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POLITICS AND SCIENCE: How Their Interplay Results in Public Policy / Vol. 73, No. 3 (Fall 2006)

Arien Mack, Editor

Current events seem designed to make the subjects of “Politics and Science” increasingly relevant to what is going on between scientists, policymakers, and government officials. The initial idea for this conference grew out of my reading of a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report, issued in February 2004, on scientific integrity, in which the group called for immediate steps to be taken to “restore the integrity of science in the federal policymaking process.”


The first section of this special issue covers the recent history of the emerging conflict between politics and science in the United States. The questions to be explored include: Has the balance of power among the various interests that play a role in determining public policy changed? What are the consequences of these changes? What lessons can be learned from past successes and failures in public policy?

The author reflects on the history of science and technology policy advice in the US One of the important aspects of science and technology advice is the growth of research and development to be about 13 percent of discretionary expenditures in the federal budget. He also asserts that the system of timely scientific advice now operating, is in a state of dangerous disrepair. Proposed remedies in three key areas, namely science and technology advice for the president, science and technology advice for Congress and ensuring open access to governmental information and decisions, are discussed.

The article focuses on the complexity of human health and the weather-related effects of climate change on infectious disease, specifically, cholera. The history of cholera in various countries such as India, Peru and Bangladesh is examined. The complex factors which provide a predictive capacity for cholera epidemics in developing countries are listed, including sea surface temperature and zooplankton populations. The impact of global warming on the pattern of infectious diseases is discussed.

The article discusses the history of federal science policy of the US An excerpt from the Union of Concerned Scientists statement at a press conference in February 2004 about the disregard made by the administration of George W. Bush to the contributions of science to public policy decisions is presented. The developments which helped pave the way for the mobilization of science in World War II are analyzed. The new politics of science is partly characterized by the old politics of enlisting the federal government in the cause of scientific research and training, with the goal of fostering national security, economic growth and better health.


As we move into the twenty-first century, government’s role in the formation of health policy has begun to return to past practices that exclude community involvement, involve manipulation of scientific data, and lack ethical consistency. The essays in this section represent some of the fallout of such policies.

The article examines the complexity between the scientific study of nature and democratic deliberation about the civic and human good. The general approach of the public to science, ethics and politics is reframed. The controversies in health policy--at the end of life and the beginning of life, are discussed. The author asserts the need for a reinvigoration of philosophy, beginning with a serious philosophy of nature. The moral gravity of embryo research is also analyzed, amidst the demand for it, of those afflicted with diseases like Parkinson's.

The article discusses the problems faced by the US health care system, which has now outpaced budget for housing. Disparities in health care are still present, including race, language and gender. The country has the world's best doctors, nurses, hospitals and academic health centers, along with cutting-edge research. The author asserts that despite these developments, the country faces a seeming unending lack of decision on health care, maintained by the uncompromising positioning of groups favoring their own self-interest.

The article discusses the seeming imposition of religious beliefs by politicians on the issue of stem cell research in the US President George W. Bush's executive order limiting federal funding to already existing stem cell lines is the issue. When he declared that order on August 9, 2001, he said no further embryo-destructive research would be supported by the taxpayers. The historical background of this conflict reflects changes in both the basic religious values and scientific knowledge of the people.

The article examines the controversy involving abstinence-only education in relation to the struggle between US politics and science. The author asserts that science has been misused in support of the federal government's abstinence-only education policy. The history of federal support for abstinence education is discussed. The position paper from the Society for Adolescent Medicine endorsed abstinence from sexual intercourse as a healthy choice for adolescents. However, the Society castigated the federal programs that promote only abstinence and denigrate already proven risk reduction strategies.


The article asserts the relationship between science and politics in the US system. A brief description of the history of federal research funding is given. The author says that the science community is very fortunate to have champions of science in both political parties, who will fight back when necessary. The author, who was appointed science adviser to President Clinton in 1998, shares that in order to get the attention of the president--and his circle of political advisers--on any matter, he had to find a way to connect science to the larger policy and political agenda.


Science is important in environmental policymaking. It is important in terms of how we define the problem as well as what solutions that we seek to implement and in what time frame they need to be implemented. The comments from discussion participants exemplify some of the key issues associated with how to frame the challenge: Where does one draw the line when discussing an environmental issue?

The article discusses the functions of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in the link between science and policy in the US. The author remarks that the relationship between science and government has worsened and definitely needs to be fixed. He says that science needs to be inclusive rather than exclusionary, when dealing with environmental problems. The culture of NGO insists on transparency. They provide balance in the transformation of scientific information into policy. The NGO help create policy examination of new problems and have shown an ability to convert a scientific question into a policy issue with great effectiveness.

The article discusses the uncertainty in climate science and the problem this poses for policymakers confronting mitigation policy costs in the US. The reasons legitimate scientific uncertainty becomes magnified in the political arena are highlighted. This uncertainty results from the rapid pace of published research, as demonstrated by the paleoclimatology studies in "Nature" and the July 2005 issue of "Science." The author states that the California Air Resources Board seems to refuse to undertake an open reconsideration of the policy implications of its emissions reduction strategy.

