A Friday Hodgepodge

January 28th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

With all of the hullabaloo about politics and the IPCC, we have not had a chance this week to post on other issues of science policy. But even so, if you make it to the bottom you’ll see that we close this week where we started.

Jessie C. Gruman of the Center for the Advancement of Health writes in a letter in this week’s Science, ” … there is no reason to believe that the behavior of the [Bush] administration that has so perturbed the scientific community will change in the coming years. Therefore, it is critical that scientists organize, choose their battles carefully, and guard against self-serving advocacy that undermines science as an objective tool to guide decisions about medicine, public health, safety, the environment, economic development, and national security.” In addition to watch dogging the Bush Administration, certainly effort well spent, the scientific community might also devote some effort to guarding against self-serving advocacy. This is important because lack of attention to the latter might make it harder to do the former.

In a column in last Sunday’s New York Times, James Fallows discusses the technology policies of the Bush Administration writing, “In its first term, the Bush team made a few important pro-technology choices. Over the next year it will signal whether it intends to stand by them.” Fallows highlights the continuing debate about the roles of the public and private sectors in weather services as one area of technology policy where the Bush Administration could make a mark. (In 2001, I made a similar argument.) Fallows oversimplifies the issue however. The current imbroglio over weather services has a 50 year history and current policies have little to do with the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration could yet make a mark on this issue, but understanding the issues at stake and why it matters are necessary first steps. A primer on the issue can be found here.

There is a second point to be made about Fallows’ column. In it he quotes Barry Lee Myers, executive vice president of AccuWeather, a leading commercial weather services firm long at odds with the National Weather Service, “”We feel that they spend a lot of their funding and attention on duplicating products and services that already exist in the private sector, And they are not spending the kind of time and effort that is needed on catastrophic issues that involve lives and property, which I think is really their true function.” He added that the weather service might have done a better, faster job of warning about the southern Asian tsunami if it had not been distracted in this way.” This is a cheap shot by Myers.

At SciDev.net David Dickson has (yet another) thoughtful column titled, “Can Africa pioneer a new way of doing science?”. In it he writes, ” science and technology must not be seen by policy-makers as determinants of development, in the sense of encouraging the idea greater investment in science and technology will somehow lead automatically to social and economic progress… Rather, both must be seen, as Keith Bezanson and Geoff Oldham argued in this editorial column two weeks ago, as components of broader ’systems of innovation’, in which other elements, ranging from intellectual property laws to strengthened university-industry links, have just as essential a role to play.” Dickson describes the merits of “Mode 2″ science (versus the pitfalls of “Mode 1″) and provides a link to a paper (PDF) by Nowoty et al. on Mode 2. It is all well worth reading.

The February 2005 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Policy arrived this week and in it is a paper by Nathaniel Logar and Leslie Kaas Pollock titled, “Transgenic fish: is a new policy framework necessary for a new technology?” According to their abstract, “This paper examines the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval process for transgenic fish and finds if it will likely prohibit effective regulation of this fish, consequently risking the environmental health of aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, the closed-door process causes three problems: (1) concerned interests do not have access to information and are thus forced to rely on speculation, (2) the process is unable to take into account the values of the public and (3) any opportunity for meaningful public comment on environmental impacts is lost. We propose that policy makers consider creating a regulatory framework that is capable of addressing the unique environmental risks posed by transgenic fish and incorporating public participation into the process.” Not only is this a good paper but it happens to have originated as a term paper in one of my graduate seminars a few years ago. Nat and Leslie are students in our graduate program in environmental studies. Congrats Nat and Leslie!!

And finally, this week’s Science adds a bit more detail to the Landsea/IPCC brouhaha in a news story,

“In an e-mail to Science, IPCC Secretary-General R. K. Pachauri repeated what he had told Landsea: “In their own individual rights, [IPCC authors] are free to express their views on any subject, including various aspects of climate change.” Trenberth told Science that “it’s ridiculous to suggest I [was] representing the IPCC”; his role as an author was mentioned during the October event merely as “part of my credentials.” He also defended his view that changing sea conditions could be contributing to greater hurricane intensity.”

It seems a bit precious for the IPCC to tacitly condone the use of IPCC affiliation as part of scientists credentials while at the same giving those same scientists license to say whatever they want on climate change. The IPCC should either ask scientists to refrain from using their IPCC affiliation when making scientific claims that are inconsistent with the IPCC, or conversely, when scientists use their IPCC affiliation to burnish their credentials they should be sure to clearly identify the IPCC’s position on the topic being discussed. To do otherwise is to invite the politicization of the IPCC process.

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