A report from Copenhagen

March 18, 2009

ReslienceScience has a nice link to the impressions of a scientist in Copenhagen last week, which we have covered previously here, here and here.

The brief dispatch provides an interesting insight into the gap between science and public understanding.  This was one of the main issues which emerged from our Climate Science / Public Policy Futures Group (covered here).

Reflecting on this, one climate scientist wrote:


Being a climate scientist these days is not for the faint of heart, as arguably no other area of research yields a sharper contrast between “eureka!” moments, and the sometimes terrifying implications of those discoveries for the future of the planet.

“Science is exciting when you make such findings,” said Konrad Steffen, who heads the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado.

“But if you stop and look at the implications of what is coming down the road for humanity, it is rather scary. I have kids in college — what do they have to look forward to in 50 years?”

And that’s not the worst of it, said top researchers gathered here last week for a climate change conference which heard, among other bits of bad news, that global sea levels are set to rise at least twice as fast over the next century as previously thought, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk.

What haunts scientists most, many said, is the feeling that — despite an overwhelming consensus on the science — they are not able to convey to a wider public just how close Earth is to climate catastrophe.

That audience includes world leaders who have pledged to craft, by year’s end, a global climate treaty to slash the world’s output of dangerous greenhouse gases.

It’s as if scientists know a bomb will go off, but can’t find the right words to warn the people who might be able to defuse it.

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.