Archive for October, 2004

Satellite Reentry Risks

October 18th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In 2001 I helped organize a workshop for NASA on the risks and benefits with allowing its TRMM satellite to reenter in controlled versus uncontrolled fashion. At the time we concluded that while it was clear that risks to people were relatively small, NASA did little more than a back of the envelope calculation to quantify those risks.

Over the weekend a Chinese satellite struck a house upon reentry. Apparently no one was injured. This is not the first time that there has been a close call.

As the National Research Council prepares to convene an expert panel to consider the TRMM reentry options and the more general policies for satellite reentry policy, it will be important to place reentry risk assessments on a more solid basis. (For more on TRMM see this post.)

It’s Time to Clarify the role of AAAS in Policy and Politics

October 15th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is a professional society with a mission, just like its name implies, to “To Advance Science and Innovation Throughout the World for the Benefit of All People.” (Note: I am a member of AAAS and serve on a minor committee.)

Of late I have been wondering about the role of the AAAS in matters of policy and politics that go beyond funding for science. While we should expect AAAS to be a vigorous advocate for increased support for science, I have recently wondered about what AAAS’ sees its role as in political controversies that involve science, e.g., on issues like stem cells, global climate change, cloning, etc.

Some insight on this issue can be found in a 1989 AAAS doicument titled AAAS Policy, Guidelines, and Procedures for Communications with Congress. This document observes,


Job Announcement: CU-Boulder

October 13th, 2004

Posted by: admin

The Department of Political Science and the Environmental Studies Program of the University of Colorado at Boulder invite applications for a jointly rostered, tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant Professor. Preference for candidates interested in globalization or governance issues, but we welcome applications in the field of environmental policy broadly defined. Competitive candidates will be able to demonstrate an active and systematic research agenda and effective teaching. Salary and benefits will be competitive.


Job Opportunity: CSPO

October 13th, 2004

Posted by: admin

The Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO) at Arizona State University (ASU) seeks to fill a new, tenure-track faculty position in the general field of science, technology, and society available for August 2005. This position will likely be filled at the Assistant Professor level, but we will also consider candidates recently promoted to Associate Professor. Qualified candidates will have Doctorate or equivalent in related area, and will have demonstrated research and teaching interests at the intersection of public policy, scientific and technological advance, and social impacts appropriate to rank; evidence of potential in both research and teaching appropriate to rank. Particular areas of specialization are open but could include emerging technologies (nanotechnology; genomics; robotics; etc.), biomedicine and health, social progress indicators, research policy, information technology, technology and development, globalization, etc. Disciplinary approaches are also open but could include political science, economics, anthropology, sociology, communication, history, law, and cultural studies. Experience with policy, public engagement, technology assessment, or other applied areas is a plus. Natural scientists with significant policy research experience will also be considered. The appointment will be split between CSPO and an appropriate disciplinary unit within ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Salary and start-up package very competitive.


On Cherry Picking and Missing the Point

October 12th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In an op-ed for the Scripps-Howard news service 27 September 2004, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas cite the paper by Dan Sarewitz that was part of the special issue on “Science, Policy, and Politics” that I guest co-edit for the journal Environmental Science and Policy. They write:

“An upcoming journal paper in Environmental Science & Policy sheds some light on the distortion of climate science by “consensus” politics. Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University, who was on one panel that authored a 2003 climate report for the National Academies of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC), provides an inside view of the NRC report’s publication process, and details what outsiders may get as “consensus.””

Soon and Baliunas are well known for their political activities opposed to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. In particular they have highlighted the case that the scientific evidence does not justify regulation of emissions of greenhouse gases. As such they have, along with their colleagues and opponents, contributed to the “scientization” of the political controversy on climate change. Here is what Sarewitz has to say about “scientization”:

“Scientization of controversy also undermines the social value of science itself. In the absence of agreed upon values that can inform the articulation of social goals, we cannot recognize the broad range of policy options that might be available to achieve those goals, nor can we possibly know how to prioritize scientific research in support of the goals. Scientific resources end up focused on the meaningless task of reducing uncertainties pertinent to political dispute, rather than addressing societal problems as identified through open political processes.”

