11.373 | Fall 2004 | Graduate

Science, Politics, and Environmental Policy


Part I: What is Science?
1 Introduction to the Course

The Policy Process and the Political Debate Over “Sound Science”

What are the critiques, from the left and the right, of the other side’s use of science? What are the implicit models of (1) science and (2) the policy process that underpin both sides’ critiques? Given that each side seems to say the same thing about the other, can you come up with an alternative to the rational model of science in environmental policymaking?


The Scientific Method and the Production of Scientific Knowledge

What is science? What do scientists do? How do they produce scientific knowledge? In what ways do positivists, relativists (or constructivists), and pragmatic realists answer these questions? Is science a source of reliable and valid knowledge about the world? Why, or why not?


Environmental (Regulatory) Science, Experts, and Expertise

What is environmental (regulatory, applied) science? How and why is it different from “pure” (academic, bench) science? How, exactly, is regulatory science “made”? To what extent, and in what ways, do scientists’ values, or worldviews, influence the practice of environmental science? How do scientists perceive their role in the policy process? Where do they get their authority? Why do scientific experts disagree in environmental policy disputes?

Part II: How is Science Filtered Through the Policy Process?

Environmental Advocacy: Using Science to Define Problems

How do advocates use science to define/frame environmental policy issues? Why does advocates’ framing of issues matter – that is, how might it affect policymaking?


Media Coverage of Science and Environmental Risk

How do the media cover science and environmental risk? To what extent and how do the media affect environmental policymaking, given their coverage of these topics?


The Public’s Perception of Science and Environmental Risk

How does the public view science and scientists? How does the public understand environmental risk? How are the public’s views shaped, and how might those views affect decision making?


Science in Legislative Decision Making

How does Congress deal with science when making legislative decisions? Why do members of Congress treat science the way they do? What kinds of policies does Congress produce, and how do they reflect the scientific understanding of environmental problems?


Science in Administrative and Judicial Decision Making

How do agencies treat science in making administrative decisions and why? How do the courts treat scientific expertise and agencies’ use of science? How do agency decision makers’ expectations of judicial review influence their treatment of science-based decisions?


Science in the International Arena

What are some differences in the way science is incorporated into the policy process in other (developing, developed) nations? How does decision making in the international arena reflect these cross-country differences? How is the use of science in international environmental policymaking different from the use of science within countries?


Advocacy Science vs. Collaborative Science

To what extent and how should we incorporate the public into science-based decision making? What is “joint fact finding” – how does it work, and why do proponents think it is preferable to the conventional approach? What are some potential drawbacks creating the scientific basis for decision making collaboratively?


Local Knowledge

What, exactly, is “local knowledge” or “traditional ecological knowledge,” and why might we want (or not want) to include it in our assessments of how the natural world works? What is “popular epidemiology,” and how might it impede or enhance our ability to understand environmental diseases?


Uncertainty, Adaptive Management and the Precautionary Principle

What is adaptive management? What is the rationale for adaptive management – why do scientists believe it will enhance the use of science in environmental policymaking? What is the precautionary principle, and how is it related, if at all, to adaptive management?