Science Academies as Political Advocates

Published in the Office of Science & Technology- Bridges, by Roger A. Pielke, Jr.

What role should national science academies play in policy and politics?

One answer to this question was provided last month when eleven national science academies sent a letter to “world leaders, including those meeting at the Gleneagles G8 Summit in July 2005” advocating a number of specific policy actions on climate change. The letter – from science academies in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – indicates that these national science academies perceive one of their roles to be overt political advocacy.

As the public has demanded a closer connection of science with society, the action of the science academies is part of a broader trend for scientists and scientific institutions to become more involved in the political fray on a wide range of issues involving science. While each individual scientist has a very personal decision to make about whether or not to engage in political advocacy, there are real risks for the scientific enterprise when science academies become political advocates.

There are at least three reasons why political advocacy by science academies should be greeted with caution: