Role of scientists in society

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Published on: October 7, 2007

Pielke spells out the choices scientists must make if they wish “to play a positive role in policy and politics and contribute to the sustainability of the scientific process.” He lists four “idealized roles” scientists can adopt, each of which reflects assumptions about the nature of science and democratic policymaking.

1. The pure scientist, is concerned with science for its own sake and seeks only to uncover scientific truths, regardless of their policy implications. Such a scientist has no direct connection with the policymaking process; he is content to remain cloistered in his lab while others hash out policy.

2. The second idealized role for scientists in policymaking is less detached: the science arbiter is a bit more engaged with the practical world, providing answers to policymakers’ scientific questions. He wants to ensure that science is relevant to policymaking, but in a disinterested way. He does not wish to influence the direction of policy; it is enough to know that policymakers will make decisions informed by accurate scientific assessments.

3. The third role in Pielke’s typology is the issue advocate, who pays more direct attention to policy, using science as a tool to move it in the direction he prefers. He may work for an overt advocacy organization, such as a think tank, trade association, or environmental activist group, or his advocacy may be more covert. In either case, he seeks to marshal scientific evidence and arguments in support of a specific cause.

4. Finally, the honest broker is attentive to policy alternatives but seeks to inform policy, not direct it. “The defining characteristic of the honest broker of policy alternatives,” Pielke explains, “is an effort to expand (or at least clarify) the scope of choice for decision-making in a way that allows for the decision-maker to reduce choice based on his or her own preferences and values.” The honest broker’s aim is not to dictate policy outcomes but to ensure that policy choices are made with an understanding of the likely consequences and relevant tradeoffs. Like the issue advocate, the honest broker explicitly engages in the decision-making process, but unlike the issue advocate, the honest broker has no stake or stated interest in the outcome.

This is based on the book:
The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science and Policy in Politics

Roger A. Pielke, Jr.
Cambridge 2007

More review and comments on this book here: [The Link]

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