Fall 2014 Integration of Environmental
Science and Policy
Classroom: ES345 Thursday 2-3:54 PM
Email is a great way to contact me, be specific with your questions or comments and I usually can get right back to you. If we can not resolve the issue via email we will set up an appointment. Make an appointment with the Institute of Enviromental Toxicology office @ 650-6136. The staff are great at fitting students into my schedule.
A major theme among many Federal agencies that manage the environment is the attempt to integrate science into policy making. Instead of policy determining the reporting of research results with noted events at NASA and NOAA, the current administration is asking how does science inform policy decisions. During the previous administration the USEPA contracted with the National Research Council to prepare a report reviewing how science can be better integrated into the making of policy. The resulting report Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment (2008) summarizes the results of this effort. A USEPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) committee continued this effort and the report is now available: (http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/36a1ca3f683ae57a85256ce9006a32d0/e8ec3d4f8d0f89cf8525758300609863!OpenDocument).
This seminar will investigate the integration of science and policy within EPA, other Federal agencies and state and local governments. The first two weeks of the course will be an introduction to the process of science, a review of Kuhn, Popper and Oreskes, and the interaction between observational and experimental data, theory and simulation. Policy formulation under several federal level programs will also be introduced. The rest of the seminar will be the detailed examination of several case studies presented by the students. During the quarter local policy makers-shapers will also be invited to discuss their experiences in melding science and policy.
A word about the class. This is a science class that is very specific about evaluating how science interacts with policy. Most students who take this class have only a vague idea of what science actually is and only a vague idea about how science interacts with the making of policy. That is ok, you will learn.
Most students have not lead a discussion or written a scholarly paper in the tradition of scientific inquiry. That is ok, you will learn. I have found that the biggest issue is that evaluating information and writing in the scientific mode is so unfamiliar to students that there is a cultural shock when they get to this or my other classes for the first time. Here are some general guidelines.
1) I (and the readers) really do not care about what you believe or feel. Science and scientific writing is about what data you have and what you can test. In this case we focus on the objective. If your goal is the save the world that is fine, but that is what you feel or a cultural goal and not what we are studying this quarter.
2) In science we test ideas by attempting to falsify them (see Wikki on K. R. Popper). So we are inherently skeptical and even brutal in our examination of papers and research. Success as a scientist often means turning over the dominant paradigm and building a new one (see Wikki on T. S. Kuhn). Rational skepticism is encouraged.
3) Policy makers-some of which have scientific backgrounds—work from a very different set of ideas used to judge reality and often involve a number of cultural norms that we know to be based on models that have been falsified decades ago. Three examples of such beliefs are creationism; recovery to an original state in an ecological system, and the idea of the health of an organism has a similar relationship to the status of an ecological structure.
4) Scientists have not been demonstrated to be better policy makers than anyone else. Feynman (look him up) said years ago that scientists are no better than anyone else in subjects or areas outside their research area than found in the general public. Making workable policy is very hard.
5) One of the clearest summaries of the scientific process can be found in this lecture by Richard Feynman) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYPapE-3FRw). If you take risk assessment from me you will see this again in class. Notice what he says about having memorized a lot of facts or respect for authority,
The books listed below are classics. Naomi Oreskes visited campus last spring and was excellent. The NRC book on Science and Decisions is on the Canvas site. McGarity and Wagner's book "Bending Science" is eye opening and is excellent academic treatise of how special interests from every sector corrupt research. Their interest was in Public Health but there are many other examples. Popper and then Kuhn are two of the modern formulations that define science. Popper was not translated into English until the early 1960s so its impact was only started to be felt in the early 1970s. Taleb's Black Swan has become iconic. Every time I see a black swan I think about unpredicted events or consequences. It is a fun book to read.
Suggested Reading Materials, two are very strongly recommended.
|Orekes N and Conway E. 2010. Merchants of Doubt. We are going to discuss Orekes' ideas about the use of science in making policy and this is one of her latest efforts. Conway is a reporter and the two of them discuss how certain groups attack scientific results when they do not match the goals of the particular organization.|
National Research Councill. Science and Decisions 2008, NRC Press. 2008. The National Research Council, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, prepared this report under a contract with EPA and was completed during the preceding administrtion. The coupling of science and decision making is now a looming issue at EPA and within other scientific agencies.
McGarity, T. and Wagner W. 2010. Bending Science How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research. Very interesting work describing how research is attacked in order to meet policy goals. Especially interesting are their suggestions for preserving science.
Popper, K. R. 2002. The Logic of Scienfic Discovery. This book, first published in 1934, is one of the foundations of how science is actually performed. One of the foundations of the book is the premise that experiments are critical and that the falsification of a hypothesis is fundamental to the scientific endevor.
Kuhn TS. 1996.The Sturcture of Scientific Revoutions 3rd Edition. Did you ever want to subvert the ruling paradigm? Well this is the book that defined paradigm and why it is always important to look for holes. This book is one of the most influential about how the scientific process actually works.
Taleb NN. 2007. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. One of the best books on coupling decision making and management to systems. Many of his examples are economic, but they also apply to events that are observed in ecological structures. In addition the book is a great read.