Communicating Science to Policymakers


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Communicating Science to Policymakers

  1. 1. Communicating Science to Policymakers Josh Trapani Bipartisan Policy Center
  2. 2. Talk Outline <ul><li>Brief intro/background </li></ul><ul><li>The role of science in policymaking </li></ul><ul><li>Challenges in communicating science to policymakers (focus on legislators) </li></ul><ul><li>Ways to enhance the role of science </li></ul><ul><li>Ways for you to get involved </li></ul>
  3. 3. About Me <ul><li>Undergrad at SUNY Binghamton – Geology and Anthropology </li></ul><ul><li>Grad at University of Michigan – Geosciences (Paleo) </li></ul><ul><li>Postdoc at University of Colorado – Ecology and Evolutionary Biology </li></ul><ul><li>American Geophysical Union Congressional Fellow – Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) </li></ul><ul><li>AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow – USDA Forest Service </li></ul><ul><li>Science for Policy Project – Bipartisan Policy Center </li></ul><ul><li>National Commission on Energy Policy – Bipartisan Policy Center </li></ul>
  4. 4. Role of science in policymaking <ul><li>Use of science in policy formulation a political flashpoint </li></ul><ul><li>Policymakers claim decisions are driven by science </li></ul><ul><li>Charges that: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>science is being “politicized” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>regulation lacks scientific basis </li></ul></ul><ul><li>May lead to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lack of necessary regulation/adoption of dubious regulation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Degradation of policy debate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Undermining of public faith in government and science </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Systemic problem – not the sole responsibility of one Administration or Congress </li></ul>
  5. 5. Challenges in Communicating Science 1. A clash of cultures? from Stephen D. Nelson, AAAS Understandable by many Personal Evocative/Narrative Precise Understandable by peers Impersonal Language, imagery: Generalists More breadth than depth Specialists More depth than breadth Cognitive demands: Absolute deadlines Late = useless Whenever it’s good enough Timeliness: Certainty Standing for something Skeptical Critical Philosophical stance: Advance public welfare Represent constituency Act/Make decisions Seek truth Understand Explain Primary Goal:
  6. 6. Challenges in Communicating Science 2. The ways policy makers learn about science. Staff Advocacy groups Think tanks Colleagues Congressional support agencies Government agencies Discussions with scientists Hearings?
  7. 7. Challenges in Communicating Science 3. The ways policy makers don’t learn about science. (And even if they wanted to…)
  8. 8. Challenges in Communicating Science 4. How policymakers relate to/use science. <ul><li>Relevance : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>to policy issue </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>to constituency </li></ul></ul>Facts : concrete, quantitative and/or anecdotal, used to support arguments and illustrate the importance of issues. Knowledge : abstract, relates facts to each other, elucidates underlying relationships and mechanisms. “ How many?” “ How much?” “ When?” “ Why?” “ How?”
  9. 9. Some advising roles for scientists 1) “ Journalist ” (sorts through information) 2) “ Translator ” (from the science to its policy implications) 3) “ Fact-checker ” (information quality control) from Adam Kuiper. 2004. Science and Congress. The New Atlantis . What about advocacy?
  10. 10. “ Science advocacy is inevitable: deal with it” (Shannon et al., 1996) “ Political advocacy by scientists risks science credibility and may be unethical” (Mills, 2000) What about advocacy? No shortage of opinions… (My take? They’re both right.)
