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:

Far more important is this: Science is a way of governing, not just something to be governed. Science offers a methodology and philosophy rooted in evidence, kept in check by persistent inquiry, and bounded by the constraints of a self-critical and rigorous method. Science is a lens through which we can and should visualize and solve complex problems, organize government and multilateral bodies, establish international alliances, inspire national pride, restore positive feelings about America around the globe, embolden democracy, and ultimately, lead the world. More than anything, what this lens offers the next administration is a limitless capacity to handle all that comes its way, no matter how complex or unanticipated.

(The embedded links are in the original endorsement, and connect you to pieces which the editors seem to think support or at least speak to their arguments.  I’m not as persuaded by them as the editors were, but that’s another side issue about this endorsement.)

I have a real problem with the implied suggestion that scientific thinking should dictate policy or political decisions.  Inform them, absolutely, but there are way too many other, legitimate concerns for a polity to consider when it makes decisions about what to do.  All of the processes described in the paragraph quoted above can be informed by scientific processes, but there are values embedded within each of those processes – what solutions are sought, what the organizations and alliances are intended to do, what a nation should be proud of, what the world should be led about or to, etc.  Encouraging the use of scientific thinking and the rational thought usually associated with it is fine.  By ignoring the values inherent in politics and policy, the editors of SEED are under the impression that they are encouraging, in Roger’s terms, Honest Brokers, the editors are really being issue advocates.

The problem in this is not in being issue advocates, it’s in being disingenuous about it.  It is a perfectly acceptable value choice to advance the kind of things that are found in this endorsement – and often in the pages of SEED.  The tone of the piece, implying a value-free (and presumably uncrazy) governance, hides the value choice within and runs the risk that other ascientific values are subsumed under the umbrella of science and undercut the reputation that allows science to maintain a standard of objectivity that must be constantly questioned and refined.

4 Responses to “Seed Issues Presidential Endorsement; Editors Should Read The Honest Broker

  1. stan Says:

    So science can tell us the appropriate standard for the burden of proof in seeking an injunction? Or the proper level of welfare payments? Science resolves whether to require a picture ID to vote or the advisability of same day registration? The relative merits of parlimentary or republican government is found in science?!

    SEED’s reasoning is so bad it isn’t worth the effort to laugh at it.

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  3. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    We’ve received by email a request for your thoughts on Nature’s endorsement:

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  5. Jim Clarke Says:

    Since most science is now funded by government, making the argument that science can be totally objective when dealing with government problems is delusional at best. Even if science was funded by a magical, eternal spring of grants, it would still have a cultural bias not disimilar from the culture at large, because science is made of scientist who, contrary to what some people may think, live in the real world with the rest of humanity. My guess is that the endorsement is actually based on which candidate is likely to dole out the most funds for research and has little to do with the purity of scientific investigation.

    It kind of makes my case when scientists make irrational arguments about the rationality of science.

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  7. David Bruggeman Says:

    If it’s okay, I’ll address the Nature endorsement in a separate post.