Archive for the ‘The Honest Broker’ Category

Revkin, Values, and Data

June 8th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Andy Revkin over at his New York Times blog posted last week about the role of values in debates over climate change.  While his ultimate point, that values play a factor even in debates over data, is nothing new here, the lead and title of the post support some old and inaccurate conceptions about the roles values can play in debates that involve scientific data.

Titling a post “Values vs. Data in Environmental Care” is misleading in that it suggests that data comes from a value-free position.  The choice of data, methodology and other factors of experimental design are made for reasons that – intentionally or not  – support particular values.  By asserting data to be value free, you allow the values to sneak in.

The linkage of the discussion to explicitly religious values, while allowing for a good hook to the story, also supports a common assumption that when speaking of values you are speaking of religious values.  That is unnecessarily narrow, and likely inflammatory, if the attempts at discussions over evolution might suggest.

I don’t think Revkin subscribes to these faulty premises.  But I see this kind of thinking all too often not to call it out in places I don’t expect to see it.

Science Diplomats on Science Diplomacy

June 3rd, 2009

Posted by: admin

Among the other interesting discussions at the science diplomacy event Yasmin Khan posted about was a set of remarks from the science adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, Nina Federoff, and the chief science adviser of the U.K. government, Sir David Beddington.  Part of their discussion (H/T Nature News) outlined the challenges of avoiding the misuse of science to acheive political goals.  Another important distinction made was the difference of using science in diplomacy and science diplomacy.  While this may seem obvious to some, it’s an important reminder that the former – such as addressing international resource shortages – is distinct from the latter – using science to form partnerships.  It also seems like that the former will get more attention.

Seed Issues Presidential Endorsement; Editors Should Read The Honest Broker

October 30th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The editors of SEED issued their presidential endorsement online yesterday afternoon.  Given the timing of the election, it’s unlikely to appear in the print edition.  Anyone who’s read the magazine or its blogging army can guess whom they selected, and won’t be surprised by any of the arguments advanced in the editorial.  You could argue some of the reasons they list for their choice, or the certainty behind some of their assertions about science.  I want to focus on something else, the way SEED’s editors equate scientific thinking with proper democratic governance.  I begrudge no one the opportunity to participate politically, but some of the language in the endorsement suggests that the fine folks at SEED either failed to read Roger’s book or to absorb its arguments.

The questionable language is most of the second to the last paragraph, which you can read after the jump:


The New Abortion Politics

August 1st, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The deepest pathologies in the climate policy debate can been seen in this comment in today’s NYT column by Paul Krugman:

The only way we’re going to get action [on climate change], I’d suggest, is if those who stand in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral.

This strategy of characterizing one’s political opponents as immoral is of course is part and parcel of the debate over abortion (which is why I call such politics “abortion politics” in The Honest Broker). In the climate debate the litmus test for having the proper morality (i.e., defined as not “standing in the way of action,” by being a “denier” or “delayer” or [insert derisive moral judgment here]) is by holding and expressing (and not questioning) certain acceptable beliefs, such as:

*Not questioning any consensus views of the IPCC (in any working group)

*Not supporting adaptation

*Not emphasizing the importance of significant technological innovation

*Not pointing out that policies to create higher priced energy are a certain losing strategy

Deviation for these beliefs is, blasphemy — heresy! Or as Paul Krugman recommends . . . immoral.

Climate change is the new locus of the U.S. culture wars. Unlike the abortion issue which was turned into a referendum on morality by the political right, the climate issue is fast becoming a referendum on morality by the political left. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Bruce L. R. Smith on The Honest Broker

July 24th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Bruce L. R. Smith, science policy scholar and visiting professor at George Mason University, has a review of The Honest Broker out in the current issue of Issues in Science and Technology (not yet available online). Smith has some nice things to say, but takes serious issue with my choice of focus on the role of scientists in the policy process. In short, he doesn’t think they matter much at all. Some readers of this blog may be surprised to see Smith’s utter dismissal of the significance of scientists in the policy process, in favor of lobbyists.


The IPCC, Scientific Advice and Advocacy

July 9th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

For some time the leadership of the IPCC have sought to use the institution’s authority to promote a specific political agenda in the climate debate. The comments made yesterday by Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, place the organization in opposition to the G8 leaders position on climate change:

RK Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on Tuesday slammed developed countries for asking India and China to cut greenhouse gas emissions while they themselves had not taken strong steps to cut down pollution.

“India can not be held for any emission control. They (developed countries) should get off the back of India and China,” Pachauri told reporters here.

