29 Regulation 28 (2006-2007)
When Scientists Politicize Science

handle is hein.journals/rcatorbg29 and id is 30 raw text is: Instead of claiming there is just one policy response
to a given issue, scientists should
provide a range of options for policymakers.
When Scientists
Politicize Science
ROGER A. PIELKE, JR.
University of Colorado

N RECENT YEARS AND IN DIFFERENT COUN-
tries, combatants on opposing sides of highly con-
tentious debates related to the environment, medi-
cine, and even national security have frequently
asserted that science compels their favored political
perspective. Whether the subject is global warming,
genetically modified organisms, or even the exis-
tence of weapons of mass destruction, it is not surprising to
observe advocates selectively using and misusing science to
advance their firmly held positions. What perhaps is surpris-
ing, at least to some observers of the scientific enterprise, is that
scientists increasingly seem to be joining the political fray by
equating particular scientific findings with political and ideo-
logical perspectives.
For example, when a 2003 paper in the journal Climate
Research argued that twentieth century climate variations were
unexceptional in millennial perspective, advocacy groups
opposed to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change hailed the
research as sound science, while advocacy groups in support
of the Protocol called the paper junk science. In this case,
more troubling than the selective use of scientific results by
advocates is that many scientists' evaluations of the paper's sci-
entific merit correlated perfectly with their public expressions
of support or opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. Acceptance of
the paper's conclusions was equated with opposition to Kyoto
and, correspondingly, rejection of the paper's findings was
equated with support for Kyoto. For example, one prominent
climate scientist (on record supporting Kyoto) suggested in
testimony before the U.S. Congress that the paper must be bad
Roger A. Pielke, Jr. is a professor of environmental science at the University of Colorado
and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences
(CIRES). He may be contacted by e-mail at pielke@cires.colorado.edu.

science because the editor who oversaw its publication had
been critical of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
and the Kyoto Protocol. And the editor (a social scientist who
is on record opposing Kyoto) of a different journal that pub-
lished a second version of the controversial paper comment-
ed, I'm following my political agenda-a bit, anyway, but isn't
that the right of the editor?
If scientists evaluate the research findings of their peers on
the basis of their political perspectives, then scientific debate
among academics risks simply becoming political debate in the
guise of science. From the perspective of the public or policy-
makers, scientific debate and political debate on many envi-
ronmental issues already have become indistinguishable. Such
cases of conflation limit the role of science in the develop-
ment of creative and feasible policy options. In many instances,
science-particularly environmental science-has become
little more than a mechanism of marketing competing politi-
cal agendas, and scientists have become leading members of the
advertising campaigns.
One example of this dynamic that received considerable
media attention was the controversy over the 2001 Bjorn Lom-
borg book The Skeptical Environmentalist, published by Cam-
bridge University Press. Heated debate and controversy are
the norm insofar as environmental issues are concerned, but
reaction to this book spilled over from the environmental
community onto pages of leading newspapers and magazines
around the world, and has thus come to occupy the attention
of scholars who study science in its broader societal setting.
SCIENCE AS POLITICAL BATTLEFIELD
A focus on the intersection of politics and science is not new
and has been studied for decades. What may be new, or at least

28 REGULATION SPRING 2006

E
ENVIRONMENT

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