Archive for October, 2004

UCSD Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Science Studies

October 29th, 2004

Posted by: admin

The UCSD Science Studies Program invites applications for a one-year postdoctoral fellowship as part of an NSF Research and Training Grant in “Proof, Persuasion and Policy.” We welcome candidates in any field represented in our program (history, philosophy, sociology, communication) whose research is relevant to the theme of the grant, particularly those whose work falls in one or more of the following areas: models and prediction, methodology of the social sciences, and disease and health. The fellow will participate in the Program’s weekly colloquium, teach or co-teach one course, help organize a workshop at the end of the year, and contribute to the intellectual life and activities of the program. Applicants must have completed Ph.D. before beginning their fellowship. The stipend is $40,200, plus health and other fringe benefits. For information on the UCSD Science Studies Program, and the “Proof, Persuasion, and Policy” initiative, see:

UCSD is an AA/EOE. Scholars who are women, minorities, veterans, and/or people with disabilities are especially encouraged to apply. Applicants who are not United States citizens should state their immigration status at the time of their application. Please send a detailed letter of application, c.v., and placement file or three letters of reference, to Ms. Dawn Murphy, Science Studies Program, MC 0104, University of California-San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0104. Review of applications will begin January 1, 2005 and continue until the position is filled.

Follow Up on CRS on DQA

October 29th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Earlier this month we discussed a Congressional Research Service Report on the Data Quality Act (DQA, also called the Information Quality Act – IQA).

The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (CRE) a long-time champion of the DQA, finds fault. in the CRS discussion of the DQA’s legislative history. The CRE discussion includes this summary:

“The [CRS] report states without any caveat whatsoever:

“There were no hearings or debates on this provision and no committee reports were filed. As noted previously, the language was inserted as Section 515 of the more than 700-page Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001.”

This statement is inaccurate, misleading and not supported by the record of a five year Congressional debate. The Congressional debate surrounding passage of the DQA is presented in painstaking detail in the following sections of this note. All of the source material has been on the CRE website for a number of years.”

You can read the CRE discussion in full here.

Science Press Releases, Science Headlines

October 29th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

NASA’s David Morrison has a thoughtful opinion on the pressures that science agencies place upon themselves to get news coverage. He writes:

“Many observers of the science press have noted an increasing tendency for both press releases and printed stories about science topics to exaggerate the uniqueness and impact of new research. The writer of a press release does this to increase the probability that the media will cover the story, and the media reporter will go along with this hyperbole or perhaps expand it further in order to get the story approved for publication by editors or other gatekeepers.”

He observes that when this occurs it can lead to back and forth claims among different scientists:

“The coverage can produce a whipsaw effect, with different scientists successively emphasizing apparently contradictory results. Often, each story is discussed with little reference to the context or possible mitigating evidence that should soften the conclusions and make them more tentative. This is not intended as a general criticism of science reporting. There are many excellent science journalists who understand the issues and provide well-reasoned discussions of context for news stories.”

Here is a good example of an exaggerated press release, which does not even refer to new research, and from Harvard no less:

Problem Tied to Rising Sea Temperatures From Trapped Greenhouse Gases; Trend Portends More Storm Damage Costs for FL, AL, LA, TX, NC and SC.

And here is a place where you can browse many science-related press releases.

A Report Card for President Bush’s Science Policies

October 28th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Earlier this week Democrats on the House Science Committee issued a “report card” on President Bush’s and the Republican-controlled Congress’ science policies. Not surprisingly, the Democrats give the President a “D.” A passing grade, but not by much. Here is how the report card looks:

“The report, entitled Science and Technology: The Untapped American Resource, describes Democratic priorities in these areas, as well as how Republicans in the Administration and Congress have undercut scientific integrity, starved scientific funding, and failed to create effective S&T policy in eight key areas:

*Supporting Technological Innovation to Create Good-Paying Jobs – Republicans have cut key programs which assist small businesses in meeting today’s technological challenges. Grade: F

*Leadership in Manufacturing – The nation’s manufacturers have no effective advocate in the Bush Administration. Grade: F

