Too much advocacy? Scientists and public policy

  • Article by: GREG BREINING
  • Updated: September 9, 2012 - 1:46 PM

By advocating social policy positions, scientists may be forfeiting their credibility, instead becoming just ordinary folks with opinions.

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cootoriginalSep. 8, 12 6:39 PM

Perhaps scientists would be better served by offering up position papers backed by the scientific community. Similar to medical societies offering up their positions on certain tests or diseases. The evidence would be presented in a palatable measure for the public and not spun by individuals. This doesn't guarantee a beat-down by a political opponent, but may help drive the discussion, especially if a spokesman for the science is made available. Of course the medical community occasionally gets beaten down--remember the mammogram recommendations getting beaten down by susie komen org?

pumiceSep. 8, 12 6:59 PM

From the article: "But by advocating policy positions -- overtly or by stealth -- scientists may be forfeiting their privileged positions as scientists and becoming just ordinary guys with opinions, and in the process, undercutting the credibility of their scientific work." Hmmmmm. No one with expertise should share his/her expertise with the public, and no one with expertise should give policy advice to policy makers? Kind of a conundrum.

borisbadenovSep. 8, 12 8:22 PM

Every scientist paid by the government is biased. They will do whatever necessary to keep the funds coming by supporting the governments position. The old saying "you don't bite the hand that feeds you" could never be more true.

furguson11Sep. 8, 12 9:00 PM

I like science, but I'd also like a nickel for every time I've heard a statement that was dis-proven later.

walleyewaltSep. 8, 12 9:20 PM

I agree that in most instances scientists should not let their opinions bleed into the presentation of their findings, but climate change is a unique case. The VAST majority of climate scientists have concluded that the rise in global temperature is caused by human-driven increased carbon emissions, but then they are basically called liars as their findings are denied in the name of profit, erroneously turning the matter into a political issue. How could scientists NOT react loudly to such propaganda? If there is very strong scientific evidence which points to an obvious direction public policy should go, and unscientific entities challenge this near-concensus with fear mongering and bribery, then not only should scientists speak out, they MUST speak out. I have yet to hear a reason that is anywhere close to being even mildly convincing which backs the claim that scientists "invented" global warming . What do scientists have to gain? What?!!?

orpheus90Sep. 8, 12 9:26 PM

Well, at least Mr. Breining acknowledges the political backdrop that climate scientists are operating against, namely the pervasive and well-funded disinformation campaigns orchestrated by corporate fossil fuel interests intended to distort the facts and promote skepticism and denialism. Where Mr. Breining fails here is his unwillingness to examine why scientists are being forced to step forward with direct appeals to the public. The concern with climate isn't some mere philosophic problem to be indulgently pondered in the ivory tower salons of academia. Global warming is real, the corrosive effects of its encroachment measurable and, most important, there's only a short window of opportunity to act before we pass the tipping point. Scientists act because our politicians won't and the public remains confused and complacent. In other words, the house is on fire, Mr. Breining, and we're well past the time for clinically detached explanations of why the house is on fire. There's an emergency and we need to call 911.

walleyewaltSep. 8, 12 9:26 PM

furguson11: "I like science, but I'd also like a nickel for every time I've heard a statement that was dis-proven later." Well if you had a nickel for every scientific finding that HASN'T been disproven, you would be richer than Gates and Buffet combined. How about diseases that have been cured or are treatable now? How about all the science that goes into making your car, TV, and computer? How about the science that puts men into space? It's good to have some skepticism about science, but it's not good to BE skeptical about science.

walleyewaltSep. 8, 12 9:33 PM

borisbadenov: "Every scientist paid by the government is biased. They will do whatever necessary to keep the funds coming by supporting the governments position. The old saying "you don't bite the hand that feeds you" could never be more true." What do you think about the scientists on the oil company payrolls? Sure are some independent thinkers there. What about cancer researchers? Remind me again what the government's position on cancer is again? Are they for or against it? What is the government's position on quantum physics? How must a physicist make sure he or she "agrees" with the government. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water just because you don't like parts of our government.

roymercerSep. 9, 1212:33 AM

Why are so many scientists suing to keep their data private? Seems to me that good science and analysis stands up to other analyses ... unless they're scared of other analyses.

treddleSep. 9, 1212:56 AM

Right now we know and everybody agrees the climate is changing globally. Right now we know and everybody agrees the change is caused by human activity. We dont know how much it will change. We dont know if it will find a new normal or if it will become a Venus like greenhouse. For the record, Humans still can't live anywhere other than earth. The climate probably [?] will not significantly change before I am dead in 25 - 30 years. It's not that I dont care what happens to your children, I am not the one that will have to feed them.


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