So my interpretation of Sarewitz’s paper is that he offers no support for Soon and Baliunas (or, for that matter, their opponents who lean on science) effort to suggest that the “science” compels a particular political outcome. Instead, he is suggesting that we instead need a “third way” on science in politics. A good concise perspective by Sarewitz can be found here.

For Soon and Baliunas to cite Sarewitz in support of their political agenda seems to me to be an example of “cherry-picking” his text and completely missing the main point of his paper.

An Equation for Science in Politics: SM = f(PP)

October 11th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

SM = Scientific Merit
PP = Political Perspective

The September, 2004 issue of Physics Today has an interesting story following up on the recent court decision on the status of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The details of the case itself are interesting (we posted on this here and here), however I’d like to highlight a few passages from the story on how opponents on various sides of the issue characterize science.

The story notes how an opponent to Yucca Mountain characterizes the court’s ruling:

“Out in Nevada, where Yucca Mountain is located, State Attorney General Brian Sandoval all but pronounced the project dead, saying, “Simply put, Yucca is stopped in its tracks because the court recognizes that the project isn’t rooted in sound science.””

It then notes how a proponent characterizes the same science:

“Back in Washington, DC, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the organization that represents the nuclear industry, was expressing confidence that DOE would be able to meet the “eventual standard” of radiation safety for Yucca and that “the licensing process for the repository will continue without interruption or delay.” NEI added that the “scientific basis for the facility . . . is still sound today.””

Then the Physics Today article comes to this conclusion:

“So the science is sound or it isn’t, depending on whether you are in favor of or opposed to the federal government’s plans to move some 77 000 tons of high-level radioactive waste into the mountain, beginning in 2010.”

In other words one’s perspective on the science is a function of one’s political views. One reaction to this situation, which is very common today in contested issues with a scientific element, has been to call for “more science” as a way to find unassailable proof or factual truth. But what if science does not provide a way out of difficult, contentious, and political issues like Yucca Mountain (or climate change or genetic modification, etc. etc.) and in fact makes things worse?

Job Opportunity

October 11th, 2004

Posted by: admin

*** Job Opportunities in Washington, DC ***
Policy Assistant/Analyst, Environment and Energy Study Institute

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting environmentally sustainable societies, seeks a full-time Policy Program Assistant. Applicants should possess strong writing and verbal skills, ability to work well in teams or independently, strong computer skills (database & website), ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure, be a self-started, able to juggle multiple tasks, and committed to the environment.

Bachelor’s degree (environmental science or policy preferred) and 2 years experience required. Experience in transportation, biofuels, renewable energy and/or on Capitol Hill desired.

Salary mid-20s to low 30s, depending on experience; excellent benefits; growth potential.

Please send cover letter, resume and a short writing sample either via mail, fax or e-mail to:

Employment, EESI,
122 C St., NW, Suite 630
Washington, D.C. 20001
fax: 202-628-1825
No phone calls please.

If not Dominance, then What?

October 8th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the AAAS, is the author of the lead Editorial in this week’s Science, titled “U.S. Science Dominance is the Wrong Issue.” Leshner comments:

“…globalization of science is cause for celebration. Better still, more countries are making productive investments in their science infrastructures, and this portends well for the future of all humankind. At the same time, recent weeks have seen strident laments from many American quarters, to the effect that the United States may be losing its longstanding global preeminence in science. Some of that concern was triggered when the U.S. National Science Board issued its Science and Engineering Indicators, 2004 report last May. It showed that the United States is no longer the largest producer of scientific information. The European Union is outpacing the United States in the total number of papers published. Moreover, the U.S. share of major science prizes has decreased significantly over the past decade. For those Americans who take an overly nationalistic view of the scientific enterprise, this might be bad news. From a more global viewpoint, however, these facts signal a long-awaited and very positive trend: Better and better science is being done all over the world.”

