This Pielke piece is really excellent â€” it gets right to the essence of the distinction between “stealth issue advocacy” and “honest brokering”
I have long pointed to Real Climate as a canonical example of stealth issue advocacy. They claim on their site to be disinterested:
The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.
The reality is that they are far from disinterested. The fact that they have a political agenda is not problematic in the slightest. The problem is that they are seeking to hide their politics behind science. This has the net effect of pathologically politicizing the science because most of the issues that they raise, which they say are scientific in nature, are really about politics. It is not a big leap for observers to conclude that these guys are really about politics rather than science, regardless of the reality. People are not dumb and can see through this sort of misdirection with relative ease. Perhaps the most significant and lasting consequence of the CRU email hack/leak/whatever will be to strip away any possibility of a facade of disinterestedness among these activist scientists. In the long run that is probably a very good thing. In the near term it probably means an even more politicized climate debate.
In The Honest Broker I describe three effective roles that scientists can play in policy debates (the Pure Scientist does not play any direct role):
- The Science Arbiter who responds to questions put forward by decision makers.
- The Issue Advocate who seeks to reduce the cope of political choice.
- The Honest Broker who seeks to expand, or at least clarify, the scope of choice.
The Stealth Issue Advocate claims to be a Pure Scientist or a Science Arbiter, but really is working to reduce the scope of choice using science. A problem is that science is particularly ill-suited for political battles because decisions that take place in the context of uncertainty or a conflict in values always involve much more than science. One message of The Honest Broker is that, even though these categories are very much ideal types, scientists do face a choice about what role to play in the political process. And among the more damaging roles to the institutions of science is the Stealth Issue Advocate.
So to avoid any further misconceptions of my views, should scientists talk about the policy implications of their work? Absolutely. Should they come clean on their political agendas? Yes. That is good for science and good for democratic politics.
Should any scientists, including the guys at Real Climate, wish to explain where they fit in The Honest Broker taxonomy, or where the taxonomy is flawed, I am happy to give them a forum here.