*Being Good Stewards of the Nation’s Space Program – The civilian space program has been dogged by indecision, false starts, and financial mismanagement. Grade: C-

*The Lack of Scientific Integrity – The use of science in setting health and environmental policy has been corrupted. Grade: D

*Reducing our Dependence on Foreign Oil – Republicans have failed to enact meaningful legislation to deal with energy dependence and record oil prices. Grade: C-

*Securing Cyberspace – There is no effective advocate in the Bush Administration for securing the computer networks which are the backbone of much of our Nation’s economy and safety. Grade: D

*Protecting the Right to Vote: Standards for Voting Technologies – The Administration has ignored a 2002 law insuring the reliability of voting machines. Grade: F

*The Future of American Science and Technology – Because of Republicans’ fiscal irresponsibility, funding prospects for science and technology programs over the next five years looks bleak. Grade: D”

You can access the whole report here (in PDF).

Two quick comments on the report:

1) A “C-”on space policy? Grade inflation at work here it seems. Undoubtedly this is not an “F” because the Congressional Democrats are as wrapped up in responsibility as Congressional Republicans for NASA’s recent failures and current predicament.

2) The grade of “D” on “The Future of American Science and Technology” and accompanying explanation does a better job than most partisan analyses of placing responsibility for the relatively dismal projections of future funding for science and technology with larger decisions made about the federal budget, and not with decisions made specifically about research and development. However, if the report were to have given the Bush Administration a grade simply for the amount of past funding, it would have had to be an “A” given the enormous growth in federal resources devoted to science and technology. Of course an “A” in the magnitude of expenditures is not the same as an “A” in the substance of those expenditures!

Read the whole report here (in PDF).

More on Presidential Advisory Committees

October 27th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Yesterday Representative Brian Baird (D-WA) sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking for a Justice Department investigation into allegations that the Bush Administration violated the law when appointing some members to presidential science advisory panels. The allegations seem to hinge on whether or not prospective candidates to the advisory panels were asked about their political affiliation.

Baird’s letter states:

“In a letter report to me from the General Counsel of GAO, their characterization of the law surrounding the Federal Advisory Committee process suggests that the law has been broken in at least two cases at the Department of Health and Human Services. In both cases, there were press reports from scientific experts contacted by HHS officials in which those experts reported they were asked about their political affiliation or asked political litmus test questions as part of the vetting process for composing advisory panels… The questions were coming from an official in the HHS Office of White House liaison – a strange office in which to center efforts to put together experts on meaty, difficult scientific issues.

GAO Counsel notes that the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 201 et. seq. prohibits agencies from using political affiliation in selecting members for advisory committees. This law provides the legal underpinning for both the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research. In both cases there have been reports of political affiliation or values being used as a filter by political appointees at HHS.”

Baird’s letter is based on a GAO letter report prepared at his request on the legality of asking prospective advisory panel members about their affiliations.

My reading of the GAO report, and note that I am no lawyer, suggests the following conclusions:


Sarewitz on California Proposition 71

October 26th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In yesterday’s Los Angeles Time, ASU’s Dan Sarewitz makes the case that issues of science policy ought to trump other considerations in the debate over Proposition 71, a citizen ballot initiative that, among other things, proposes to create a $3 billion fund for stem cell research. Sarewitz observes:

“Proposition 71 would put stem cell research out of the reach of democracy — in a move that would seriously undermine the unwritten social contract that exists between government and science in this country… underpinning this contract is an understanding that scientists are accountable not just to themselves but to society, to democratic processes and, ultimately, to the public will. This core of public accountability has been good for science and for society in three important ways. First, it maintains public trust in science through transparency of the legislative process… Second, it ensures that science responds to changing public interests and values… Third, and perhaps most important, democratic accountability protects the public and the public interest from potential abuses… The last 50 years of rapidly advancing American science shows us that democracy and science can fruitfully coexist, even if the relationship is sometimes contentious. If Californians want to fund stem cell research, they could do so through legislation that preserves the balance between scientific autonomy and democratic values by providing for annual appropriation of funds and accountability to elected officials rather than vested interests. Democracy is hard, but it deserves our protection more than anything else. Even more than science.”

