05 March 2015

Kenneth Prewitt on Science and Congress

Kenneth Prewitt, of Columbia University and social scientist extraordinaire,  has an interesting paper out in the January, 2015 Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  The paper is titled, "Who Is Listening? When Scholars Think They Are Talking to Congress." 

Here is a neat excerpt:
Scientists, social or otherwise, err in claiming that members of Congress are hostile to science or are anti-science when they vote contrary to scientific warnings about climate change or side with Biblical literalists and intelligent design proponents or express misgivings about genetic modification of crops. Members of Congress can decide that they or their constituents have sound economic reasons for digging and burning coal or have religious reasons for embracing intelligent design or place the precautionary principle line on genetic modification more conservatively than what is warranted by the preponderance of science. A member of Congress might take one of these positions, but not the other two; or take all three but at the same time vote for a defense budget that includes spending on missile defense research or vote to double the NIH budget.

To return to a point emphasized in Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy, a lot goes into the policy mix. When there is scientific evidence on the probable outcome of pushing the X button rather than the Y button, we can hope that it is taken into account. The bridge will be more likely to withstand the earthquake, the missile more likely to hit its target, and the school reform more likely to reduce dropout rates. Scientists can and should vigorously assert that scientific evidence makes for more efficacious policy. But scientists—speaking as scientists—cannot argue that economic interests, ideological preferences, or political considerations have no place in policy choices.
When you label someone as "anti-science" because they support different policy choices than you prefer, you are indeed arguing "that economic interests, ideological preferences, or political considerations have no place in policy choices."

It is probably past time for the rest of us to take science back from those who expect it to carry all the weight of politics on highly contentious societal issues.

02 March 2015

Running Updates on the "Witch Hunt"

This post will serve as a running update on the so-called "investigation" of my research on disasters and climate change at the University of Colorado. I will update it as warranted, with newer stuff at the top. Pointers and tips welcome in the comments.

That's It

5 March - I'm moving on with my life, hope you are too! If there is anything really significant to add to the updates below, I'll do so, but meantime, I'm going back to writing my book.

