11.373 | Fall 2004 | Graduate

Science, Politics, and Environmental Policy


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


All sides of the debate agree that environmental policy should be based on “sound science.” But adversaries disagree on what constitutes sound science, as well as on the extent to which we can and should rely on science to furnish answers to policy questions. The goal of this course is to gain a deeper understanding of the role of science and scientists in environmental policymaking. We begin by investigating the methods scientists use to learn about the natural world and the way scientific knowledge about the environment accumulates. We then examine the treatment of science by advocates and the media, as well as the role science typically plays in legislative, administrative and judicial decision making. We also look briefly at the extent to which science shapes international environmental regimes, as well as how other political systems use scientific information, in an effort to discern which attributes of the U.S. approach arise out of our peculiar institutional arrangements and which are more universal. Finally, we consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of mechanisms to increase public participation in both science-based decision making and decisions about which scientific endeavors government ought to fund.

Course Requirements

This is a seminar course, so students must come to class prepared to contribute thoughtfully to a discussion of the assigned reading. To that end, students will write a 2- to 3-page essay on the reading each week (please take careful note of the style and format points below). Students can skip essays for any two of the 12 weeks for which short essays are assigned. Hard copies of weekly essays are due on Mondays at 5 p.m. (Late essays will get only partial credit; no essays will be accepted after 5 p.m. on Tuesday.) In addition to writing short weekly essays, students will write a 7- to 8-page final essay.

Evaluations of Student Achievement

Students will be evaluated on the quality of their contribution to the class as well as on their written work. Grades will be based on the following, approximate, formula:

Class Participation 20%
Weekly Essays 50%
Final Essay 30%

Format Notes for Writing Essays

As you compose your weekly and final essays, please keep the following points in mind:


  • All essays should be doubled spaced and in 12-point type. Please number pages and staple them.
  • Page limits are firm; I will not read beyond the assigned length.
  • Use reference-list format for all cited work. (You can find a guide to reference-list format in the Chicago Manual of Style.)


  • Short, simple sentences are always better than long, complicated ones.
  • Active voice is always preferable to passive voice.
  • Direct, concrete statements are better than vague, indirect statements.
  • Write for an educated general audience, not for me or for classmates who have read the material.
  • Along the same lines, avoid jargon.
  • Above all, make everything you write lively and interesting!


  • Weekly essays must be turned in by 5 p.m. on Monday. Late essays will lose partial credit (1 grade per day); no essays will be accepted after noon on Wednesday.
  • The 7th day after Lec #13 is the absolute last day to turn in the final essay.
  • Finally, be vigilant about plagiarism, as it is an extremely serious offense and quite easy to avoid. When you quote another author, or simply paraphrase her ideas, you must cite the source. There are no exceptions.