Sarewitz’s argument raises broader questions about the role of citizen initiatives in the context of highly complex issues with profound and long-lasting impacts. On the positive side citizen initiatives allow for individuals to participate directly in the selection of specific policies. But on the negative side the initiative process is essentially a binary process – take or leave the initiative that is presented. There is no give and take compromising that is characteristic of legislating. The ballot initiative process is a funny one, because if you put any option up for a vote, people will invariably take sides. But Sarewitz reminds us that it is important to recognize that sometimes we should take a perspective that allows us to see beyond the “yes or no” and look for a third way.

More on Hurricanes and Climate Change

October 25th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

For some reason some members of the scientific community are pushing hard through the media to allege a direct connection between the Florida hurricanes of 2004 and human-caused climate change, so we’re going to revisit the topic (yet) again. Examples include here and here and here and here and here). This organized effort seems quite odd to me for two reasons:

1) There is a strong scientific consensus that if greenhouse gas emissions have an effect on hurricanes, these effects will be quite small as compared to the observed variability in hurricane frequencies and intensities. (See the primer below.)

2) There is overwhelming evidence that the most significant factor in trends in and projections of the damages associated with hurricane impacts is societal vulnerability to those impacts. (See this post and this post.)

One obvious reason for a group of scientists to invoke via the media a connection between this year’s storms and climate change is part of a strategy of political advocacy in support of greenhouse gas reductions. If the issue was simply scientific, then I’d assume that the scientists would just battle their differences out on the pages of peer-reviewed journals, far from the public eye. But the great irony here is that those who invoke the modulation of future hurricanes as a justification for changes to energy policies to mitigate climate change are their own worst political enemy. Not only do they provide a great opening for criticism of their reasoning and science, they are advocating a policy that simply won’t be effective. There are much, much better ways to deal with the threat of hurricanes than with energy policies. There are also much, much better ways to justify climate mitigation policies than with hurricanes.

Last week my colleague and occasional collaborator Chris Landsea, one of the world’s foremost experts on hurricanes, put together the following short primer on hurricanes and climate change, and I’ve shared it here with his permission:


Bring the Policy Back In

October 21st, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Consider the following imaginary scenario.

NGOs and a few other representatives of the oil and gas industry decide to band together to produce a report on what they see as needed and unnecessary policy actions related to climate change. They put together a nice glossy report with findings and recommendations such as:

*Coal is the fuel of the future, we must mine more.
*CO2 regulations are too costly.
*Climate change will be good for agriculture.

In addition, the report contains some questionable scientific statements and associations. Imagine further that the report contains a preface authored by a prominent scientist who though unpaid for his work lends his name and credibility to the report.

How might that scientist be viewed by the larger community? Answers that come to mind include: “A tool of industry,” “Discredited,” “Biased,” “Political Advocate.” It is likely that in such a scenario that connection of the scientist to the political advocacy efforts of the oil and gas industry would provide considerable grist for opponents of the oil and gas industry, and specifically a basis for highlighting the appearance or reality of a compromised position of the scientist.

Fair enough?

Ok, let’s return to reality and consider a real world case. In this case the NGOs and other groups represent environmental and humanitarian groups that have put together a report (in PDF) on what they see as needed and unnecessary policy actions related to climate change. They put together a nice glossy report with findings and recommendations such as:


Litmus Test Script

October 20th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In yesterday’s New York Times Andy Revkin had a valuable article on current controversies related to the Bush Administration and science. The article discussed “litmus tests” for scientists asked to serve on advisory panels:

