Shocked, Shocked to Discover that the Politicization of Science is Going on Here!


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.

NEXT: More Wolves Raised by Wolves

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Hey, man, everybody’s doing it, so what’s the big deal?

    Sounds like my left-wing college professors: we’re not politicizing literature. Literature is inherently political, so why shouldn’t we take up the fight for the good guys?

  2. Science has always had politics in it, so today’s accusations aren’t surprising or shocking. Still we should minimize the politics in academia as a matter of intelectual honesty. Readers should also be aware of the politics, so they critically analyze articles themselves instead of relying on the academic seal of approval.

  3. See The Myth of Scientific Public Policy by Robert L. Formaini.

  4. Oppenheimer was a Communist.

  5. The problem with science isn’t politicization, but economic bias.

    Scientists will generate data to support whatever proposition they perceive will lead them to making the most money over the long haul. Same as with lawyers. The thing is: ppl know lawyers do that, but think scientists somehow don’t.

    They do, peer review notwithstanding.

  6. Tehre is a simple way to de-politicize science.

    Get the government out of funding scientific research!

    Nobody bitches about the politicization of shoe manufacture or greeting card designs. Why? Because people bitch when their money is spent on things that they don’t agree with. That’s what ‘politicization’ is.

  7. tarran:

    You’d also have to get government out of the public-policy-informed-by-science business, and that is a lot harder.

    Science is science and policy is policy. We shouldn’t care what politicians say about science and we shouldn’t care what scientists say about policy.

    As far as what gets heard, more speech is better than any alternative. It is the onus of anyone with a position to make that position compelling, especially if there is a preferred policy to be advanced. I get that people are afraid of the distorting power of the vocal minority in areas like evolution and climate science, but the burden has to be on the guy calling for action. If not, we are being dictated to by something abstract like ‘consensus’, which can change.

  8. “Science is science and policy is policy. We shouldn’t care what politicians say about science and we shouldn’t care what scientists say about policy.”

    We should most certainly care about what scientists say about scientific matters, when public policy addresses those scientific matters.

  9. I can see the case for a separation between science and policy making. Scientists can research the likely consequences of different policies and publish that information. Just like they research the consequences of a bunch of actions. Then in the political arena, the public debates about which consequences are good and which are bad, which should be a mater of tort and which should be a matter of law, and which are just of the table because the means are unjustifiable.

  10. I’ve always found it amusing that leftists accuse scientists conducting reaserch or studies funded by some industry or business of being biased by the vested interests of said industry but proclaim government funded scientists as being totally objective.

    The latter group have their own vested interests and are not one iota more objective than the former.

  11. Hey, man, everybody’s doing it, so what’s the big deal?

    And joe succinctly sums up the viewpoint of the entire body of all libertarians…in his head.

  12. “Still it seems possible to me that relatively unvarnished scientific conclusions can be given to the public and policymakers.”

    Possible, but unlikely if the scientist himself is, as is often the case, a political animal, and/or is concerned about running afoul of “those who in one way or another have acquired authority” in their field and have control of the research purse strings. Look at the politically-supercharged “scientific” debate over whether there is a causal link between induced abortion and increased breast cancer risk for one of the most depressingly outrageous examples of such “politicization.” See, e.g., my article published in the Wisconsin Law Review on this subject, titled “The Fit Between the Elements for an Informed Consent Cause of Action and the Scientific Evidence Linking Induced Abortion with Increased Breast Cancer Risk,” posted in its entirety at See also, e.g., the briefs in a false advertising case against an abortion clinic for false statements about this evidence which I litigated in North Dakota, Kjolsrud v. MKB Management, with extensive references to testimony elicited from cross-examination of expert witnesses at trial, available at the North Dakota Supreme Court’s website.

  13. Shocked! I am to see Ron Bailey trying to distract the sheep from this:

  14. Pfft, climate change, that’s sooo 1990’s…

  15. I was just about to post the same link, Shocked!

    Gee, what are the chances a long-time global warming denier, paid to muddy the issue for political purposes, would write a post downplaying the significance of political intereference with science, on the same day that Congress is taking testimony about the White House interfering with climate scientists?



Please to post comments

Comments are closed.