I have ploughed through Roger Pielke Jr.’s The Honest Broker. On the whole I cannot recommend it; I’ll try to explain in detail soon.
That said, there were a couple of things in the book that I liked a lot. Most important is this. At root, Roger is, in fact, asking the right question, regardless of what you think of his way of answering it. The relationship between science and policy is indeed fraught and not well decided. It is something we need to think about; it’s of first order importance in figuring out what to do about climate and many other crucial issues.
I also liked his contrast between Tornado Science and Abortion Science; in the former, science is decisive, while in the latter, science is, if anything, used as rationalization for positions which were fixed in advance of any realistically plausible evidence.
(It would be more fun to talk about this with a different name than Abortion Science, though, please and thanks. Let’s just call it science-as-proxy vs. science-as-driver.)
But Roger doesn’t go far enough with this distinction; he presumes it is obvious which is which. A good deal of the difficulty we are having in the climate field is in fact that the question of which sort of question it is is in contention. When you hear people saying “global warming is like a religion” they are saying that climate change is about preconceived ethical stances and not about the physical reality of the system. Those of us who think otherwise find ourselves harping on evidence; others see us spouting dogma. We bang the drum about coherence and consistency of evidence; others see signs of closed-mindedness. We try to drive the conversation with facts; they respond with values.
Roger takes no explicit side on which sort of question climate policy debate is, but I think his behavior shows that he doesn’t really see the tornado coming. But I thank him for the distinction just the same. I think this disagreement whether science is a proxy or is the real issue is at the heart of why we talk past each other.
Update: Roger responds in a comment “If you think that you are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner through appeals to science, you are wrong.”
My first response in comments is somewhat tangential to this key point.
My answer to the key point, emphatically, is that if Roger thinks we are in a debate that can be resolved in some manner without appeals to science, he is more wrong than I am. (I don’t think that he does think that, to be fair. But I’m not sure where that leaves us.)
Clearly science is substantially relevant, even if it isn’t entirely dispositive. Until the public understands the main practical implications of the science, we will not end up with a sane policy.
While daunting, these implications are not in themselves complicated. Yet, for whatever reason, they are not commonly understood, and this lack of understanding leads directly to a dysfunctional policy. I do not see any segment of Roger’s four-part taxonomy as having the competence to respond to this circumstance.
The issue I raise in the comments is a much simpler one, but it may serve as a model, wherein Roger can explain what those of us who are convinced there is a tornado coming (let’s stipulate, for the purposes of the discussion, correctly so) can do to overcome those who think our motivation is to sell storm cellars.