  • The lead editorial in Nature this week is about what they call a "fishing expedition" by Rep. Grijalva, saying that his actions send "a chilling message to all academics and to the wider public." Well said.
  • Just yesterday, my 2013 Senate testimony that prompted Rep. Grijalva's attack was cited in a Senate hearing. Senator Jeff Sessions asked EPA administrator Gina McCarthy about trends in drought and hurricanes, citing my earlier testimony before that committee. On hurricanes McCarthy responded, "I cannot answer that question. It's a very complicated issue." The answer is of course "They have decreased in frequency and intensity by 20% since 1900." So long as Democrats find it impossible to hear what the data say on extreme events, the topic will remain deeply politicized. (The same is true for Republicans on other issues, hence the pathologically politicized climate issue.) I missed all the mainstream media coverage of McCarthy's struggles with the science.
  • In the WSJ, Richard Lindzen of MIT, and another target of Rep. Grijalva, has a hard hitting op-ed in which he discusses the "witch hunt" and connects it to the overall political battle over climate policy and climate science.
  • At Science Insider, a blog by Science magazine, I am interviewed by Eli Kintisch (@elikint) about COI, the "witch hunt" (my words) and my Ferrari, with plates that read "KochBros." 
  • The American Geophysical Union has reversed course, after first offering support to Representative Grijalva's "investigation." The AGU now says "The rules of transparency affect us all equally, and therefore must be applied equally."  Better late than never, I suppose.
  • I just did an interview with AM630 KHOW in Denver with Mandy Connell. We discussed science and politics, and it was another good conversation. You can listen to it below, starting at 72:40.
  • The Boulder Daily Camera has a new article up, noting Rep. Grivalja has admitted to "overreach" but hasn't modified his request to my university. The University of Colorado states that it will be responsive to the request. I also am quoted in the article.
  • I just did a lengthy, and I think pretty substantive, interview with Garret Lewis at KNST in Tuscon (in Rep. Grijalva's district). We discussed the "investigation," Al Gore, a carbon tax and other things. Lewis was well informed. You can listen to it below.
  • Rep. Grivalja has walked back his requests, according to Ben Geman at the National Journal: Climate Letters Went Too Far. Since Rep. Grivalja already has complete access to all my financial COI disclosures, I guess we now know that the letter was an unnecessary stunt designed to smear. Nice.
  • The Denver Post (March 3) has an editorial titled "CU rightly defends Roger Pielke Jr. against political bully" -- key quote: Rep. Grijalva's "gambit amounts to a bold, abusive assault on academic freedom."
  • Mark Steyn asks why no reporters appear to be interested in the fact that an anonymous person had forewarning of Rep. Grivalja's "investigation" and used a fake email account from a Russian server to taunt those who would later receive letters from the Congressman. Bizarre to be sure, and if I hadn't seen the taunting email in advance I might not have believed it. But as I've said, nothing surprises me in the climate debate anymore.  
  • To believe that Rep. Grijalva's "investigation" has merit, you have to believe either (a) in a shadowy conspiracy of fossil fuel interests funneling me (and others) money under the table to produce certain research results and testimony, which have somehow mysteriously passed peer review and been accepted by the IPCC, or (b) there is no such conspiracy, but I (and others) need to be falsely accused and smeared in order to remove us from the debate. Tin foil hat or unethical campaigner? Not a great choice. 
  • Several reporters have asked me why I testify before Congress if I know that my results will be used by Republicans. Aside from the interesting framing of this question, I have written on my views of providing testimony here in PDF (following the testimony that I am now being investigated for) and please take careful note of the "To Avoid Any Confusion" bullets on p. 2 of my testimony here in PDF.  
Original bullet points
  • This week I have been invited to do various interviews for print/online and radio. I'll update here when these are available and I have more details.
  • 9 News in Denver had a excellent story, shown in the video above and online here.
  • For those interested in my actual research on climate please head over to this summary in the final post at my climate blog, The Climate Fix.
  • A group called the Energy & Environment Legal Group has filed state freedom of information act requests modeled on the Rep. Grijalva letter with 4 universities (Colorado, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia Tech) requesting funding information from 5 researchers. This is obviously a retaliatory act, legitimized by Rep. Grijalva's campaign. It is just as wrong-headed.
  • Here in PDF is that strongly worded letter from the American Meteorological Society to Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) warning that he is sending "a chilling message" to all researchers.
  • Yesterday I had a nice chat with Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) who represents my district here in Boulder. What we said will stay between us, but it was very a positive conversation.
  • Also yesterday @EricHolthaus - a widely read scientist and climate activist - taunted me with the following bizarre Tweet: "It’s getting harder and harder for @RogerPielkeJr to remain relevant." Upon later learning that I'm no longer doing climate change research Holthaus Tweeted that his earlier taunt was no longer relevant. Great evidence that a lot of this is about eliminating unwelcomed voices in the debate.
  • At The Breakthrough Institute, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus take the high road and argue that political intimidation of academics in unacceptable, defending both me and Michael Mann.

19 January 2015

Five Modes of Science Engagement

In my book, The Honest Broker, I describe four modes of engagement by scientists and other experts. They are ideal types and shown in the figure above. The different modes are a function of how we think about democracy and how we think about the proper role of science in society. The book gets into some more detail, of course, on the theoretical background. Here I respond to a few recent requests to provide a high level overview of the different roles, motivated by a workshop I attended last week at the National Academy of Sciences organized by their roundtable on Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences -- on Twitter #NASinterface. I also list some thoughts based on my experiences engaging experts on these roles over the past several years.

Update: Below is my short talk given at the recent NAS workshop.

The Pure Scientist

This role doesn't really exist in the real world. Well, maybe it does for a brief moment when a beginning graduate student finds someone willing to pay them to do research that s/he is curious about, But in the real world, grant applications and funding comes with expectations of impact and relevance. In any case, if the pure scientist really did exist, the role is defined by a desire not to engage. So for now, let's leave it aside (it'll come back shortly in the context of stealth issue advocacy).

The Science Arbiter

This role supports a decision maker by providing answers to questions that can be addressed empirically, that is to say, using the tools of science.  We are most familiar with science arbiters in the form of expert advisory committees, such as those of the NRC or FDA. Dan Sarewitz and I outlined a formal methodology for thinking about and evaluating this type of role (here in PDF). Science arbitration is common and there are many examples of it being done more or less well, and on issues people care about is never far from political influences.