  11. 11. Politicization of science OR Scientization of politics? … the excess of objectivity “ Science is sufficiently rich, diverse, and Balkanized to provide comfort and support for a range of subjective, political positions on complex issues such as climate change, nuclear waste disposal, acid rain, or endangered species.” Be aware of… (Sarewitz, 2000) “… multiple political, legal, and institutional incentives to cloak policy judgments in the garb of science.” … the science charade (Wagner, 1995)
  12. 12. House Committee on Natural Resources Hearing on Energy Policy and Climate Change on Public Lands, March 20, 2007 Mr. PEARCE . “….Mr. Myers, on the whole concept of beneficial outcomes, is the human race going to be better or worse served by any cooling in the climate or any warming in the climate? I will say warming in the climate.” Mr. PEARCE . “…as far as with respect to the climate, can we get where we need to go without significant reductions in the coal or oil and gas uses for energy development? Can we get there without those decreases?” Mr. MYERS . “Certainly the human race will have to adapt to certain different conditions….as you go back into the geologic record, the planet has sustained significant changes over its history, and changes that exceed the current changes that we have seen, but that is before we were so prevalent on the planet.” Mr. MYERS . “ I don’t feel qualified really to answer that question. Again, it is a policy question rather than a science question . I think certainly technologies that are out there—” … Mr. PEARCE . “I don’t mean to be putting you in a position that obviously you are really uncomfortable because we are sitting up here trying to get the best that we can. I know one or two scientists in Congress . The rest of us are like me, just I have studied in science in the ninth, tenth, eleventh grade, I am not sure I did in the twelfth grade. We are trying to see our way through this, and that is a fairly simple question, and a direct answer would help….” Example 1 Mark Myers Director USGS Rep. Steve Pearce R-NM
  13. 13. President Obama Signs Executive Order on Stem Cells, March 9, 2009 “ But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values . In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. … This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America.” “ We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.” “ Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible . Obama's pretense that he will `restore science to its rightful place’ and make science, not ideology, dispositive in moral debates is yet more rhetorical sleight of hand -- this time to abdicate decision-making and color his own ideological preferences as authentically `scientific .’” Example 2 Charles Krauthammer The Washington Post March 13, 2009
  14. 14. Navigating the science-policy boundary ( the personal ) Are they asking me to be objective? Am I being objective? <ul><li>Scientist </li></ul><ul><li>provide objective advice </li></ul><ul><li>and/or advocate </li></ul><ul><li>bring technical expertise and </li></ul><ul><li>problem-solving skills to bear </li></ul><ul><li>Staffer </li></ul><ul><li>serve the interests of Member’s </li></ul><ul><li>legislative agenda (or agency’s mission) </li></ul><ul><li>judgment calls expected </li></ul><ul><li>“ Am I trying to be objective and stick to the science?” </li></ul><ul><li>2. “Does my audience think I’m trying to be objective and stick to the science?” </li></ul>
  15. 15. Navigating the science-policy boundary ( the institutional ) <ul><li>Bring together a diverse panel of experts to develop recommendations </li></ul><ul><ul><li>liberals and conservatives </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>scientists and policy experts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>leaders in government, industry, academia, NGOs </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Group met three times in the first half of 2009 and produced consensus-based interim and final reports </li></ul>
  16. 17. Science for Policy Project Products Interim Report March 10, 2009 Final Report August 5, 2009
  17. 18. Four Main Recommendations 1. Separate science from policy as much as possible. <ul><li>Devise processes that clarify the science/policy distinction </li></ul>
  18. 19. 2. Address issues around appointment and operation of scientific advisory panels, including conflict of interest and bias. Four Main Recommendations <ul><li>Separate scientific and policy advisory panels </li></ul><ul><li>Improve selection of panel members </li></ul><ul><li>Solidify disclosure requirements </li></ul><ul><li>Address bias </li></ul><ul><li>Determine and address conflicts of interest </li></ul>
  19. 20. Four Main Recommendations 3. Develop guidance around reviewing studies relevant to regulation. <ul><li>Increase transparency of reviews </li></ul><ul><li>Set out criteria for study evaluation </li></ul><ul><li>Make data available </li></ul><ul><li>Try additional approaches </li></ul><ul><li>Be open and precise when discussing risk and uncertainty </li></ul>
  20. 21. Four Main Recommendations 4. All actors in the process should take steps to strengthen the role of science in regulation. <ul><li>Strengthen peer review </li></ul><ul><li>Provide more information about studies </li></ul>
  21. 22. Become a policy-savvy scientist How Much Time Are You Willing To Spend? Minutes, Hours, Days…? <ul><li>Write a letter to your Member of Congress, or submit public comments on science policy decisions. </li></ul><ul><li>Visit your member or participate in Congressional </li></ul><ul><li>Visits Days. (take advantage of society D.C. offices) </li></ul><ul><li>Even better, host your member in your lab or visit </li></ul><ul><li>them in their district or state office. </li></ul>
  22. 23. Become a policy-savvy scientist How Much Time Are You Willing To Spend? Weeks, Months…? <ul><li>Intern : in a Hill office, an NGO, an agency, a scientific society D.C. office, a think tank, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Become a Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Academies </li></ul><ul><li>Serve on a federal advisory committee as a member or peer-reviewer. </li></ul>
  23. 24. Become a policy-savvy scientist How Much Time Are You Willing To Spend? A Year or More…? (the rest of your career if you’re not careful!) <ul><li>If you’re currently a student, become a Presidential Management Fellow . </li></ul><ul><li>Apply for fellowships to spend 1-2 years on the Hill or in an agency through AAAS (or 30+ other societies, including GSA, AGU, AGI). </li></ul>2005-2006 AAAS Fellows
  24. 25. Conclusions <ul><li>A number of challenges and complications prevent science from living up to its full potential in informing policy decisions. </li></ul>3) Scientists can be advisors and/or advocates , but should know which they are. 5) There are many ways for scientists to get involved and become more policy-savvy. 4) A variety of institutional and process improvements could enhance the role played by science. 2) Understanding more about the culture of policymaking will help scientists be better communicators.
  25. 26. [email_address] That’s because I’m a scientist, Senator! You are by far the greatest staffer I have ever had, Josh.