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Ogmius Newsletter

Letters to the Editor

Responses to the October Editorial,  “Good for the Goose…”

Roger Pielke’s article, “Good for the Goose…”     (October 2003 Ogmius), provoked a lively discussion:

Image of a letterRoger, interesting piece you wrote here.  It seems to me, from studying the work of Joel Mokyr and others, that over the course of the last three centuries, technological problem solving almost always outstrips politics and the ability of politics to “solve” -- or, more precisely, render irrelevant -- those problems that seem so pressing to partisans in scientific and political fights.  So what does that mean for today?  Let’s consider the three examples you cite: “global warming, genetically modified organisms, and stem cell research.”

On global warming, the odds that we will be living in a carbon-intensive economy in 100 years are tiny.  And that will have nothing to do with political solutions to problems, but technological changes in everything from energy generation to how and where we live to what we do.  The odds that, should the planet heat up by 10 degrees, the world in which we will live in 100 years will look or feel anything like the world we live in now is laughable.  Adaptive capacity will most likely outstrip environmental devastation (and that’s assuming a warming planet, in the aggregate, is a bad thing from an ecological standpoint, which is certainly debatable).

The genetically modified organisms debate is, for all intents and purposes, already over (at least in agriculture).  The political opposition to it simply can’t stop it – for example most Europeans who are opposed to GM foods eat them without realizing it.  (It would take some unforeseen catastrophe for the political momentum to change, so I do leave that possibility open.)

Stem cell research is almost impossible to restrict politically – science is a process that’s globalized like any other and it’s almost impossible to conceive of a way in which stem cell research, now that the IVF genie is out of the bottle, can be prohibited globally.  And all that needs to happen is for the benefits (should they materialize) to be clearly appreciated for the technology to be not just de facto legalized but embraced as well.

Anyway, the biggest problem with most of the debates at the intersection of science and politics is a failure to appreciate the dynamic nature of the world we live in today.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t valid points to be made all around in the name of junk science or sound science.  Just that, those points made as they are in a snapshot of time will be largely irrelevant in a world-historically miniscule period of time.


Nick Schulz, Editor
Tech Central Station

Mr. Pielke,

I am the President of the Marshall Institute and was involved in the Hoover Book project that you referred to in your editorial.  I want to assure you that the authors were not chosen because they are long time opponents of environmental regulation.  The objective of the book was not to "disparage alleged misuse of science" but to document the actual misuse and discuss the consequences of misuse.  I view the misuse of science in the policy process as a serious risk to the science enterprise, as do you, and certainly do not want politicization to become "just another weapon in partisan battle".

As long as science is used in formulating policy, there will be politicization.  The challenge is to find ways to constrain that natural act and to increase the likelihood that decision makers will get a clear or clearer understanding of what science does and does not tell them about the policy issue being considered.

Holding agencies and advocates to explicit standards and insisting on greater transparency are two steps in the right direction.  The Federal Data Quality Act might turn out to be another.  The Supreme Court in its Daubert decision articulated some very clear standards for science in the judicial system.  Those could be more broadly applied to everyone's benefit.  Finally, I do not believe that decision makers or policy makers suffer from too few options. If anything, they suffer from the options not being sufficiently illuminated in terms of their costs, benefits and distributional impacts.  If you have other ideas for making science more relevant in the policy process and to limit its misuse, I would like to learn what they are.

William O'Keefe, President
Marshall Institute

Hi Roger,

I enjoyed your Ogmius piece but think that your "solution" is too optimistic.  IPCC has repeatedly, in the person of its chairmen, both Robert Watson and Ravedni Puchari, espoused specific policies, i.e. the Kyoto Protocol.  In fact, I would argue that IPCC started this entire mess, in particular the Mann issue, by overemphasizing his result which, in perspective, is merely one of many interesting paleoclimate studies.  It is very clear that IPCC saw this as a vehicle to advance the agendas of Watson and Puchari.  No, I don't think IPCC or anything like it is a solution to the problem (wait till you see "Meltdown: the Inevitable Exaggeration of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media", coming out this fall).

One example in Meltdown is the overhyping of the NRC Extreme Events report.  When scientists choose to exaggerate in overtures to the political/funding process, they GUARANTEE politicization, misstatement, and acrimony between the haves, the have-nots, and the politicians who must demonstrate some type of public good for their fund disbursement and those who oppose them.  The problem lies not in another group solution, but in recognizing the dynamics of this process and broadening the bases of bias (I mean that) in the scientific funding scheme.

Hope you agree with me!


Pat Michaels
Cato Org