The Issue Advocate

The defining characteristic of this role is a desire to reduce the scope of available choice, often to a single preferred outcome among many possible outcomes. Issue advocacy is fundamental to a healthy democracy and is a noble calling. Advocacy among scientists is often viewed pejoratively, but I don't think it necessarily has to be. Scientists are citizens and as experts have an important role to play in public debates. Advocating for candidates, policies or even directions of travel is worth doing. I am very precise in my use of this term.

The Honest Broker of Policy Alternatives

The defining characteristic of the honest broker is a desire to clarify, or sometimes to expand, the scope of options available for action. I often use the examples of travel websites like Expedia as examples of honest brokers in action. Sometimes people get caught up on the word "honest" here -- what is important is the commitment to clarify the scope of possible action so as to empower the decision maker. Sometimes honest brokers are unnecessary in a political setting, for instance, when advocacy groups collectively cover the scope of available choice. But sometimes policy making would benefit from greater clarity on choice, or even the invention of choices previously unseen.

You may have noticed that the title of this post promised five modes of engagement and I've only described four. There is a fifth, what I call the Stealth Issue Advocate. This role is characterized by the expert who seeks to hide his/her advocacy behind a facade of science, either pure scientist or science arbiter. This role seeks to swim in a sea of politics without getting wet. It is the fastest route to pathologically politicizing science. It is also what gives scientists as advocates a bad name.

Some points about the above based on my experiences engaging on this framework around the world over much of the past decade.
  • In this framework, there are no hidden or alternative roles. This is it. Not long ago a report on science communication used this framework but claimed that I had forgotten a category, that of the "science communicator" who simply wants to elevate the quality of public debate. Nope. There is no such thing. That is a fast track to stealth advocacy.
  • It is really hard, especially in highly political settings, for any one individual to play the role of science arbiter or honest broker. This is due to the fact that there are often many views on what "the science" says (including uncertainties and areas of ignorance) or what the possible scope of action looks like. In addition, each of us has biases and idiosyncrasies which can make it difficult to see an issue from multiple perspectives. Even further, it is a rare policy issue where anyone knows everything of relevance. 
  • Science arbitration and honest brokering of policy alternatives are best done by committee, ideally, by legitimate, authoritative bodies which are well-connected to policy makers.  
  • Where stealth advocacy is concerned, the expert's intent really doesn't matter. I had lunch last week with a couple of members of the National Academy of Sciences who told me that on the issue that they have expertise in, they just want to improve public understanding, and not weigh in on any "side" in the political debate. However, when an issue is already deeply politicized, science is typically already associated with the different "sides." In such a context, any statement by an expert about science absent political context will readily be appropriated in advocacy, regardless of the expert's intention. Stealth advocacy is the result.
  • It is a responsibility of the expert to be informed about engagement before engaging. It does no good to explain how you wish the world worked or how it should work a s an excuse for not understanding real-world political context.
  • A well-functioning system of decision making and expertise will find all four roles well populated. Context of course matters for what roles are more or less important. The proper role of an expert in the face of an approaching tornado will be very different than in the context of setting a national abortion policy.
  • Context will determine the proper roles for any particular expert. Inevitably, most of us will find ourselves in advocacy roles. For instance, I am a strong advocate for certain climate policies (e.g., a carbon tax), but also for FIFA reform and (soon) for abolishing "sex testing" in the Olympic sports. Simultaneously, I have been playing a supporting role on a NRC committee tasked with science arbitration and honest brokering. When I do genealogy research for fun, that might be considered pure science. 
  • Because advocacy is often a default role and it is so seductive, there is a need to support the institutionalization of mechanisms of science arbitration and honest brokering. In most highly political issues, there does not appear to be any shortage of advocates. In fact, at times our most authoritative science advisory bodies are seduced into playing the role of issue advocate, leading to a loss of their legitimacy in public debates.
  • There are strong incentives for science to be politicized but also for politics to become scientized. Science has great standing among the public. This standing can be seductive and work against thinking about proper roles and responsibility.
  • Ultimately, I tell my students that I really don't care what roles they decide to play (although I do recommend against stealth advocacy!) over their careers. What matters is having an open discussion about roles and contexts, and developing a sophisticated understanding of politics. 
  • Ultimately, scientific integrity matters because we need expertise in decision making. But maintaining scientific integrity requires careful attention to roles and responsibilities, and sometimes choosing a path that facilitates decision making rather than trying to determine it.
I am happy to discuss this topic further in the comments or on Twitter. There is obviously a lot more in the book, and in various papers and case studies.

