Long Live the Linear Model

January 25th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

On Saturday the Washington Post printed two letters in response to my recent op-ed on politics and science advisory committees.

In the first letter, David Apatoff argues, that “No one argues that science can be divorced from politics.” He is wrong in this assertion. The authors of the NRC report my op-ed was a response to and the folks at RealClimate that I’ve been chatting with recently on this subject are among many who suggest otherwise. By the end of his letter Mr. Apatoff seems to provide a contradictory when he emphasizes the possibility of a clean separation of facts and values, “In a democracy, everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.” I am completely in agreement with Apatoff that we should be concerned about the recent trend of the politicization of science.

In the second letter, Gary M. Heiligman writes “True, scientists have political opinions and the advice from government scientists is often politically charged. But the threat of a politically motivated inquisition should not be added to the other barriers to public service.” Mr. Heiliman is shooting the messenger. My op-ed was not calling for the politicization of scientific advisory committees, but for an honest, open-eyed realism to the fact that they are already politicized. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean that it is not there. With respect to the NRC committee that recommended a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to science advisory committees, consider this irony (that didn’t make it into my op-ed) reproduced from a Prometheus post of last July:

“Take a look at the composition of the National Research Council committee currently studying the presidential appointment process. You’ll find some interesting arithmetic. Of the 11 panel members, 9 have been appointed by past presidents to positions where they oversee or provide scientific advice, and one held office as a congressman (and the eleventh person has not been appointed to any position by a president). As chance has it, of these 10 people there are 5 people who have been appointed by Democratic presidents and 4 who have been appointed by Republican presidents, plus one former congressman (Republican). 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans. How convenient! What luck!

Does anyone out there think that this balance occurred for any reason other than explicit consideration of ensuring political balance on this very visible NRC committee?

How would you feel if all members of the NRC committee had served only Republican presidents? Only Democratic presidents? People would no doubt find a problem with such compositions, because political balance fosters the legitimacy of the Committee’s work.

The composition of the panel looking at Presidential appoints reflects in microcosm the impossibility of separating science and politics. To think otherwise is simply unrealistic.

Panel members appointed by former presidents (plus one former member of congress):

John Porter – former Congressman (Republican)

E. Edward David- — Science advisor under President Nixon, a Republican

John P. McTague, Science advisor under President Reagan, a Republican

Louis W. Sullivan, secretary of health and human services, appointed by President Bush, Sr., a Republican

Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor (Republican) and EPA Director appointed by President George W. Bush

Frank Press – Science advisor under President Carter, a Democrat

Richard A. Meserve, Chairman of Nuclear Regulatory Commission, appointed by President Clinton, a Democrat

Ernest J. Moniz, Under Secretary of the Department of Energy, appointed by President Clinton, a Democrat

John H. Moxley III, Assistant Secretary of Defense, appointed by President Carter, a Democrat

Maxine L. Savitz, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Conservation at the Department of Energy, appointed by President Carter, a Democrat”

Comments are closed.