“We are an expanding economy. How can we levy a cap when millions are living with deprivation? To impose any cap (on India) at a time when others (industrialised countries) are saying that they will reach the 1990 level of emission by 2025 is hazardous,” Pachauri said.

He said countries like the US and Canada should accept their responsibilities and show leadership in reducing green house gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

Pachauri said millions of Indian do not have access to electricity and their per capita income is much less. At this point, you cannot ask a country to “stop developing”.

Who does Dr. Pachauri speak for as head of the “policy neutral” IPCC?

It is as if the head of the CIA (or any other intelligence agency) decided to publicly criticize the government of Iran (or other country). Such behavior would seriously call into question the ability of the intelligence agency to perform its duties, which depend upon an ability to leave advocacy to other agencies. The United States has a Department of State responsible for international relations. The CIA collects intelligence in support of decision makers. These agencies have different roles in the policy process — hoenst broker and issue advocate.

The IPCC seems to want to both gather intelligence and decide what to do based on that intelligence. This is not a recipe for effective expert advice. Leaders in many areas would not stand for this conflation of advice and advocacy, so why does it continue to occur in the climate arena with little comment?

Adam Briggle on The Honest Broker

July 7th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Adam Briggle, of the University of Twente in the Netherlands (and a graduate of our Environmental Studies graduate program), has a thoughtful review of The Honest Broker in the current issue of Social Studies of Science. he has some very positive things to say:

Scientists and those in the business of science policy should read this book and consider its message carefully, because it has the potential to both bolster the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise and improve policy making. STS and social studies of science scholars are likely to find his argument familiar, but Pielke has developed such an incisive framework that even these audiences will find new and valuable contributions. Furthermore, his book is exemplary in its clear, jargon-free accessibility, which makes it an excellent pedagogical tool for initiating students into issues of science and society.

Did US Agricultural Policy Lead to the Mad Cow Disease Epidemic?

July 5th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I discuss this question in the context of the need for an independent, authoritative perspective on technology assessment in my latest column for Bridges.

Mark Shafer in BAMS on The Honest Broker

June 19th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Mark Shafer, director of climate services at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, reviews The Honest Broker in the May, 2008 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. It is a positive review. He writes:

Pielke’s discussion of climate change politics is excellent. He seizes on the central issue in climate change politics: that those opposed to action (based on value decisions) raise scientific uncertainty as a reason for delay or inaction. In response, scientists focus on reducing or eliminating uncertainty to undermine grounds for opposition to action rather than focusing on the merits of the argument, which is really a values-based decision irrespectie of the science.

The conclusion to the review is very positive:

The basic framework of the book and its discussion of the importance of considering values and uncertainty are strong. the numerous examples he offers are instructive. Anyone engaged in policy, even on the periphery, would benefit from this discussion.

Get your copy today!! Now 20% off at CUP!!

Who Do National Science Academies Speak For?

June 10th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


Today the national science academies of the G8+5 issued a statement on climate change (PDF) advocating a greater pace of action on adaptation and mitigation in response to climate change. We have discussed advocacy by science academies here on various occasions, and in this post I’d like to highlight two issues endorsed by the Academies that are still being debated among scientists and advocates, and ask, who do the academies speak for?

1. Clean coal. Carbon capture and storage is a contested technology, for example, by various environmental groups. However, the national science academies endorse its development and use.

Technologies should be developed and deployed for carbon capture, storage and sequestration (CCS), particularly for emissions from coal which will continue to be a primary energy source for the next 50 years for power and other industrial processes. G8+5 economies can take the lead globally to further develop CCS technologies. This will involve governments and industry working collaboratively to develop the financial and regulatory conditions needed to move CCS forward and international coordination in the development of demonstration plants.

2. Geoengineering research. Similarly, geoengineering research (as a separate issue from actual geoengineering) is a contested issue, for instance the recent Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity proposed a moratorium (receiving broad international support) on certain geoengineering experiments.. The national science academies endorse geoengineering without such reservations.

There is also an opportunity to promote research on approaches which may contribute towards maintaining a stable climate (including so-called geoengineering technologies and reforestation), which would complement our greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

Separate from the merit of the policy recommendations advanced by the academies (and for the record I support both CCS and geoengineering research) is the question of who the national science academies speak for and the basis for their endorsement of particular actions.

Do they represent the scientific community within their countries? Their members? Their executive bodies and leadership?

What of public concerns and those among members of the scientific community about CCS and geoengineering?

If the science academies claim to represent a special interest, then whose interest? If they claim to represent common interests, then on what basis is their advocacy to be viewed as legitimate (e.g., is democratic, consensual, authoritative, elite, etc.)?