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Michael Oppenheimer Science and Environmental Policy: The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations THIS PAPER ADDRESSES THE ROLE OF NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS, or NGOs, in the science-policy nexus. I shall draw on my 21 years ofexpe­ rience working for a nongovernm ental organization, Environm ental Defense, my earlier experience as a research scientist, and my recent experience as a professor, the latter two positions at large universities. I hope this quasi-anecdotal approach is informative, but in addition, it is a necessity because there have been relatively few academic studies of nongovernm ental advocacy organizations. I shall begin by considering a question arising from the opening section of this volume: Is the special objective role of science in the policy arena, presumed by m any observers to have existed in an earlier political era, about to disappear into the dust bin of history, and if so, should we act to restore such a role? My view is consistent w ith Daniel Kevles’s paper: science in the current policy world has just as m uch to do w ith regulation of corpo­ rate activity and, to a lesser extent, people’s lives, as it does w ith the means to wage war or develop consum er goods like com puter games. This development dates to the revolution in environm ental regulation in the 1970s, as well as the expansion of regulatory attention to foods, drugs, and health care. If science formerly was viewed as a servant of social research Vol 73 : No 3 : Fall 200 6 881 people’s wants and needs, science-based decision m aking now also func­ tions as som ething of a m aster over people and companies by dictat­ ing restrictions. So it was inevitable in a free society, organized in part along the lines of special interests, some empowered by large financial resources, that a melee should ensue. And that is w hat we have today on m any issues, particularly global warm ing, aided and abetted by a related phenom enon: governm ent that is often disingenuous. I argue that there is no point trying to put the genie back in the bottle, no point trying to regain an imagined status of science operating in splendid objectivity and isolation, rendering untainted judgm ents. It probably never was so, and I doubt it ever will be. Furtherm ore, it should become apparent from this paper that proposals to create a neat division between regulation and science, resembling Alvin W einberg’s earlier notion of a science court (Jasanoff, 1990), are tinged w ith elit­ ism while satisfying neither side, and if they were proposed (and I have heard such rumblings) m any scientists, including me, would be strongly opposed. The relation of science to government has indeed worsened, and needs to be fixed, but w hether or not the good old days ever existed, we should not aspire to return to them . To deal with current problems of the environm ent, science needs to be inclusive rather than exclusion­ ary, as usually has been its tendency. We need to recognize that values and viewpoints are an inevitable part of scientific judgm ent in the zone w here science interacts w ith governm ent over m any environm ental problem s, w here systems are complex, uncertainty is endemic, and learning is slow. W hat questions are asked and how they are fram ed are a critical part o f science research and science advice in this arena. A necessary part of improving the science-govemment interface is to avoid pretending that science advice in such an arena can be built from pure natural science. Rather, as Henry Kelly has noted, “Sound policy depends on a rough m arketplace of ideas.” We m ust all get used to this new situation. Of course, this rough m arketplace has some big downsides. The problem isn’t all the voices heard. Rather, it is that some participants do 882 social research not play by the usual rules, and at the same time, have disproportionate resources to amplify their message in public (Mooney, 2005) and often have differential access to the decision process (Jasanoff, 1990). The solution I propose is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 881-890
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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