At 3 o’clock today (Eastern), I’ll be on a panel about ways that scientists and nonscientists alike can improve the use of science in policymaking, the use of policy to boost science, and ways to keep denialists from derailing that process.

We’ve got Susan Wood, a professor of public policy at George Washington University with a doctorate in biology. She made news in 2005 when she resigned in protest from her directorship of the FDA Office of Women’s Health to protest the FDA’s slow walking of Plan B’s “over the counter” approval. She’s also held senior positions at HHS and in the Congressional Women’s Caucus, working to improve women’s health and the health of all Americans.

Bryan Rehm will be on the panel. Rehm was a plaintiff in the Kitzmiller v. Dover court case, a science teacher in Dover who switched to a different district to escape the creationist board, and then ran for and won a seat on that board. He is currently a physics teacher, president of the Dover Area School Board, and an excellent guy.

We’ll also be joined by Michael Stebbins, Assistant Director for Biotechnology at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House. When I invited him to the panel, he was Director of Biology Policy at the Federation of American Scientists and co-founder of Scientists and Engineers for America. He has a doctorate in genetics, experience on Senator Harry Reid’s staff, and has edited Nature Genetics.

I’ll also be on the panel, but you all know me.

Mark Sumner, aka DailyKos frontpager Devilstower, will moderate the panel.

What do you want to know? What should our audience know?


  1. #1 Les Lane
    August 14, 2009

    My impression is that science advisors and advisory panels are on the wane in federal government. Is this in fact the case and if so how can governments be encouraged to seek and promote professional advice?

  2. #2 SLC
    August 14, 2009

    OT but is Mr. Rosenau going to comment on his employer, NCSE awarding a Friend of Darwin to Ed Brayton?

  3. #4 Anna K.
    August 15, 2009

    You say you want to involve nonscientists, but are there any nonscientists on that panel?

    Since the vast majority of the public are nonscientists, how about getting truly multidisciplinary and adding some humanities types?

    Policy discussions are values discussions. I’m sorry, but science training (even social science training) alone doesn’t really equip people to analyze (rather than describe) values, or persuade through values, and telling those values stories is (besides of course, pots of money) how opinions get influenced and how policies get changed.

    You need some people who know how to articulate values, who understand how symbols and narrative work, who can tap into — in an empathetic sense — the values various groups of nonscientists care about, and who can effectively communicate how science can help build those up. So how about adding some humanities folks to your panels? That is what they DO. Talk about the two cultures . . .

    Otherwise, the denialists get the values field all to themselves. Notice how often their arguments are tied to values statements. I am so tired of seeing panels set up to deal with that troublesome general public, and the panels are all comprised of scientists. You’re limiting yourselves. Get diverse!

    Okay, too much coffee this morning . . . rant over.

  4. #5 Josh Rosenau
    August 15, 2009

    Thanks, Anna. These are good points.

    For what it’s worth, the people I invited are all scientists who have gotten involved in politics and policy. It is surely worth expanding that circle, and I hope we emphasized in our discussion that this isn’t just about scientists, and that values play a key role in policymaking.

    The hope was that having policymakers with a science background would mean that the audience would hear about “how to articulate values, … how symbols and narrative work, … [how to] tap into — in an empathetic sense — the values various groups of nonscientists care about.” That’s what humanities people do, surely, but also what policymakers do.

    You don’t say whether you were actually at the panel, so I’m unsure if this is an assessment of the panel, or of the panel description. I have a certain bias, but I know we aimed to address some of these issues, and I think we did so. If we failed, that’s valuable information. If you didn’t see it live, I hope you’ll watch the video when it’s streaming online and let me know what you think.

  5. #6 hiphop
    August 15, 2009

    It’s interesting that those tattoos do a better job of realistically representing the cephalopod eye (the one that’s visible in each, anyway!) than most cartoons do. There are probably cartoony versions of cephalopods on tattoos too though.

  6. #7 Anna K.
    August 15, 2009

    quick, somewhat disjointed response as I have to run —

    1) no, unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the panel but have been at similar ones and am always surprised that topics about communicating with/working with/trying to get nonscientists to buy into the science of science-related issues are so often discussed exclusively by . . . scientists. Yet there are so many people out there who have contact with the general public and who depend on the public’s acceptance and understanding of science. Plenty of other people are invested in promoting decent science education and have influence and contact with the public — getting away from academics entirely, off the top of my head I’m thinking people in social services, in the medical professions, in the clergy (see: “Creation Care,” and those clergy who consider ID to be bad theology); they might bring in some very creative ideas and approaches. I’d love to see something truly interdisciplinary, but personally, I never have; though granted, my exposure to such panels is not wide.

    2) I’ll agree that successful policymakers must tap into values in order to get widespread public support.

    3) Will the video be posted for posterity? Would love to see it when I am not between Mom’s Taxi runs.

    btw thanks for all you do. I recently discovered your blog, really enjoy it, and appreciate the NCSE’s efforts.

    & if you do panels in the Washington DC area let me know. I do love a good discussion. But for mercy’s sake throw some nonscientists in there to mix it up ;-)

  7. #8 Anna K.
    August 15, 2009

    *snuuuurk guffaw*

    re including humanists in various Deep Thought projects, just noticed Seed’s ad for Two Cultures. Of their six leading thinkers, four are scientists, one is a psychologist and then they have a token philosopher/novelist.

    Proves my point.

    Two cultures, indeed. There’s only one now . . .

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