top of page

Politics and Science: How Their interplay Results in Public Policy

15th Social Research Conference February 9-10, 2006

American scientists have long been on the forefront of scientific inquiry and research, greatly improving our understanding of the natural world, enabling us to live healthier and safer lives and establishing our economic and technological leadership around the globe. Yet, recent political trends threaten to undermine science and significantly damage the ability of science to continue serving our society.

Many in the scientific community, as well as others, have expressed concern over the rapidly shrinking influence of science in setting public policy. The Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS) issued a call "to take immediate steps to restore the integrity of science in the federal policy making process" in a statement signed by over 7,000 scientists, including 49 Nobel laureates, 63 National Medal of Science recipients, and 154 members of the National Academies. In June of 2005 the ACLU brought attention to the "excessive, unnecessary and ineffective" restrictions that recent policy changes have placed on scientists. Similarly, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported a growing sense that "the [current] administration is politicizing science to an unprecedented degree" (Sanford Lakoff, 5/6/05). And in September 2005, Senator McCain and Peter Likins, President of the University of Arizona, issued a statement concerned with this very same issue. In it they assert, the government can finance research and use the results to shape public policy; scientists can discover new truths…. But each must be able to rely on the other, or the partnership will not work. Scientists must be allowed to conduct their work unfettered by political or commercial pressures. (We have only to look at the failures of biological science in the former Soviet Union to understand the scientific and political cost of interference.) And the government cannot craft sound policy unless it can count on scientists to provide accurate data on which to base its actions….Public-policy makers, including members of Congress, must have access to reliable data, data untrammeled by political or commercial interference or censorship. They must have guidance from experts who understand the complexities of the problem and all of its plausible solutions. (Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/2/05)

We believe there is a clear need to examine the current state of the relationship between science and the government in order to better understand the risks incurred by policy decisions that may reflect political ideologies more than thoughtful consideration of relevant scientific data. The Social Research conference on Politics and Science will explore the history and current uses of science in setting public policy, focusing on such key questions as:

What role should science play in setting public policy?

What does the future hold for a society that rejects the results of scientific inquiry?

What needs to be done now, and by whom or by what institutions, in order to ensure that good science leads to good public policy that best serves the needs of the public? While those engaged in science are involved in a search for truths about the physical, biological and social worlds, public policy decisions are based on many other considerations. Heated public policy debates between people on opposite ends of the political spectrum have put scientific findings at odds with religious, corporate, political and other special interests, and the voice of science is, unfortunately, often far from the loudest competing to be heard. When scientists are forced to become advocates, they risk compromising their unique position as "objective" truth-seekers and thus are more easily viewed as simply another interest group with no special status or claim. A growing list of policy decisions, including those concerning stem cell research, reproductive health issues, the USDA's new nutritional recommendations, drug approval policy at the FDA, global warming, and drilling in the arctic refuge, ignore the best advice of many in the scientific community while favoring views held by various special interests even though the issues directly impact the health and future well-being of us all.

Politics and Science will bring together representatives from across the political spectrum to provide a wide range of perspectives on the relationship between science and public policy. It will examine the nexus of interests that compete to create government policies, how the balance of power among them has changed, and the consequences of these changes. The conference will consider how the voice of science might be amplified and become a more influential factor in policy decisions.

To order the related issue of Social Research: An International Quarterly



Thursday, February 9

Session I: Recent History: The Emerging Conflict between Politics and Science

Has the balance of power among the various interests that play a role in determining public policy changed? What changes have occurred in the influence of science? What are the consequences of these changes? What lessons can be learned from past successes and failures in creating public policy? Speakers:

Rita Colwell, Chairman, Canon US Life Science, Inc.; Distinguished Professor, University of Maryland College Park and John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health; Former Director, National Science Foundation Henry Kelly, President, Federation of American Scientists Daniel Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies, Program in History of Medicine, Yale University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Moderator: Gerald Holton, Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics and Research Professor of History of Science, Harvard University

Session II: Health

What are the roles of scientific, political, religious, and corporate interests in the creation of health policy, for example reproductive health policy? Has the relationship among these forces changed? If so, what are the consequences for our well-being? Speakers:

Eric Cohen, Director, Biotechnology and American Democracy Program, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Editor, The New Atlantis M. Joycelyn Elders M.D., Distinguished Professor, College of Public Health, Professor Emeritus, College of Medicine, University of Arkansas School of Medical Sciences; Former United States Surgeon General William Hurlbut, Consulting Professor, Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Stanford University Medical Center, Member, President's Council on Bioethics John S. Santelli M.D., Professor and Chairman, Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health and Clinical Pediatrics, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Moderator: Bernard Goldstein, Professor and Former Dean, Univeristy of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

Session III: Keynote Address
Neal Lane, Science Advisor to President Clinton; Former Director of the National Science Foundation

Why this conference now? How has the relationship between science and politics changed? Where have we been, where are we now, and where should we be going?

Bob Kerrey, President, The New School; Former U.S. Senator from Nebraska

Friday February 10

Session IV: The Environment

What is the role of science and scientists in making environmental policy? What interests compete to create policies affecting the environment? Has the balance among them changed? If so, how? What are the consequences? Speakers:

Paul Ehrlich, President, Center for Conservation Biology; Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University, James E.Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Steven F. Hayward, F. K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research; Senior fellow, PacificResearch Institute for Public Policy

Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and Director, Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Princeton University Moderator: Dawn Rittenhouse, Director, Sustainable Development, Dupont

Session V: Energy: Technology and Sources of Power

What is the role of science and scientists in making energy policy? Has this changed, and if so, how? If a change has occurred, is it a matter of the relative influence of scientists, corporations and politicians? How are the issues tied to new trends in globalization? What are the consequences of these changes? Speakers:

Paul Gilman, Director, Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Studies at ORNL; Former Science Advisor, United States Environmental Protection Agency

Kurt Gottfried, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Cornell University; Co-founder and Chair, Union of Concerned Scientists, Martin Hoffert, Professor Emeritus of Physics, New York University

William F. Martin, Chairman, Washington Policy & Analysis; Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee, United States Department of Energy Moderator: Henry Kelly, President, Federation of American Scientists

Session VI: Round-table Discussion

What needs to be done now, and by whom or by what institutions, in order to ensure that good science leads to good public policy that best serves the needs of the American public? How can we change the current situation so that scientists and scientific findings have more influence? How can we improve the policy decision-making process? Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director,James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University; Member, President's Council on Bioethics,

Bernard Goldstein, Professor and Former Dean, Univerisity of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

David Goldston, Chief of Staff, House Committee on Science

Rush Holt, US Representative from New Jersey

Rick Piltz, Director, Climate Science Watch; Former Senior Associate, US Climate Change Science Program

Ellis Rubinstein, President and CEO, New York Academy of Science

Philip M. Smith, Smith Science Policy & Management; Former Executive Officer, National Research Council

Albert H. Teich, Director of Science & Policy Programs, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Ruth Wooden, President, Public Agenda Moderator: Ira Flatow, Host, Talk of The Nation: Science Friday; Science Correspondent, National Public Radio

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
bottom of page