“Despite three years of charges that it is remaking scientific and medical advisory panels to favor the goals of industry or social conservatives, the White House has continued to ask some panel nominees not only about their political views, but explicitly whether they support Mr. Bush. One recent candidate was Prof. Sharon L. Smith, an expert on Arctic marine ecology at the University of Miami. On March 12, she received a call from the White House. She had been nominated to take a seat about to open up on the Arctic Research Commission, a panel of presidential appointees that helps shape research on issues in the far north, including the debate over oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The woman calling from the White House office of presidential personnel complimented her résumé, Dr. Smith recalled, then asked the first and – as it turned out – only question: “Do you support the president?” “I was taking notes,” Dr. Smith recalled. “I’m thinking I’ve lost my mind. I was in total shock. I’d never been asked that before.” She responded she was not a fan of Mr. Bush’s economic and foreign policies. “That was the end of the interview,” she said. “I was removed from consideration instantly.””

For any scientist who may wish to serve on a presidential advisory panel when asked but don’t appreciate being asked about their political views or doesn’t necessarily agree with the president’s policies, we here at Prometheus offer up the following script for use when the White House Office of Presidential Personnel (WHOPP) comes calling (and please feel free to imagine the WHOPP serving a President Bush or a President Kerry, the script stays the same).

“WHOPP: Dr. Smith, we are calling to explore the possibility of the president appointing you to serve on the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee on So and Such. Your accomplishments and resume are extremely impressive.

Dr. SMITH: Why thank you. I am pleased to be considered for this important committee.

WHOPP: As part of our process of empanelment we would like to ask you a few questions …

Dr. SMITH: Of course, go right ahead …

WHOPP: First, Do you support the president?

Dr. SMITH: Of course I support the president. As a recipient of many millions of dollars in federal support for my research on this topic of critical national importance over the past many years I strongly believe that scientists have an obligation to support elected officials by helping to connect scientific and technological expertise with the needs of decision making. While the responsibility for deciding on particular courses of action remains with government officials, I do believe that advisory panels can help to provide some insight to those choices. So I would very much value an opportunity to contribute back to the federal government by serving on a presidential advisory panel and supporting the president in this important role.”

We’ve discussed here before that the issue of presidential appointments is much more complicated than asking or not asking about political affiliations. But let’s be honest, any scientist who cannot handle a question about their political leanings in a politic manner probably doesn’t deserve to be on the panel anyway. The option is always available to tell the WHOPP that oppose (or support, as the case may be) the president politically in whatever direct and colorful language that you’d like. But of course for those who express political opposition you’ve then just given the WHOPP a solid basis for removing you from consideration because of concern that YOUR strongly-held political views will interfere with your role on the panel. Ironic, huh? So long as WHOPPs and the like want to bring political considerations explicitly into the empanelment process, we here at Prometheus recommend that scientists of all political persuasions just stick to the script.

A New Essay on Science Funding

October 19th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I’ve got a new essay on science funding online at CSPO in the Perspective part of their website. In the essay I describe how the federal R&D budget is tabulated and what recent data show. I argue that in terms of aggregate funding for R&D we are at the close of a “second golden age” for science and technology (see Figure 1, PDF). In addition, I hope to provide some good evidence as to why the mindless comparison of federal R&D spending to GDP is not a particularly significant measure of government commitment to science and technology (see Figure 2, PDF). A much more meaningful measure is R&D spending as a fraction of discretionary spending: “…R&D funding as a fraction of discretionary spending has increased from 11.3% in 1982 to 14.3% in 2003. Today, R&D is responsible for as large a portion of discretionary expenditures than at any time in the past 22 years.”

In the paper I write, “Of course, science policy should not be about simply “How much?” but “Why?”. However, the S&T community typically focuses narrowly on “how much?” using a three-part strategy to argue for more public sector resources. It claims crisis, even in times of plenty. It calls for balance, to limit intra-disciplinary, intra-agency debates over priorities. And it claims that societal benefits are proportional to funds invested; more funds are equated with more benefit… A focus on aggregate funding, rather than the marginal benefits of adding or cutting funding for particular programs, may prove problematic as R&D funding all but certainly cannot continue to grow at the pace that it has over the past decade, regardless of who occupies the White House, making tough choices within the scientific community inevitable”

Read the whole thing here.