Science and Scientists in the U.S. Environmental Policy Process

By Brent S. Steel, Denise Lach and Rebecca Warner.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Many policy makers, academics, interest groups, environmental managers, and interested citizens have called for a more science-based environmental policy. The assumption is that including scientists and scientific information will improve the quality of complex policy decisions. Others have argued, however, that while science is an important source of information for environmental policy, scientists should only supply the public and policy-makers relevant information and avoid advocating for preferred policy outcomes. They argue that scientists can lose their credibility if they cross the line between science and policy. We investigate this debate with a 2007 U.S. study examining the attitudes of scientists, environmental managers, interest groups, and the public concerning the role of science and scientists in environmental policy. In interviews and surveys with members of these four groups, we find that there are significant differences among groups about what constitutes science, including the acceptability of positivism; a preference among many respondents for research scientists to work closely with managers to interpret and integrate scientific findings into management decisions; and, for those respondents with positivist orientations, some interest in scientific advocacy and decision-making by ecological scientists. Ecological scientists, on the other hand, are more doubtful of their ability to provide scientific answers and also more reluctant to engage directly in policy processes than others would prefer them to be.

Keywords: Environmental Policy, Science Policy, Positivism, Post-Normal Science

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.171-188. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.675MB).

Prof. Brent S. Steel

Professor, Public Policy, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA

Brent S. Steel is professor of political science and director of the Master of Public Policy program at Oregon State University (OSU). He is an adjunct faculty member in Marine Resources Management, Natural Resources, Environmental Science, Water Resources Policy and Management, and a member of the OSU Rural Studies Executive Committee. His research interests include comparative rural policy, natural resource policy, and the development of civil society. He has taught, conducted research, and engaged in program development in many countries including Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Nepal, Russia (Siberia and the Far-east), and South Korea.

Dr. Denise Lach

Professor, Sociology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA

Professor Lach is a Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Water Resources Policy and Management Program. Her current research includes: Examination of changing roles and expectations for science and scientists in natural resource decision making; Institutional resistance to changes in the water sector; and Transformation of water resources governance structures.

Prof. Rebecca Warner

Professor, Department of Sociology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA

Rebecca (Becky) Warner is currently the Acting Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and International Programs. She arrived at OSU in the fall of 1990 and currently holds the position of Professor in the Department of Sociology. For nine years Becky served as Chair of Sociology and during that time she helped to design and implement the Master of Public Policy program in the College of Liberal Arts. Her primary research interests include the study of gender and families, particularly related to public policy issues. Becky has been the recipient of several university awards for teaching and service, and in 2004 she was awarded the College of Liberal Arts Award for Excellence.