A Wobbly Three-Legged Stool: Science, Politics, and the Public

Friday, February 19, 2010: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Room 7B (San Diego Convention Center)
The Administration is committed to solving society’s grand challenges, with energy, health, and education policy topping the list. President Obama wants science to have a key role in a new, more pragmatic approach to governance. In our constitutional democracy an informed public must be able to judge the performance of those they elect. This requires a triangle comprised of political institutions, the community of experts, and a responsible public, all of whom are well informed. How will the public become informed about energy policy, for example? Studies tell us the public strongly supports energy independence, new sustainable sources, and incentives for energy efficiency. But fewer than half of those interviewed could name a renewable energy source or a fossil fuel, raising the question of how firm the public’s views are. Studies show, however, that people make judgments based primarily on their values, belief systems, world views, and emotions. Facts play a much more minor role. This gap cannot be bridged by loading the public with facts, or trying to make the public more science literate. How should scientists deal with this awkward reality? How can science help create a more rational, pragmatic, and far-sighted society capable of addressing the challenges we face? Are new innovative methods required to engage the voters in supporting more rational public policies?
Lewis M. Branscomb, University of California
Lewis M. Branscomb, University of California
Neal Lane, Rice University
Lewis M. Branscomb, University of California; Jean Johnson, Public Agenda
Science, Democracy, and the Enlightenment: Who Left Out the Voters?
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