Chapter 1: SCIENCE AND DECISIONMAKING

A central contribution of Jasanoff and Wynne et al.’s chapter is to highlight a crucially important body of social scientific work which tends to be overlooked among scientists, policymakers and lay persons. As Jasanoff and Wynne et al. write, their chapter on the relationship between science and policymaking is intended to "show why initial assumptions about how to study and respond to climate change have proved inadequate, and to present a richer accounting to guide future responses to this complex issue" (p. 3). They describe how the relationship between natural and social science research on climate has tended to be conceived of as a matter of mutual agenda setting in which natural scientists and social scientists helped each other set the research agenda by respectively identifying (1) human activities that are major proximate causes of environmental change and (2) the environmental changes that would severely affect human welfare. This characterization represents only one strand of climate related social science research, albeit the dominant one from the standpoint of state support. This is also the strand of social scientific research most commonly recognized and referred to by natural scientists when referring to the social dimensions of climate change (see for example Schneider 1997) {!Schneider 1997}. Yet, this leaves out recognition of an important -- and growing -- strand of social science research. As Jasanoff and Wynne et al. write, importantly, social scientists also have complex stories to tell about the framing of problems for research, the production and validation of scientific knowledge, and its uptake into policy decisions. Among other things, such work shows how institutions and processes of science and politics steer perceptions of environmental issues; how conflicts over alternative framings are negotiated and resolved, both nationally and internationally; how scientists come to know particular facts and causal relationships regarding climate change and to persuade others that their konwl is credible; how conflicts over risks arise, and how responses to them are handled in a world of conflicting and plural political interests; and how policymakers in different socio-political contexts draw upon scientific knowledge to justify collective action, nationally or worldwide.

Social scientific analyses grounded in this framework reject as too linear and reductionistic accounts of the science-policy relationship which portray science as simply finding evidence of new environmental phenomena, pointing out the importance of favorable and unfavorable socio-political micro- and macro-level contexts for what issues are selected for scientific attention, public concern and policy action. These analyses thus show that contrary to prevailing understanding of the science-policy interface, the discovery of scientific facts doesn’t inevitably lead to informed social responses by means of prediction, rational choice, and control but, rather, that which scientific facts are produced and transmitted into the policy arena also centrally depends on extra-scientific factors.

This line of research might be perceived as threatening to natural scientists; it problematizes the claims to objectivity to which scientists traditionally resort, pointing out that scientific understandings and pronouncements are inherently wound up with socio-cultural factors and particularities of perspective. However, this line of social scientific research is needed and, as Jasanoff and Wynne et al. write, also likely to grow in importance due to the increasing contestation of scientific knowledge related to environmental threats of uncertain nature and consequence. Jasanoff, Wynne et al.’s chapter renders evident the one-sidedness of dominant renditions of the science/society/policy interface -- renditions which, in the words of the authors, represent linear, modernist accounts of knowledge production and policy action. By contrast, the authors promote the "model of co-production," according to which "scientific knowledge and political order are co-produced at multiple stages in their joint evolution, from the stabilization of specialized factual findings in laboratories and field studies to the national and international acceptance of causal explanations offered by science and their use in decisionmaking" (p.6).

In the process of making their argument, the authors describe and evaluate a range of competing social scientific models for understanding the relationship between scientific knowledge and political order, offering an overview of great value to social scientists seeking to learn, classify, and evaluate the heterogeneous social scientific work related to climate change science, environmental concern, and policy action. Jasanoff and Wynne’s article is particularly dense and difficult to read. It is perhaps of most use for persons who are social scientists *and* who are already familiar with the works cited and discussed. Therein lies also its limitation, in my opinion. I doubt that many persons not directly engaged in social scientific research of the type described by Jasanoff, Wynne et al. will have the stamina to read a chapter of this density and length (77 pages). Moreover, some segments of the chapter are unclearly written.

Certainly, it is difficult to write to a diverse audience, and the authors may have felt a need to target their chapter mostly to other social scientists. Two versions of both chapters would appear needed: one which is concise and accessible to non-experts in the field, and one which is comprehensive and more specialized.

At times, the chapters appear almost too comprehensive. Besides demanding extraordinary patience on the part of readers, it constitutes not only a literature survey but also integrates passages of analysis of past scientific controversies around other environmental issues, and of current trends within climate research. The chapter thus risks disintegrating under the weigh of its attempt to do so many things.

For example, the conclusion includes the point that "Scientific modeling is the increasingly encompassing vehicle through which the world’s technical communities are seeking to bring what was formerly labeled trans-science -- questions lying beyond the analytic reach of science -- under rational and systematic control." This is an interesting point, and one occasionally signaled in other parts of the chapter. However, it is not succinctly discussed. As a result, even as this and other points are intended to be part of the overall aim of the chapter to analyze how science influences and is influenced by socio-political frameworks, such points sometimes work more as stimulating tid-bits than as well-integrated parts of an overall argument.

[Moreover, at least in a few places it seems to me that the authors occasionally appear to make points which aren’t clearly backed by references or by explanations of how these conclusions or judgments were derived. This is important to do, particularly if the volume seeks to enrol natural scientists by convincing them of the important contributions and merits of social scientific research]

In what follows I want to illustrate the density and lack of clarity of parts of the chapter, and how it includes passages that I doubt are accessible to persons unfamiliar with the work under discussion, and which threatens to undermine the effectiveness of the chapter.

"In public debates among experts, the boundary between good science and mere politics becomes an important political resource (designed to discredit one’s scientific opponents), but because of the transparency of American political institutions and their knowledge claims, even lay persons such as Rush Limbaugh can appropriate enough of the expert discourse to play an influential role in shaping public opinion. More open acknowledgment of the necessarily judgmental properties of policy-relevant science might ward off such challenges to expert-authority, since the attacks are predicated to some extent on an exaggerated view of the certainty of such knowledge. Yet the distrust that motivates the backlash also prevents US policymakers from taking refuge in forms of judgment that are expressly subjective, founded on specialized experience and not available for continual public criticism" (p. 73).

In the first sentence, the word "boundary" draws on the Science and Technology Studies concept of "boundary-work" and is not likely to be understood by persons unfamiliar with STS literature; to them, it may not be obvious that it isn’t the boundary itself that becomes an important political resource but, rather, how that boundary is drawn. Nor is it clear what is meant by the "transparency of American political institutions and their knowledge claims." And what does that transparency have to do with Limbaugh’s influence? What does "such knowledge" refer to (in he sentence "the attacks are predicated to some extent on an exaggerated view of the certainty of such knowledge")? While I can deduce it, it requires either preexisting knowledge or at least great effort on the part of the reader to make sense of the point being made. How challenges to expert-authority involves exaggerated views of the certainty of knowledge is not described; it must be assumed that readers already know the discourses and dynamics involved. It is not immediately clear how distrust relates to the backlash, nor how the distrust prevents policymakers from resorting to subjective judgments -- and how and why is it described as a "resort" to use subjective judgments? Isn’t it so often claims to objectivity that constitute a "resort," since they elide the many ways in which scientific knowledge is wound up with culture and politics? I don't mean to argue with the general drift of the argument in the article, but to point out how the abstractness and lack of clarity in argumentation (writing style) can constitute an obstacle to mining this article for the wealth of knowledge and insight it has to offer.


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