Saturday, October 29, 2011

PLEASE Read Roger Pielke, Jr. on Scientists Trying to Influence Politics

Roger Pielke, Jr. has a wonderful essay on scientists playing at politics. I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Two excerpts:
For instance, this roundtable was apparently motivated by Texas Gov. Rick Perry taking issue with aspects of climate science that many in the research community have long viewed to be settled science, with only a few outliers taking issue. Perry's views prompted rebukes from scientists and fueled reverberations through the blogosphere's echo-chambers for weeks.
Yet in sharp contrast, when President Barack Obama sought to explain the recent Texas drought as a consequence of human-caused climate change, few (if any) of those same scientists found fault with his views, despite the overwhelming consensus (also disputed by a few outlier voices) that individual events cannot be attributed to the human influence on climate because such changes are observed as statistics that play out over several decades and longer.
The selective behavior goes to process as well. When NASA scientist James Hansen was told by the Bush administration that he could speak with the press only when accompanied by agency "minders," the scientific community loudly and quite rightly expressed outrage. Yet, when the Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama recently announced a similar policy, virtually all of those once-outraged voices were mute.
An observer of this selectivity might note that significant parts of the scientific community have a political preference for Democrats over Republicans. For instance, a survey of the membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found only 6 percent registered as Republicans, and almost 10 times more registered as Democrats. Scientists who take on politicians in the name of science risk being perceived as simply using science as a fig leaf of expertise to advance what ultimately are political preferences.
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When scientists go into political battles armed with their expertise and invoking science as the basis for their claims, they may think that they are working to improve the factual basis underlying political debates. This of course is a worthwhile ambition, and to the extent such efforts are successful, they will help to improve the quality of policy discussion.
But if scientists are not mindful of the pitfalls that accompany their efforts to insert themselves into the bright glare of political campaigns, they may find that rather than making politics more scientific, they have instead made science more political. Prominent scientists and leading scientific organizations face much greater risks in this regard than do rank and file scientists. No matter how well intentioned, actions that exacerbate the politicization of science diminish both our science and our politics.

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