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Science, Values, and Environmental Politics: Probing the Limits of Objectivity

Illusion: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Progress, among many other published works. A former staff member on the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, he received his Ph.D. in geological sciences from Cornell University in 1986.
When Oct 09, 2003
from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Where 112 Chambers Building
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DANIEL SAREWITZ

 

Director, Center for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Columbia University and Author, Frontiers of Illusion, Science, and the Politics of Progress

Daniel Sarewitz is director and senior research scholar at Columbia University's Center for Science, Policy, and Outcomes. His work focuses on understanding how public policy influences the connections between scientific research and social impacts. His book Living with the Genie: Essays on Technology and the Quest for Human Mastery (co-edited with Alan Lightman and Christina Desser) will be published in November. He is also the author of Frontiers of Illusion: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Progress, among many other published works. A former staff member on the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, he received his Ph.D. in geological sciences from Cornell University in 1986.

Science, Values, and Environmental Politics: Probing the Limits of Objectivity

More than a decade and $20 billion into the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, and after a series of massive assessments from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is fair to say that these scientific endeavors have had little discernible impact on societal efforts to confront the challenges posed by a dynamic climate. A simple interpretation of this situation might be that politicians simply lack the will to pay attention to the science and take appropriate action. Another interpretation might hold that five or ten more years of research will provide the knowledge necessary to guide political response. In this talk I will present a different perspective.

The importance of scientific research for environmental policy making has been justified by three widely held assumptions: first, that science can reduce policy-relevant uncertainties about climate change; second, that reducing uncertainties will catalyze effective policy making; and third, that reducing uncertainties is necessary for effective policy making.

These assumptions are analytically and logically false. They derive from a misunderstanding of the relations between facts and values in science and politics. I will present a more realistic framework for viewing the role of science in decision making, and then discuss the implications of this framework for climate change research priorities, and environmental science more generally.