading members of the advertising campaigns." p. 117
  • "That some scientists engage in political activities is neither new nor problematic; they are after all citizens. A problem exists when...scientists implicitly or explicitly equate scientific arguments with political arguments" p. 120
  • "science alone cannot determine who wins and who loses in political battles" p. 121
  • "science cannot tell us what to do. Deciding what to do occurs through a political process of bargaining, negotiation, and compromise." p. 137
  • "Science has exceedingly little capacity to reconcile differences in values." p. 137
  • "For the protection of science..we desperately need organizations and individuals who are willing to expand the range of options available to policy-makers by serving as Honest Brokers of Policy Alternatives" p. 141