The article asserts that the consensus of the scientific community is most publicly being undervalued in the US. in terms of environmental science. Some of the successes and partial successes of scientific input, such as the Clean Air Act, are discussed. The environmental costs of population size and growth rate are examined. The gap between scientists and some US. political decision makers and ordinary citizens is in the area of evolution. The role of the public's preference for a believe-and-obey form of political discourse in science and the policy process is analyzed.

The author reflects on the history of science and technology policy advice in the U.S. One of the important aspects of science and technology advice is the growth of research and development to be about 13 percent of discretionary expenditures in the federal budget. He also asserts that the system of timely scientific advice now operating, is in a state of dangerous disrepair. Proposed remedies in three key areas, namely science and technology advice for the president, science and technology advice for Congress and ensuring open access to governmental information and decisions, are discussed.


If you can ask an oracle two questions about the human condition a century from now, they might be “Have nuclear weapons been used?” And “Has a way been found to provide all comfortable living for everyone on the planet without disastrous impact on the natural environment?” The papers in this section vividly describe the significance of the task before us, the consequences of failure, and the difficulty of finding practical solutions.

The article asserts the role of technology based on science and engineering on the climate/energy problem, particularly global warming. Well-documented facts about the reality of global warming are presented. Some knowledgeable researchers, including the author, are very concerned about global warming, arguing for research and development programs on an Apollo space-like scale to create low-carbon alternate energy supply and demand-reducing technologies in time to make a difference. The author suggests the dramatic acceleration of what some engineers believe is the most ready for prime time major emission-free energy source, which is coal with carbon capture and sequestration.

The article discusses the interest in public policy and its interplay with science, the environment and engineering in the US. Some reasons policymakers have valued scientific and technical information differently when considering environmental and energy policy are given. Debating the science and technical information around an issue can take several forms, including the status of the issue. Peter Isler of USA Today suggested that science has always been one part of the information weighed in public policy debates and he thought that the notion that it is the science that decides the public policy decision is not the way it has been in the past and not the way it should be.

The article ponders on the impact of the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation on climate science. The benefits and risks of nuclear power are included. Serious problems persisting within the US nuclear power industry are highlighted, including the failure of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to handle the boric acid problem with the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio. The author asserts that in the U.S. and in other countries where power generation is not a government function, the market can, in principle, decide whether nuclear power is economically viable.


In light of the political turmoil over global warming, the questions before us are: Can we stop, slow down, or reverse global warming and if so, what must we do? Does our government have the leadership and the resources to spearhead a national movement, as part of a larger international movement, that can prepare us for the consequences of climate change?

The article focuses on the importance and contributions of genetic knowledge and the biotechnologies it makes possible. One concern about this is that people may compromise, or further compromise, in both science and politics, the principle that every human being possesses inherent value and dignity and a right to life. Another concern is that many people are coming to view procreation as similar to manufacture. The statement made by bioethicist Leon Kass at the United States Holocaust Museum regarding eugenics is provided.

The article discusses the interaction of politics and science in the US Science holds an air of objectivity in the field of politics, and everyone in politics tries to frame his or her position as the one and only view that is justified by sound science. The political trend which illustrates a reverence for science, results to the confusion about the debate on values. The debate about stem cell research and ozone standards is highlighted. The author asserts that scientists, policymakers and concerned observers should be examining how science is employed in policy debates, while science's reputation and funding are intact.

The article discusses the problem with the non-dominance of the scientific way of thinking in US society. The author asserts that people have lost their scientific way of thinking as a society and the benefits that they reap from this way of thinking are depleting as well. This problem is reflected in US Congress, which represents the country by design, wherein fewer than 1 percent of the Members of Congress are scientists, and as a result Members too have an aversion to science. Scientists should be engaged in the process of self-governance, to ensure that good science informs and infuses good public policy.

The article discusses the problem of science illiteracy in the US. The candidates for blame regarding this problem are politicians who misuse science for their own partisan purposes, religious leaders who consider science in conflict with their belief systems, policymakers who fail to emerge from the halls of academe and power, publishers who distort science to sell copies, journalists who gloss over the complexities of science and industry that has misinterpreted science for its own interests.

The article discusses the contributing factors to the present relation between science and government in the US, which affect all policymaking and also many issues of policy for the conduct of science and its federal support. These factors include the rate of scientific discovery, the great polarization of political parties and of politics, the exploitation of issues that have been traditionally separated by the Constitution under the separation of government and religion, and the economy.

The article asserts that understanding and employing the basic principles of public engagement is the first step in creating the conditions under which science and public opinion come together to produce good public policy in the US. The author suggests that scientists have the responsibility to frame issues in ways that acknowledge scientific content and social and political realities. A brief overview of the Seven Stages of Public Opinion, developed by Public Agenda's founder, Daniel Yankelovich is presented.


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