Appropriate Advocacy by a Science Association

May 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

We have at times here at Prometheus taken issue with scientific organizations that take advocacy positions on certain issues. Today we’d like to highlight a situation where the American Association for the Advancement of Science is engaging in advocacy quite appropriate to its mission and expertise – from its press release:

AAAS, the world’s largest general science society, is urging a British teachers association to withdraw a motion calling on its members to boycott Israeli scholars and academic institutions that do not publicly declare their opposition to Israel’s policies in the territories.

The boycott proposal is scheduled for consideration during the 27-29 May annual conference of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, the largest trade union and professional association for lecturers, researchers and others working in higher education and adult education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A vote is expected Monday.

What is the difference between the AAAS advocating for a withdrawal of the British teachers association boycott and, say, our previous criticisms of national science academies arguing for certain climate policies? There are three differences:

1. The boycott is a matter of “policy for science”. As the AAAS observes in its statement,

Free scientific inquiry and associated international collaborations should not be compromised in order to advance a political agenda unrelated to scientific and scholarly matters.

The governance of the scientific enterprise is squarely within the expertise and mission of the AAAS.

2. The statement from the science academies on climate change that I referred to went well beyond issues of the governance of science into issues of the governance of the economy, and even more broadly, the governance of global society. Science, and the expertise contained within science academies, which is a subset of expertise and opinion of relevance to climate change, is not a sufficient basis for arguing one course of action over another on climate change.

3. Climate change does not need more advocacy, but more options. When science academies engage in advocacy they eschew the role of honest brokers of policy options – a role that is sorely needed on climate policy because just about everyone n the skeptic-mainstream debate has decided to take sides rather than work toward creating new options that might break down opposition. In the case of the boycott the AAAS is very clear about its value commitments and the basis for its advocacy. It is not claiming that its position is grounded in science and suggests that its perspective is that of a special interest – that of an association interested on the advancement of science. This is entirely appropriate.

Good for the AAAS!

PS. This is my first blog posting from an airplane. Pretty damn cool.

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