Author: Joseph Waggle
“What Science Means: New Directions for Studying the Science-Policy Interface.”
Friday, August 21, 2:15-3:45
Science, Knowledge, and Technology (SKAT) Section Conference, Paper Session: Confidence in Science
In a previous post here on the PSE Blog, I discussed the early stages of my dissertation research, a project that looks at the perceptions and motivations held by various political actors as they communicate with scientists and scientific research. In that post, I asked:
strategically to advance their political ends?
A simple answer to this question is that political actors see science as a base of knowledge. The modernist, rational choice model of policymaking would have us believe that officials make the best decisions they can based on the most complete information available to them. Science, seen through this lens, is one such source of information. When policymakers reject science, they may be balancing this information against other kinds of expertise, such as information about the economic impacts of legislation or the potential hazards of implementation and enforcement of policy.
Indeed, the research that has looked at political motivations to engage with
- science—scant though it may be—supports these assumptions.
The manuscript I am presenting at the upcoming Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section Conference reviews this research, both within the sociology of science and technology and the more interdisciplinary field of science and technology studies (STS). I point out weaknesses in the theoretical frameworks upon which this research is built. I also highlight the places where this research succeeds in moving beyond outmoded assumptions about science and politics, and I make suggestions for how science-policy interface research can build upon these successes to move toward greater nuance and dynamism.
To that end, I propose a theoretical perspective of postmodern politics, in which scientific information is not engaged by political actors with an eye toward bettering their understanding of scientific problems. Rather, in this view, policy actors engage science strategically, to manipulate discourse and control perception in an effort to further political agendas. I propose research that engages the postmodern science-policy interface, using the contentious example of climate change politics in the United States to illustrate what is lacking when science-policy research ignores the postmodern political turn, and what is gained by this new perspective.
Joe Waggle is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland. His interests include the sociology of knowledge, environmental sociology, and science and technology studies (STS). He has studied the role of scientific consensus in policy making, as well as the role of scientific expertise in political debate. His dissertation critically analyzes the ways in which different political actors engage science and scientists in pursuit of their own political agendas in both the climate and energy policy arenas in the United States.