Unversity of Colorado poliitcal scientist and Prometheus science policy blogmeister, Roger Pielke, Jr. will shortly be testifying today before the House Science and Technology Committee on the politicization of science. His conclusion? It's inevitable. To wit:
My main point today is that politics and science cannot in practice be separated. Consequently, policies for the production, promotion, and use of information in decision making should be based on the realities of science in politics, and not on the mistaken impression that they can somehow be kept separate. Efforts to separate them will in most case only contribute to the pathological politicization of science.
Pielke then offers a vignette of politicized science where a prominent scientist despaired:
…the relationship between government and scientists has been "gravely damaged" because the government has given the impression that it would "exclude anyone who does not conform to the judgment of those who in one way or another have acquired authority."
Climate change? Stem cells? Missile defense? Nope.
Answer: The nuclear test ban debate in the 1950s & 1960s.
The scientsts concerned? Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, and Vannevar Bush.
Still it seems possible to me that relatively unvarnished scientific conclusions can be given to the public and policymakers. For instance, a scientist might say that his computer model suggests that there is a a greater than 50 percent chance that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will warm the globe by 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. However, that being said and assuming it's true, that does not tell policymakers and the public necessarily what to do about it. Determining what to do is a messy balance of economics, competing interests, culture, institutional capacity and so forth. That's politics and not science.
Pielke's oral testimony here .
Heads up: The Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change will be issuing its Fourth Assessment Report on the scientific basis of climate change this Friday.