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.

He writes:

. . . in truth, the scientists are bit players in this whole drama. What congressional staffers, civil servants, presidential advisors, journalists, media talking heads, and politicians at all level do is far more significant. Pielke worries that scientists who are not savvy about their role are likely to be used by these players as “stealth issue advocates.” He shouldn’t fret about this; he should accept this.

On this point Smith and I will disagree. However, the review will be useful for many scientists to read to see how completely irrelevant they are seen to be by at least this widely published and senior science policy scholar. Who does Smith recommend policy makers turn to for expert advice instead of scientists? Lobbyists. Smith’s complete lack of concern for and depressing cynicism about the role of science in the policy process, ironically enough, actually reinforces the importance of the focus of The Honest Broker. If scientists want to improve their place in decision making, they aren’t going to get much sympathy or help from folks like Smith.

Unfortunately, Smith’s review is marred by a number of factual errors which suggests that he may not have actually read the book carefully in his haste to talk about what he thinks the book should have been about instead. For example, he suggests that the IPCC actually functions as an “honest broker of policy alternatives” when I clearly explain in the book that the IPCC has a formal mandate not to discuss policy alternatives. In another egregious error, he asserts that I present the role of “honest broker” as a value-free, heroic individual, when in fact I say much the opposite — values are inescapable and honest brokering is best done by diverse committees or organizations. Bizarrely, Smith complains about the “plenty of charts” in the book, however there is only one figure in the entire book! These errors, small and large, leave the review widely missing the mark of constructive engagement.

Smith may believe that scientists are irrelevant, lobbyists can take care of expert advice, and thus my book is unnecessary. However, having spent the past two decades working closely with scientists in scientific institutions, I give them far more credit and importance in decision making.

I’ll end on Smith’s positive comments:

The Honest Broker by Roger A. Pielke Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado, has many strengths, including lucidity, refreshing common sense, and a good instinct for the relevant point in a complex discussion. The author is an experienced observer, and on occasion rises to the level of a wise and reflective commentator on the complex scene of science affairs, maybe even qualifying as the honest broker he admires and whose putative virtues he extols in the volume.

2 Responses to “Bruce L. R. Smith on The Honest Broker”

  1. TokyoTom Says:

    Roger, do you have a link to the review?

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  3. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    No, unfortunately not available as yet, when it is it will be at