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The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics Paperback – May 14 2007

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
A Direct Introduction, Without Nuance July 4 2007
By Personalization Nerd - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book has not been written for the policy analyst, but for those members of the science and technology community who either don't understand why science gets made a part of a political discussion or don't understand why their injection of scientific argument into a political discussion does little to resolve (and sometimes much to inflame) the argument. Pielke makes use of some very effective, if unsubtle, instruments to make his points and, as such, this text may irritate those who see much subtlety and complexity to the development of science and technology policy. However, as a primer for those who think "we just have to get the science right and then the problem will be resolved" (or, more importantly, for those who have found this to be a fallacy, but don't understand why), this is a powerful introduction. Moreover, while many elements of his argument can be found in his published work on climate change, it's nice to see it all brought together in one title.

The book's only real weakness is its effort to employ these notions to discuss elements of some of our present-day controversies. It's really stretching to use these notions to talk about the Bush Administration's rationales for the Iraq War, even though it's understandable why he might want to develop examples from outside the science/technology domain. However, the author's personal politics shine through enough to distract the reader from the argument, IMHO.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Well worth reading Oct. 24 2007
By Russell J Hall - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Honest Broker is a factual and insightful exploration of the role of science in policy development. The author has several insights that are worth remembering. As science struggles to become more relevant to decision-making, it is increasingly important for the purveyors of science and the public to become more aware of the opportunities for science to act as a positive force as a source of policy alternatives (in the terminology of the author) or as a blunt instrument wielded as a tool of issue or viewpoint advocates in advancing private agendas. Unfortunately, in the author's view, the traditions of classical science make it vulnerable to manipulation by those promoting narrowly-favored outcomes.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
if you want to be a fair scientist, this is an important book to read March 25 2014
By AngieBug24 - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
if you want to be a fair scientist, this is an important book to read. although sometimes you might have preferences, it is good to remember to be honest and fair when doing and reporting science
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I highly recommend it Nov. 6 2013
By Melinda Gormley - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone interested in understanding science and technology policy should read this book. I've assigned it to undergraduate college students and use its contents to craft professional development seminars for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
26 of 55 people found the following review helpful
By Kåre Fog - Published on
Format: Paperback
The book has nine chapters. Seven of these contain general considerations on the relations between science, politics, and policies. What is of interest to Pielke is not the eventual truth of what a scientist says; his only interest is what policies result from the scientist's argumentation. To Pielke, it is OK for a scientist to be an issue advocate, i.e. to argue for a distinct political agenda - actually he does not reject the possibility that there could be two sets of scientists, viz. republican scientists and democratic scientists, because all science has political connotations (p. 93) . The best is, of course, to be `an honest broker' (as hinted at by the title of the book). The worst, however, is to postulate that you are a neutral scientist, when in fact you are a `stealth issue advocate'. Pielke criticizes the `linear model of science', according to which basic science is the prerequisite for applied science, which in turn is the prerequisite for formulation of policies. This line of thinking encourages the mapping of political interests onto science, i.e. it leads to a politicization of science, he says. But Pielke does not explain very well why this would happen, and he does not give us any useful presentation of any better alternative.

The points are then illustrated in two chapters dealing with concrete cases. One chapter is about what information was available on weapons of mass destruction when president Bush jr. decided to initiate the second Iraq war. This chapter is rather short and superficial and tells nothing that we do not all know. And then, one chapter (20 pages) deals with the criticism of Lomborg's book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. This chapter appears as the cornerstone of the whole argumentation. This is evident from the title of that chapter: "When scientists politicize science", and what he describes in that chapter, is something called `pathological politicization of science' (p. 129). Those who are guilty of this, are all those who criticize Lomborg. These are the persons who serve to illustrate all what Pielke dislikes.

Pielke cites a reader's letter from John Holdren, professor of environmental and resource science, who defends his criticism of Lomborg with the words: "To expose this pastiche of errors and misrepresentations was not a political act but a scientific duty." Pielke uses this statement as a departing point for the following argumentation : Lomborg supports a distinct policy. When Holdren argues against Lomborg, then it shows that Holdren tries to fight against that policy, which means that Holdren is out in a political business. So, although Holdren says that his actions were not politically motivated, but a scientific duty, Pielke refuses to believe him on his word. To Pielke, scientific truth is irrelevant, and when Holdren says that he defends scientific truth, then Holdren is actually doing the opposite, he is carrying out political lobbyism.

Pielke also cites the subtitle of the Scientific Americans theme issue against Lomborg from January 2002, "Science defends itself against The Skeptical Enviromentalist"". His comments to this (p. 129) are that " . . because particular scientific results compel certain actions and not others, there is little reason to distinguish science from politics. Consequently, the following subtitle would thus have been synonymous, "Our political perspective defends itself against the political agenda of The Skeptical Environmentalist" but it would have carried with it far less authority than masking politics in the cloth of science."

Pielke is completely oblivous of the possibility that maybe Lomborg's postulates are not true, and that maybe Lomborg deliberately distorts the evidence in order to seduce and mislead his readers. This, on the other hand, is the understanding that forms the basis of the Lomborg-errors web site, which demonstrates more than 500 concrete errors and flaws in Lomborg's books, of which about 100 are deliberate attempts to mislead people. From that understanding, it is obvious that there must be somebody who correct the errors, and that it is a scientific duty to point them out.

Pielke's interpretation, on the other hand, demands that such a thing as scientific truth does not exist. There may be a `democratic truth' and a `republican truth', but no single truth. If this conception becomes more widely accepted, then it will be the death of science as we know it. The whole idea behind science is to seek `the truth' and to apply a certain code of conduct in this search. If there is no single truth, then there can be no science. So, in his attempts to defend Lomborg, Pielke goes so far that he is willing to kill science and to postulate that science is just a peculiar form of politics.

Altogether, Pielke turns everything upside down. Chronic liars are presented as honest, and those who try to reveal dishonesty, are presented as culprits.

Not only in the Lomborg chapter, but in the whole book, Pielke's argumentation is unprecise, sloppy, and not very convincing. What Pielke performs, is actually `stealth issue advocacy' in the cloth of social science.