• Home

"The Honest Broker": bridges Columnist Kicks off the "bridges Lecture Series" with Talk on the Roles of Scientists in S&T Policy

bridges vol. 14, July 2007 / Feature article
by Juliet M. Beverly

On June 27, Dr. Roger A. Pielke, Jr. came all the way from Oxford, Great Britain, to the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC, ready to usher in the "bridges Lecture Series." Pielke, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research in Boulder, CO, is currently spending a one-year sabbatical in Great Britain. Landing at Dulles International Airport a few hours before the event, the long-time bridges columnist made his first visit to the embassy, where the empty seats filled within minutes of his arrival with over 160 guests who had come to hear him speak.

Pielke's talk marked the kickoff for a sequence of talks on science and technology policy that will showcase some of bridges' most renowned guest contributors, bringing them for at least one evening from the virtual world of an online magazine to a "real world" audience.

bridges columnist Roger Pielke (left) and former OST director Philipp Steger (right)

While the event symbolized a new beginning for bridges, it also marked an end. " ... We feel that tonight offers the perfect opportunity to show that even if a person's time at an institution is coming to an end ... his legacy will last," said Caroline Adenberger, editor-in-chief of bridges, who introduced the event. She was referring to the departing director of the OST, Dr. Philipp Steger, and added, "It will last because of what Philipp [Steger] has envisioned and what he has created over the last years at the OST," pointing out that without Steger's vision and leadership neither the OST nor bridges would be in existence today.

{access view=guest}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.{/access} {access view=!guest} With this, Pielke initiated the lecture series that is a part of that legacy. During his lecture, Pielke featured conclusions from his new book, The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Describing his field of study as a "backwater ... cul-de-sac," Pielke noted that S&T policy study had not received much attention in years past, but increasingly contested debates in science policy have aimed a spotlight at something that was once in the background.

"Scientists are increasingly aware of the fact that the things that they work on are at the center of a lot of important political debate. Within the scientific community I don't think there has been a lot of systematic analysis of what different roles scientists play in decision-making" said Pielke, sitting at the book-signing table after his presentation. "I think the STS [science, technology, and society] community has looked a lot at these issues, but they haven't been put before many scientists in a practical way they could make use of."



Enter, stage right, The Honest Broker. After working with scientific organizations for the past 15 years, it became clear to Pielke that scientists weren't aware of the different roles they play in the political process. This gave him the motivation to write his book. "This is my initial tentative attempt to try and translate some of the knowledge in science and technology studies for scientists. It is really a book not so much for policy makers, but for scientists," Pielke stated.

For scientists to understand the plot, they must know the roles that they play. Pielke suggested that there are four roles in this play, as outlined in his recent column for bridges:

· The Pure Scientist - seeks to focus only on facts and has no interaction with the decision maker.

· The Science Arbiter - answers specific factual questions posed by the decision maker.

· The Issue Advocate - seeks to reduce the scope of choice available to the decision maker.

· The Honest Broker of Policy Options - seeks to expand, or at least clarify, the scope of choice available to the decision maker.

Pielke argues that all four of those roles are absolutely important to a healthy science and politics relationship, but trouble arises when one of these roles overshadows another one in decision-making. " ... Politics is how we get done the business of society. So mixing science and politics is a good thing," said Pielke. "What we want to avoid is the pathological politicization of science - in other words, situations with undesired outcomes or illegitimate processes ... "

Chapter seven of The Honest Broker, "Preemption and the Decision to go to War in Iraq," may seem at first glance an unlikely topic for a book on this subject matter, but it serves as an example in Pielke's argument. As he explained: "I included it [chapter 7] so that it would be a little jarring for the reader. This case reflects the exact same political dynamics in the use of information and the use of knowledge to advocate for a particular policy."

It was on February 5, 2003, that former US Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council on Resolution 1441 to disarm Iraq of nuclear weapons. Powell's address claimed that Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, not only was making no attempt to disarm but also was concealing weapons of mass destruction. The speech was most notably remembered for the vial of powder he held in the air as a representation of the same teaspoonful of dry anthrax that was sent to two U.S. Senators in 2001, and that caused the death of two postal employees who worked in a facility where an anthrax-laced envelope was being sorted for mailing.

Powell stated that Iraq had thousands of liters of anthrax, and reported that the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) estimated that Iraq could have produced tens of thousands more liters (Click here to read the former US Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the UN Security Council).

"He [Colin Powell] used objective, quote-unquote facts to advocate for a particular point of view ... If you think it was wrong to selectively present information in the case of the Iraq War, and I think history has shown that happened, isn't it also wrong to do that in the case of an environmental issue? Do the ends justify the means? If you think it is a good end that you are trying to achieve, whether it is protecting the environment or going to war in Iraq, is it OK to misrepresent knowledge?" asks Pielke. He answers, "I would say it is not right, regardless of the importance of the desired outcome."


This article is based on an interview conducted by Juliet M. Beverly with Dr. Roger A. Pielke, Jr. during the first "bridges Lecture Series" event, June 27, 2007.



Print Email