14 January 2015

News Flash: European Commission CSA Reinstated, Maybe

From Scotland comes this surprising news:
The European Commission has agreed to retain the role of EU Chief Scientific Adviser but it is not expected to stop the Scots incumbent in the position from leaving, it is claimed.

Details of the u-turn were divulged to Scottish Tory MEP Dr Ian Duncan by First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans.
There has been no official announcement from the European Commission. In the EC, nothing is final until it is official, and even then subject to a U-turn. Stay tuned.

Regardless what happens, an reinstatement of the Commission CSA should not preempt a much needed conversation about the future of science advice in Europe. It is not enough to have a symbolic office.

05 January 2015

The Future of Science Advice in Europe

My latest Bridges column is out, and it discusses the future of science advice in Europe following the termination of the office of chief scientific advisor to the European Commission. Here is an excerpt:
In short, the CSA under President Barosso was largely powerless and disconnected. This state of affairs was not the fault of Glover, who took on the CSA role with energy and enthusiasm. The uncomfortable reality is that establishment of the CSA office was a symbolic gesture towards scientific advice, rather than representing any substantive commitment to improving science advice in Europe (see this paper for background).

From this perspective, President Juncker has actually done the scientific community a favor. For the past three years, most scientific organizations and their leaders seemed perfectly content with a symbolic, ineffectual CSA in the Commission. However, the termination of the office has forced a conversation that probably should have been occurring in far more prominent settings. Such a conversation is now underway (see, e.g., this special issue of the European Journal of Risk Regulation) and should continue.

President Juncker has yet to release details on how his administration is to structure advisory mechanisms, noting through a spokesperson: “President Juncker believes in independent scientific advice. He has not yet decided how to institutionalize this independent scientific advice.” However the Commission eventually structures its offices, a few issues will no doubt continue to be at the center of debates over science advice in Europe. Here I suggest several . . . 
Read it here.

Comments welcomed!

18 December 2014

A Proposed Professional Masters in Science & Technology Policy at University of Colorado

As I've occasionally mentioned on Twitter, we here at the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research are proposing to turn our graduate certificate program into a full-fledged professional master's program.

We'd welcome your input and comments.

Here are some details of the draft proposal:
  • 30 hours of total coursework, 9-12 months
  • 3 required courses (9 hours of coursework)
    • Science and Technology Policy
    • Science and Society
    • Quantitative Methods of Policy Analysis
  • 18 hours of electives chosen from 6 focal areas:
    • general policy research
    • space policy
    • bioethics
    • environmental policy
    • international STP
    • independent study (i.e., build your own with adviser)
  • 3 hours in a Maymester course
    • Held in DC in partnership with the CU in DC program.
    • or with international partners
Details on pricing etc. are TBD.

We welcome any thoughts or feedback, especially comments on whether you'd be interested in such a program, and why or why not.


16 December 2014

Gasoline Intensity of the US Economy at Recent Low (Take Two)

Thanks much to David Appell in the comments, who motivated me to take a second look at this analysis. I had been using a subset of total gasoline consumption in an earlier analysis, and he correctly points out that a more comprehensive measure is better. So this post has subsequently been revised.

Today the US EIA announced that projected household gasoline consumption in 2015 is expected to be the lowest in 11 years. That motivated me to update a graph I did a few years ago on the gasoline intensity of the US economy, defined as the total expenditures at the pump by US consumers as a proportion of overall GDP. (Note: I use annual values here and ignore higher frequency variations.)

That graph is shown above for the period 1976-2015, and shows gasoline as a percentage of overall GDP. The data comes from the US EIA (gasoline product supplied and prices) and the White House (GDP). Data for 2015 are obviously projections.

The data shows that as recently as 2011 (and really, much of the past decade) spending on gasoline, as a proportion of GDP, was similar to what it was in the mid-1980s. In 2015 that proportion is expected to be 40% of that in 1980 and more than a third less than what it was in 2010.

The bottom line here is that the gasoline intensity of the US economy is lower, by a long shot, than at any time in recent history. That is good news.

