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Rebuttal to: "Science Academies as Political Advocates" by Roger Pielke, Jr. [published in "bridges" vol. 6]

by William Colglazier

The following is a rebuttal to an earlier article by Roger Pielke, Jr. entitled "Science Academies as Political Advocates" that appeared in "bridges" vol. 6.

Science Academies and Climate Change

 In his op-ed published in bridges, Roger Pielke, Jr., cited the June 2005 statement on climate change issued  by eleven national science academies as an example of these institutions unwisely engaging in political advocacy and politics. In our view, the eleven academies' statement was consistent with and supported by careful objective studies done by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) over the past 15 years, which is the reason that the then NAS President Bruce Alberts signed the statement. 


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Two of our key studies were especially important in developing the language of the eleven academies' statement. One is Climate Change Science (2001), which was authored by an expert committee of climate scientists chaired by the new NAS President Ralph Cicerone.  The other is Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming (1992), produced by a distinguished committee of scientists, social scientists, and former public officials chaired by former Governor and Senator Daniel Evans. Although the latter report was issued over 13 years ago, many of the recommendations and findings contained in Chapter 9 are relevant and timely today.


These two studies and many others dealing with climate change have been conducted following the rigorous study procedures of the National Research Council (NRC), the operating arm of the NAS and its sister institutions, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. The recent testimony to the US Senate by NAS President Cicerone provides additional details on the institution's work related to climate change.


Mr. Pielke asked about democratic accountability when science academies issue findings and recommendations in statements and reports. We view our reports as bringing the best available insights from science and technology to help inform public policy decisions, not engaging in political advocacy or politics. The US National Academies have been advising the American government and public on issues of science, technology, and medicine for over 140 years.  We currently produce over 200 reports annually on a wide range of topics. Through a careful study process, we enlist the nation's foremost scientists, engineers, and health professionals on expert study committees, and then subject the draft findings, conclusions, and recommendations to rigorous, independent review by additional experts.  The final reports are viewed by many observers as being valuable, credible, and authoritative, and support the institution's reputation for providing independent, objective, evidence-based, and non-partisan advice with high standards of scientific and technical quality.


Other science academies are developing similar traditions of providing independent, objective, and publicly-available advice to their governments. The US National Academies have been supporting these efforts, and have helped to create two international institutions that are doing the same. One is the InterAcademy Panel (IAP), which helps to build the capacity of individual science academies. The other is the InterAcademy Council (IAC), which is an international version of the US National Research Council. The IAC is engaged in putting together expert committees to conduct evidence-based studies for the UN and other international organizations.


The eleven science academies that developed the climate change statement for the G8 heads of state meeting at Gleneagles, Scotland, last July will likely join together again to produce additional statements, based on their individual studies, as input to future G8 meetings. One unfortunate aspect of the release of the eleven academies' statement on climate change was confusion caused by a press release issued by the Royal Society (RS) of London. That press release went far beyond what the eleven academies' statement actually said. The RS press release was not seen in advance by the NAS and did not represent the views of the NAS. So there is still work to be done in developing the right traditions. However, we firmly believe that decision-makers and the public will be well served by fostering and developing the capability of science academies around the world to provide objective, evidence-based studies relevant to important public policy issues.    

E. William Colglazier, Ph.D.
Executive Officer, National Academy of Sciences
Chief Operating Officer, National Research Council



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