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Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking Paperback – July 15, 2003

3.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Politics and science make strange bedfellows. In politics, perceptions are reality and facts are negotiable. The competing interests, conflicting objectives, and trade-offs of political negotiations often lend themselves to bending the truth and selectively interpreting facts to shape outcomes. In science, facts are reality. This collection examines the conflicts that arise when politics and science converge. In Politicizing Science, eleven leading scientists describe the politicization—through misapplication or overemphasis of results that favor a political decision or through outright manipulation—of scientific findings and deliberations to advance policy agendas. They show how the consequences of politicization are inflicted on the public, including the diversion of money and research efforts from worthwhile scientific endeavors, the costs of unnecessary regulations, and the losses of useful products—while increased power and prestige flow to those who manipulate science. The authors of three essays describe government diversions of scientific research and the interpretation of scientific findings away from where the evidence leads and toward directions deemed politically desirable. Three more contributions analyze the expensive and extensive efforts devoted to altering images of risk in order to establish linkages in the public’s mind between deleterious human health effects and various areas of scientific research. Two essays examine the workings and results of consensus advisory panels and conclude that their recommendations are often based on far-from-certain science and driven by social and political dynamics that substitute group cohesion in favor of independent, critical thinking. Authors of two essays describe the unfortunate results of application of the "precautionary principle," which generally requires proof of no risk before a new product is introduced or an existing product can be continued in use. A concluding essay describes the personal costs of opposing the politicization of science.

Michael Gough, a biologist, has participated in science policy issues at the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, in Washington think tanks, and on various advisory panels.

Contributors: Bruce Ames, Roger Bate, Bernard L. Cohen, Lois Swirsky Gold, William Happer, Joseph P. Martino, Patrick J. Michaels, Henry I. Miller, Robert Nilsson, Stephen Safe, S. Fred Singer

About the Author

Gough is director of science and risk studies at the Cato Institute.
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Product Details

  • Series: Hoover Institution Press Publication (Book 517)
  • Paperback: 313 pages
  • Publisher: Hoover Institution Press; 1st edition (July 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0817939326
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817939328
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,672,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Expertly compiled and edited by Michael Gough (an expert on Risk Assessment and Environmental Policy at the George Marshall Institute, Washington, D.C.), Politicizing Science: The Alchemy Of Policy Making is an impressive collection of insightful and informative essays by a diverse variety of learned authors concerning the intersection of politics and science in modern-day America. From the political repercussions of what science had to say of Agent Orange and Dioxin, to the attempted political suppression of science in the Revelle-Gore issue, and more, Politicizing Science is a crucial and very highly recommended body of perspectives for surveying the political workings of society and the impact they have upon the latest science research results.
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Format: Paperback
The following is taken from the opening paragraph of the review by Paul M. Grant of "Politicizing Science" , that appeared in the October 16th issue of the journal Nature:
"This is not suitable bedtime reading - not if you want to fall asleep, that is. Those who think that public policy should be based on sound science will be left in despair that such a goal can ever be achieved in the midst of the competing political interests endemic to modern industrialized democratic societies, exacerbated by scientific illiteracy on the part of both leadership and electorate.
Politicizing Science relates the personal trials and tribulations of 12 scientists whose careers were directly affected when their scientific advice conflicted with the political interests of those in power."
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Gough's edited volume does have something important to say: science is an inherently human endeavor and as such, is subject to the vagaries of use and abuse that are typical of the political process. Science has a very large part to play in government risk assessment activities, and consumers of that knowledge should have a healthy respect for its use.

Unfortunately, with the except of the piece by Safe and that of Ames and Gold, the book falls into the same trap it accuses its opponents of falling into. And herein lies the problem; knowledge, in the form of science, is inherently neutral - it is a tool for use by everyone. The selected case studies for this volume argue that science shows that those on the left are wrong and those on the right are correct. But the case study authors, with the noted exceptions, really show is that they are just as guilty of mis-use of science as are the villains they pillory. Facts are drawn from less-than-scientifcally-rigorous sources; arguments are passionate and lacking in context or background information; and conclusions contain little in the way of recommanded ways forward. If you agree that government, liberals, and people who think pollution is a negative are bad for the country and should just keep their traps shut, then this book is for you. Your ideas will not be challenged.

However, if you are interested in experiencing a less-grating, better-cited, and more thorough (and actual) analysis of the full picture of how science is and is not abused by both political parties, I recommend including this in your library but only as one of many sources.
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What an appalling book.

It's not the fact that the book issues cautions about the dangers of politicized science that is problematical. Clearly the dangers here are real and serious. I wish that more people thought about such problems.

It is, rather, the fact that the so many of the 'arguments' presented are shoddy, blatantly political right-wing polemics against the 'suppression' of 'sound science' (=corporate funded, laissez-faire, regulate nothing, manipulated 'science'). According to the contributors to this volume, the forces of darkness on the left who, because they express concerns about the public health and plantary consequences of not regulating pollution (e.g.), and favor a more precautionary approach to environmental policy questions, are guilty of having failed to pay adequate obeisance to "the historically postive linkage between science and economic development." (Tobacco industry 'science,' anyone?)

If (part of) one sentence can convey the flavor of the book, it is this: "...'[E]nvironmentalism' has attracted some whose motives...are hard to distinguish from those of Lysenko..."

If you actually are interested in reading about the evils wrought by the political manipulation of science, try reading THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE or UNDERMINING SCIENCE.
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