Leshner concludes: “The United States should not be wasting energy right now on the question of its global scientific dominance.” This is a position we’ve commented on occasionally here at Prometheus (e.g., here and here).

Leshner’s posits that one of the real problems facing U.S. science is … money! He writes, “How can we recruit the best young people to science careers if they foresee a grim funding picture for their future work?” Of course, it might be possible to argue that $130 billion in funding might still allow the recruitment of a few of the best young people. (Note: Leshner also laments the “overlay of politics, ideology, and religious conviction on the U.S. climate for science.”)

What Leshner’s argument fails to acknowledge is that most of the concern about the U.S. losing its global dominance in science is expressed as a justification for increasing science budgets. (Some examples of such arguments, from many, can be found here and here and here.) So when Leshner argues that we should be less concerned with global dominance and more concerned with budgets, he is taking away one of the key arguments used by advocates who support more federal funding for science and technology.

As Leshner takes away one of the usual justifications for increasing science budgets he does not tell us why instead we should be concerned about current projections on decreasing funds for science. Of course, such projections say nothing about science per se but reflect the fact of projected decreasing funds for just about every area of discretionary government spending. Leshner focuses our attention on the question of “How much?” but not “Why?”

CRS report on DQA

October 8th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Congressional Research Service has a new report out on the Data Quality Act (or as the CRS calls it the Information Quality Act (IQA). The report includes the following ‘Concluding Observations”:

“The determination of whether agencies’ actions are subject to judicial review under the IQA will clearly have a major effect on the act’s implementation. However, even in the absence of judicial review, the IQA can still have a significant impact on federal agencies and their information dissemination activities. OMB’s report on the implementation of the act during FY2003 provided numerous examples of agencies changing their policies and publications in response to administrative requests for correction from affected parties. Those administratively driven policy changes have continued after the one-year period covered by OMB’s report. For example, shortly after the June 2004 court case and DOJ brief, the National Institute on Aging within the National Institutes of Health reportedly agreed to revise its website and printed publications, eliminating statements indicating that smokeless tobacco products are no less safe than cigarettes. The change was reportedly a direct result of an IQA correction request filed by the National Legal and Policy Center. The IQA may also be having an effect on information dissemination in the states. The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness has reportedly drafted and promoted a model state version of the act that is derived from the federal legislation and the OMB guidelines. The State of Wisconsin has adopted data quality legislation, and other states are reportedly planning to do so.”

The report also suggests a number of “Possible Improvements and Modifications.”

For anyone interested in the role of information in decision making in federal agencies, the report is an excellent summary of where things stand in the experiment that is the DQA.

Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program

October 7th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Author: Rad Byerly

CHRISTINE MIRZAYAN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY GRADUATE FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM, WASHINGTON, D.C. This Graduate Fellowship Program of the National Academies-consisting of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council-is designed to engage graduate and postdoctoral students in science and technology policy and to familiarize them with the interactions among science, technology, and government. As a result, students in the fields of science, engineering, medicine, veterinary medicine, business, and law develop essential skills different from those attained in academia, which will help them make the transition from being a graduate student to a professional. We are pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for our 2005 program. This year, the program will comprise three, ten-week sessions:

Winter: January 10 through March 18
Summer: June 6 through August 12
Fall: September 12 through November 18

To apply, candidates should submit an application and request that a mentor fill out a reference form. Both forms are available on the Web. The deadline for applications is November 1 for the Winter program, March 1 for the Summer program, and June 1 for the Fall program. Candidates may apply to all three programs concurrently. Additional details about the program and how to join our mailing list are also available on the Web site. Questions should be directed to:

Here is what four alumni said about the program: