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Ellis Rubinstein Translating Good Science into Good Policy: The Us Factor IN A WORLD OF CONTENTIOUS ASSERTIONS, HERE IS A STATEMENT THAT everyone can agree with: science has never been m ore im portant to the citizenry and to the body politic. But instead of becoming better understood by the public and its representatives—something one might expect as this increasingly highimpact endeavor takes the center stage—polls indicate that science is as poorly understood as it was decades ago. In fact, science literacy is tread­ ing w ater... or worse. In the United States, we have recently observed the renew ed debates on the teaching of evolution, the lack of clarity about climate change despite the evidence, the battles over stem cell research, the public’s reluctance in applying risk/benefit calculations to pharm aceu­ tical products, and the general politicization of science in the current US adm inistration (Specter, 2006: 58-69). Is science literacy unacceptably sparse only here in the United States? The failure of sufficient num bers of European citizens to com prehend the basics about genetically modified organisms is leav­ ing them as bystanders in a m odem agricultural era. Far worse, their position has had devastating consequences for starving millions in the developing world. To cite a stranger exam ple out of Europe, M artin Enserink in Science (2005: 1394) reported th at Holland’s m inister of science and education, Maria van der Hoeven, announced plans to “stim ulate a Roundtable Discussion 1043 debate about intelligent design.” How could the science m inister of a contem porary W estern European nation take such a position? Van der Hoeven—a political appointee of the Christian Democratic Party and a practicing Catholic—seems to have thought that the “ID debate” would be a mechanism for achieving “common ground” among the W estern religions at a tim e w hen religious extrem ism worries us all. Enserink reported that the m inister wrote, in a blog she authors: “W hat unites Muslims, Jews and Christians is the notion that there is a creator.. . . If we succeed in connecting scientists from different religions, it m ight even be applied in schools and lessons.” Am erican scientists and policym akers will im m ediately guess w ho was cheering th at seem ingly well-m eaning statem ent. Enserink w rote: “Says M anaging D irector John Calvert of th e In telligent Design N etw ork in Shawnee M ission [Kansas]: ‘I th in k it’s a dyna­ m ite idea.’” This paper flows from a panel discussion th at concluded the conference, “Politics and Science,” held at the New School. The charge of the panel, in which I participated, was to address three questions: W hat needs to be done now, and by whom or by w hat institutions, 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 situa­ tion so that scientists and scientific findings have m ore influence? And, how can we improve the policy decision-making process?” This paper addresses those questions. But before turning to the challenge, I would like to cite one additional example of science illiter­ acy, occurring recently on a different continent. I refer to the hard-core Korean nationalists who have continued to support Hwang Woo Suk in the face of the m ost clear-cut evidence imaginable that he com m itted scientific misconduct on a massive scale and who reject the pronounce­ m ents of leading Koreans such at Seoul National University’s research dean and the nation’s public prosecutors. So as we turn to a global problem —science illiteracy. W ho is to blame, and w hat can be done? 1044 social research THE BLAME GAME Many com m entators before m e—politicians, sociologists, educators, and scientists themselves—have w ritten extensively on this topic. And the candidates for blame are numerous: politicians who misuse science for their own partisan purposes; religious leaders who consider science in conflict w ith their belief systems; policymakers who fail to emerge from the halls of academe and power; publishers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 1043-1048
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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