The Honest Broker

The Honest Broker (2007) by Roger Pielke Jnr is a book that looks at the relationship between science and policy and in particular how they work together in a democracy.

Pielke puts forward 4 idealized roles that describe how scientists work with society. He breaks the view of democracy into Madisonian democracy, where interest groups obtain a balanced result by competing with each other and Schattscheider’s view that different groups present different options that the public then chooses. The view of science is then broken into a linear model where pure science allows applied science which then gives direct advice as to what should be done. The alternative is a stakeholder model where there is less agreement about values and how facts are to be dealt with. Madisonian Democracy and the linear science model gives the pure scientist who is disinterested in the application of their work. The linear model and Schattschneider’s view of democracy gives a science arbiter who chooses what to do. With Madisonian Democracy and the stakeholder model of science an issue advocate position is taken. Finally with stakeholder model and Schattschneider’s view of democracy the honest broker role is created where science presents politicians and the public with different choices that they can choose.

Pielke describes two idealized situations at different polls. Those where there is agreement on the facts and the values relating to them, here the example of a meeting in a hall with a tornado warning giving clear common objects and fairly certain facts. The contrast given is where there are heavily divergent values as in the abortion debate. Pielke makes the important point that in the abortion debate it is not science which is the issue but values.

Pielke goes on to describe issues where ‘stealth issue advocacy’ where scientists present themselves as Honest Broker’s but are in fact issue advocates who use their knowledge of science to pressure people toward particular causes of action.

The book makes an interesting comparison between science and military intelligence. Both attempt to be disinterested but both are often used by issue advocates and become a battleground for arguments over values. Pielke likens the use of intelligence in justifying the US invasion of Iraq to the use of science to obtain results for particular groups.

The book is a fine contribution to the study of science and public policy. It would help scientists think about their role when advising government and is useful for anyone who is interested in how scientific advice and public policy interact.


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