by Judith Curry
[S]ilence is an advocacy for the status quo. – Kevin Anderson
The issue of scientists and advocacy continues to generate interesting discussion.
At the blog Making Science Public, Brigitte Nerlich has an interesting post Making Science Public: The Science and Silence Conundrum. The post starts by mentioning Tamsin Edwards op-ed, and also Gavin Schmidt’s recent AGU presentation. Nerlich also mentions an article by Professor Kevin Anderson:
[Anderson] claimed that scientists working on climate change and who remained silent implicitly advocated the status quo. He said in an interview: “I think the scientists – particularly those of us who do work at the interface between science and translating that into a language that others can engage with – not just policy-makers, but broader civil society, businesses and so forth. For those of us to stay quiet about our work, that is political. […] So we may think we’re doing this neutrally, but we’re not at all. That silence is an advocacy for the status quo. So there are no such things as scientists that are not political. Scientists by their nature are being political, whether they engage or do not engage in the wider debates. And I would argue that the ones are who are the least political are the ones who engage in it.” Silence in the context of climate change is seen as a political act, an implicit act of advocacy.
Anderson’s statements were greeting in the twitosphere by a collective ‘Huh?’
Nehrlich’s article points discussion of a recent workshop took place at Imperial College London entitled Silence in the History and Communication of Science . From the Workshop’s web site:
Silence is often construed negatively, as a lack, an absence. Yet silences carry meaning. They can be strategic and directed at particular audiences; they can be fiercely contested or completely overlooked. Silence is not only oppressive but also generative, playing a key role in creative and intellectual processes. Conversely, speech, whilst seeming to facilitate open communication, can serve to mask important silences or can replace the quietude necessary for insightful thought with thoughtless babble.
Nerlich closes with the following statement:
All these recent episodes demonstrate that every act of speech and every act of silence opens up a space for interpretation and misinterpretation leading to further speech and further silence. These acts of speech and silence also open up spaces for power struggles over who should speak (for whom), who has the right to speak (about what), how to deliberate about science and politics, what the outcomes of these deliberations should be, and so on. How we use our individual and collective acts of speech and silence to negotiate common (global, national, local) goals relating to the world we live in and want to live in, still remains a deep democratic conundrum.
Randy Olson chimes in with an article Gavin Schmidt vs Tamsin Edwards: I’m with Gavin. Excerpts:
In a perfect world, I’m with Tamsin Edwards (who says scientists should stay clear of all potential controversy). But we don’t live in a perfect world. Gavin Schmidt knows this and articulated it well in his recent AGU talk. He argued that yes, scientists should be willing to speak up. Bottom line: I’m in total agreement.
It’s a very good talk. I’m with Gavin. Scientist need to engage.
Now if there is one thing that Gavin, Tamsin and I all agree on, its scientists need to engage (at least those working on societally-relevant topics, such as climate change). So, where do we disagree?
Roger Pielke Jr
Roger Pielke Jr’s Honest Broker arguments provide some insights on the different positions that Gavin, Tamsin, Anderson and I hold. Consider the following diagram whereby RP Jr represents the world of science policy as a two-by-two matrix yielding four theoretical roles for science advisers.
As summarized by Sheila Jasanoff:
On the horizontal axis are two views of science that potential policy advisers may hold: first, the linear model, which takes the position that knowledge is always a prerequisite for action and should sometimes compel policy; and second, the stakeholder model, which maintains that policy-relevant science should not be considered value-free and that user and use considerations should have a bearing on the production of knowledge for policy.
The vertical axis represents the views of democracy held by potential advisers. Pielke describes the Madisonian view as interest-group pluralism, in which scientists act like any other political advocates, putting their knowledge in the service of special interests. In contrast, Schattschneider stands for a view that might better be characterized as guided democracy, although Pielke does not use that term. In this vision, the expert uses specialized knowledge to clarify policy choices and to inform decision makers of the range of options open to them.
While Jasanoff argues that Pielke’s representation is over simplified, I think it serves well to clarify this particular debate. UPDATE But with the following modification suggested by a comment from David Wojick:
DW: The lower right box should say Issue Analyst not Honest Broker. Brokers arrange deals which is not what we are talking about. Moreover the term honest suggests that advocacy is somehow dishonest, which is false. For advocacy is the essence of democratic decision making, the honest attempt to be heard on important matters.
Another confusion that there is both a scientific debate and a policy debate, so there are two different forms of advocacy, scientific versus policy. Of course the scientific debate has policy implications but advocating a scientific point is not a policy position per se. The real problem of silence is that scientists may refrain from debating the science because the whole policy world is watching.
JC: Thank you David, I agree that ‘issue analyst’ is a better characterization than ‘honest broker’, whereby the issues are public policy (rather than science or other related topics, such as ethics of scientist research conduct). Further, RP Jr’s interpretation of honest broker as ‘expanding policy options’ is really a misfit for a scientist.
Below is my take on TE vs GS vs JC vs KA in this debate:
- Kevin Anderson seems to view only one role for scientists – the Advocate – whether scientists choose to engage or be silent.
- Gavin Schmidt sees the choice between Pure Scientist and Advocate, whereby anyone who engages has values and is therefore an Advocate.
- Tamsin Edwards is a proponent of engagement but not of advocacy, putting her squarely in Science Arbiter box.
- As for moi, I engage and get involved in policy discussions but do not advocate, putting me further towards the (new) Issue Analyst box than is Tamsin.
To make it explicit and clarify, my involvement in policy discussions related to climate change is:
- open up space for public discussion and argumentation
- question the efficacy of proposed policies at achieving desired outcomes and pointing out potential unintended consequences
- disclosing the limits of scientific information and the extent of uncertainty
As summarized in my NPR interview:
“All we can do is be as objective as we can about the evidence and help the politicians evaluate proposed solutions”
This is different from advocacy (although i recall reading somewhere that hotwhopper regarded my activities as advocacy against mitigation). While advocacy is somewhat elusive to define, the Wikipedia definition serves well:
Advocacy is a political process by an individual or group which aims to influence public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or polls or the filing of an amicus brief.
RP Jr defines stealth advocacy as:
I argue that “stealth issue advocacy” occurs when scientists claim to be focusing on science but are really seeking to advance a political agenda. When such claims are made, the authority of science is used to hide a political agenda, under an assumption that science commands that which politics does not. However, when stealth issue advocacy takes place, it threatens the legitimacy of scientific advice, as people will see it simply as politics, and lose sight of the value that science does offer policy making .
UPDATE: So, is Thomas Stocker’s statement Issue Analysis or Stealth Advocacy?
Continued greenhouse gas emissions cause further climate change and constitute a multicentury commitment in the future. Therefore we conclude that limiting climate change requires substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
In context of the UNFCCC/IPCC mission, if Stocker and the IPCC don’t regard this as advocacy, I would argue that this is stealth advocacy
Back to my original recommendation that scientists should steer clear of advocacy unless they are prepared to make sure that their advocacy is not irresponsible (see my previous post (Ir)responsible advocacy). And if scientists are hoping that their advocacy will be effective, then they are advised to become educated about the policy process, politics, and the relevant science and technology studies research.
The roles of Science Arbiter, Issue Analyst and Honest Broker of Policy Options are ways for scientists to engage with the public and in the policy process without being an Issue Advocate.