Robert T. Lackey

I am concerned that policy-biased science is increasingly common in the scientific enterprise, as it undermines the credibility of science and scientists in public policy debates. This situation is especially unfortunate because scientific information is essential in many policy debates; such as, conflicts over scarce water resources; approaches to addressing wild fires; adapting to changing climate; policies toward native versus non-native species; and, balancing risks and benefits of genetically modified organisms.
Science is not value-free, but it should be objective and policy should be based on the best science available. Too often, however, scientific information presented to the public and decision-makers is infused with hidden policy preferences. Such science is termed normative and it is a corruption of the practice of good science. Normative science is defined as “information that is developed, presented, or interpreted based on an assumed, usually unstated, preference for a particular policy choice.”
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Yes, scientific information must remain a cornerstone of public policy decisions about natural resource and ecological issues, but I offer cautionary guidance to scientists. Become involved with policy issues and deliberations, but play the appropriate role. Provide facts, probabilities, and analysis, but avoid slipping into normative science. Scientists have much to offer the public and decision-makers, but also have much to lose when they practice stealth policy advocacy.

Keep Science and Scientists Credible (PDF file)

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1 Response to Robert T. Lackey

  1. shinichi says:

    Keep Science and Scientists Credible:
    Avoid Stealth Policy Advocacy

    by Robert T. Lackey

    http://aquadoc.typepad.com/files/2016a-keep-science-and-scientists-credible-reprint-lackey-1.pdf

    I am concerned that policy-biased science is increasingly common in the scientific enterprise, as it undermines the credibility of science and scientists in public policy debates. This situation is especially unfortunate because scientific information is essential in many policy debates; such as, conflicts over scarce water resources; approaches to addressing wild fires; adapting to changing climate; policies toward native versus non-native species; and, balancing risks and benefits of genetically modified organisms.

    Science is not value-free, but it should be objective and policy should be based on the best science available. Too often, however, scientific information presented to the public and decision-makers is infused with hidden policy preferences. Such science is termed normative and it is a corruption of the practice of good science. Normative science is defined as “information that is developed, presented, or interpreted based on an assumed, usually unstated, preference for a particular policy choice.”

    Using normative science in policy deliberations is not merely a form of policy advocacy, but it is stealth advocacy. I use the word stealth because the average person reading or listening to such “scientific” statements is likely unaware of the hidden advocacy. Normative science is a corruption of science and should not be tolerated in the scientific community—without exception.

    Scientists are certainly able to assess the likely effects of removing (or maintaining) a particular dam, but scientific information alone is an insufficient justification for removing (or maintaining) a dam.

    **

    Yes, scientific information must remain a cornerstone of public policy decisions about natural resource and ecological issues, but I offer cautionary guidance to scientists. Become involved with policy issues and deliberations, but play the appropriate role. Provide facts, probabilities, and analysis, but avoid slipping into normative science. Scientists have much to offer the public and decision-makers, but also have much to lose when they practice stealth policy advocacy.

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