Honest Broker?

Jonathan H. Adler discusses Devaluing Science in the New Atlantic. The topic is The Honest Broker by University of Colorado political scientist Roger A. Pielke, Jr.

The premise has promise:

Pielke fears that when scientists and policymakers claim “science” supports a particular policy agenda, they diminish science’s ability to inform policy development.

Today’s politicization of science is due in part, Pielke argues, to the “scientization” of public policy—attempts to resolve policy disputes through technical expertise rather than politics.

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. The first, the pure scientist, … the science arbiter … the issue advocate … the honest broker

In a pluralistic society, science can still inform policy judgments, but it cannot resolve what are, at their core, disputes about subjective values or preferences.

By dressing arguments in the clothing of science, stealth issue advocates try to move the focus from disputed to widely-shared values.

Unfortunately, he steps in it by equating the decision to invade Iraq and the pre-emptive policy towards terrorism to his own favorite issues.

When scientific or technical information is presented in order to advance a predetermined political agenda, it can undermine the credibility of those who provide the information, as well as those who rely upon it. The overselling of pre-war intelligence about Iraq damaged the credibility of both the Bush administration and U.S. intelligence agencies, and handicapped the administration’s “subsequent ability to make similar decisions by discrediting its own intelligence agencies,” Pielke observes.

This departs from the facts as they are known. The idea that the war was oversold completely ignores a long history of preceding events and decisions. By accepting this “oversold” concept, Pielke does exactly what he is advising against. He shows a predetermined political agenda and destroys his own credibility. This political agenda also shows in suggestions for solution.

The greatest potential for “honest brokering” by scientists, Pielke believes, is in the context of authoritative institutional bodies

Here, the matter of honest brokering is given to a governmental authority and not on the individual scientist. That is a conclusion in a value system. It is also one of the fundamental values behind many political issues. Does the government solve problem or do individuals solve problems? Is socialism, the collective, preferred or is capitalism and individual initiative and responsibility?

Pielke’ fears are some that any reasoning person can easily share. He does not do service to his ideas when he illustrates just the phenomena he castigates in describing his fears and how to approach them.

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