Bridges - Bridges

Self-Segregation of Scientists by Political Predispositions

bridges vol. 11, September 2006 / Pielke's Perspective

by Roger A. Pielke, Jr.


{enclose vol.11_Pielke.mp3}

Pielke_captionPielke_captionDaniel Sarewitz has observed that the richness of science often provides an "excess of objectivity" in politicized debates. What he means is that for a wide range of contested policy issues there exists a diversity of scientific disciplines, methods, data, and analyses that lead to a wide range of research results. This intellectual diversity is then available to be selectively invoked by political advocates in support of their pre-existing agendas. Sarewitz describes the consequences as follows:

Rather than resolving political debate, science often becomes ammunition in partisan squabbling, mobilized selectively by contending sides to bolster their positions. Because science is highly valued as a source of reliable information, disputants look to science to help legitimate their interests. In such cases, the scientific experts on each side of the controversy effectively cancel each other out, and the more powerful political or economic interests prevail, just as they would have without the science.

The net result is that science often contributes very little to policy debate aside from ammunition for entrenched interests. The idea that scientists "cancel each other out" is problematic for those like me who think that science has much to offer policy makers in support of their decision making.


Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.