Andrew Rosenberg on scientists as policy facilitators

"Many academics look askance at politics, as though there might be something unseemly about bringing their research to bear on problems of the day."

- Andrew A. Rosenberg, writing in Nature

Rosenberg, in a review of The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics by Roger Pielke Jr., begs to differ with its author that impassioned scientific support of a single issue tends to be counterproductive.

In his book, Pielke makes a case that the so-called 'issue advocate', a scientist who takes a clear position and argues for specific policy action, is more likely to be blinded by enthusiasm and succumb to bias. Instead, the book favors the 'honest broker' approach, in which the scientist actively engages in the policy process by weighing options scientifically and helping policy-makers to choose which is best.

But Rosenberg, a professor of Natural Resources at the University of New Hampshire, while not denying that the honest broker approach is valuable, thinks that issue advocacy has had a “hugely positive effect” on policy. Most scientists who play this role, he maintains, rely on scientific results and arguments that are just as rigorous as those employed for their own research. The challenge, he says, is to separate which of your arguments “stem solely from the science, and which from your views as a citizen.”

Both men seem to be in agreement about the relative usefulness of one class: the 'pure scientist', who refuses to engage altogether. This, says Rosenberg, is “the colleague who shakes their head ruefully because the policy-makers were foolish enough not to read his or her recent papers.”

You can read the entire book review here, and the book itself is available from Amazon.