02 September 2014

Blog Break

UPDATE 12/1: Going forward all my climate-related posts will appear at a new blog, The Climate Fix.

I'm taking a blogging break this fall to focus on a few writing projects. But you can find me over at The Least Thing and SportingIntelligence.

25 August 2014

Science Advice Summit

UPDATED: The conference has released a briefing paper: Science Advice to Governments: Diverse systems, common challenges. The conference runs Thursday and Friday Auckland time, so if you'd like to follow along on Twitter etc. I'll post further updates here as warranted.

This week I'll be focusing on issues of science advice to governments, as I attend the "Science Advice to Governments" conference in Auckland, New Zealand. It is being characterized as a science advice "summit." I'll be participating on a panel focused on "Science advice in the context of opposing political / ideological positions" along with the chief scientific advisor to the Australian government, Ian Chubb, and the chief scientific advisor to Defra, Ian Boyd, among others.

The conference is being convened by ICSU and hosted by Sir Peter Gluckman, chief science advisor to the New Zealand government. Not long ago James Wilsdon previewed the conference:
The summit will take place in a year when we've seen important debates in scientific advisory systems worldwide. In the UK, Sir Mark Walport is about to mark his first year as Government Chief Scientific Adviser, during which he has had to tread a careful path through controversies over bees, badgers, fracking and flooding. In Brussels, Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission, has been working tirelessly to persuade more EU member states to appoint national scientific advisers, with a view to establishing an EU-wide network. In Japan, three years on from the Great East Japan earthquake and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, arguments continue about how to reform structures for scientific advice and risk management. And at the United Nations, a new Scientific Advisory Board, hosted by UNESCO, held its inaugural meeting at the end of January 2014.

All of this suggests that the Auckland meeting couldn't be happening at a better time. Sir Mark Walport, Anne Glover, and their equivalents from India, Malaysia, Japan, Germany, Australia and the Philippines, will be among those attending. Scientific advisers, policymakers, academics – and anyone with an interest in these debates – is invited to register, or to follow developments online.
The conference will likely have a large online presence. I'll blog and tweet (@rogerpielkejr) as I can and the conference itself has a Twitter handle -- @globalsciadvice.

24 August 2014

Normalized US Earthquake Damage

UPDATE: Early damage estimate in neighborhood of $1 billion (NYT).

With news of a 6.0 magnitude earthquake today in San Francisco, I thought I'd provide a perspective on historical damage, The data in the table below are estimates of normalized damage for the top 15 14 events in our dataset -- from Vranes and Pielke 2009 (PDF), which I have quickly updated to 2014 values. A normalization seeks to estimate how much damage would occur if a past event occurred with today's level of wealth and development.

There are a lot of uncertainties in earthquake normalization methods, and those interested in digging deeper should have a look at our paper for the gory details. The top event is the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which reminds us that while big earthquakes are rare, they can do lots of damage. For perspective, a repeat of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake could cause more than twice the damage caused by all US tornadoes since 1950.

Rank Date Normalized 2014 Damage Deaths Magnitude Location
1 18-Apr-06 $345,207,435,386 2000 8.3 San Francisco 
2 28-Mar-64 $38,910,888,527 131 8.4 Anchorage, Alaska 
3 18-Oct-89 $37,521,623,532 62 7.1 California, Loma Prieta
4 17-Jan-94 $37,046,374,369 60 6.6 Los Angeles
5 11-Mar-33 $19,340,807,766 100 6.3 California, Long Beach
6 13-Apr-49 $11,078,046,116 8 7.0 Olympia, Washington 
7 18-May-80 $9,495,474,795 31 5.2 Washington, Mt St. Helens
8 9-Feb-71 $9,197,179,695 65 6.5 California, San Fernando
9 28-Feb-01 $6,024,383,136 0 6.8 Washingotn, Olympia
10 11-Oct-18 $5,670,099,871 116 7.5 Puerto Rico
11 19-May-40 $5,036,397,660 9 6.5 Imperial Valley (California) 
12 21-Jul-52 $4,116,494,364 13 7.7 Central Calfornia
13 19-Oct-35 $3,989,310,216 2 6.2 Montana
14 29-Jun-25 $3,729,835,249 13 6.3 Santa Barbara (California)