Obama releases guidelines for scientific integrity

March 18, 2009

One of the major themes of HFP’s research programme is the role of science in public policy.

It is therefore interesting to note that the Obama Administration issued guidelines this month designed to begin to define what constitutes good science and improve the role of scientific integrity in US policy making.  An excerpt is presented below, with the full text of the memo found here

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.  Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.  If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.  To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking.  The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.

By this memorandum, I assign to the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (Director) the responsibility for ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch’s involvement with scientific and technological processes.  The Director shall confer, as appropriate, with the heads of executive departments and agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget and offices and agencies within the Executive Office of the President (collectively, the “agencies”), and recommend a plan to achieve that goal throughout the executive branch.

Economists using the “D-word”

March 11, 2009

Stephen Dubner reviews Richard Posner’s forthcoming book, A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 and the Descent Into Depression. He highlights the following excerpts, which are right in line with this blog’s recent posts on the use of “collapse” language in mainstream conversation.

The world’s banking system collapsed last fall, was placed on life support at a cost of some trillions of dollars, and remains comatose. We may be too close to the event to grasp its enormity. A vocabulary rich only in euphemisms calls what has happened to the economy a “recession.” We are well beyond that. We are in the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. It began as a recession — that is true — in December 2007, though it was not so gentle a downturn that it should have taken almost a year for economists to agree that a recession had begun then. (Economists have become a lagging indicator of our economic troubles.)

Posner also reflects on the use of the “D-word”, or “Depression”.  Is the “C-word” the humanitarian equivalent?

The word itself is taboo in respectable circles, reflecting a kind of magical thinking: if we don’t call the economic crisis a “depression,” it can’t be one. But no one who has lived through the modest downturns in the American economy of recent decades could think them comparable to the present situation. … It is the gravity of the economic downturn, the radicalism of the government’s responses, and the pervading sense of crisis that mark what the economy is going through as a depression.

…”Pervading sense of crisis”… isn’t that what is behind the increase in collapsitarian thinking?  And isn’t that a good thing, in terms of increased threat awareness?

Yet more sparkling predictions of doom

March 11, 2009

Continuing our theme of collapse dialogue in the media (see previous posts here and here), here is a gem from Bruce Sterling, one of this blogger’s favourite forecasters of all things creative and destructive.  From his article in Seed Magazine, “2009 Will be a Year of Panic“:

The climate. People still behave as if it’s okay. Every scientist in the world who isn’t the late Michael Crichton knows that it’s not. The climate is in terrible shape; something’s gone wrong with the sky. The bone-chilling implications haven’t soaked into the populace, even though Al Gore put together a PowerPoint about it that won him a Nobel. Al was soft-peddling the problem.

An later on the role of science in public policy:

To be a creationist president is not a problem. A suicide cult is the most effective political actor in the world today. Clearly the millions of people embracing fundamentalism like to make up their own facts…

If science is discredited, why should mere politics have any intellectual rigor? Just cobble together a crazy-quilt mix-and-match ideology, like Venezuelan Bolivarism or Russia’s peculiar mix of spies, oil, and Orthodoxy. Go from the gut — all tactics, no strategy — making up the state of the world as you go along! Stampede wildly from one panic crisis to the next. Believe whatever is whispered. Hide and conceal whatever you can. Spy on the phone calls, emails, and web browsing of those who might actually know something.

If that leads you to a miserable end-state, huddling with the children in a fall-out shelter clutching silver bullion, then you can congratulate yourself as the vanguard of civilization.

This all from an article extolling the realities of a post-Westphalian grass roots politics, the growing un-insurability of coastal and flood prone properties, and the doom of elders who “will not go gently into the night”.  Keep in mind Sterling is a science fiction author of course, but it is yet another “weak signal” indicating the zeitgeist of the moment.