Reading “The Honest Broker” this week shed some good light on the number of ways a scientist can go about sharing information about an issue. What intrigued me the most was the relationship between the honest broker for policy alternatives and the issue advocate. The former seems to me like a scientist who gathers data supporting a view on a particular issue and then proposes his or her argument as the sole solution to the problem. The latter seems more appropriate and legitimate – analyzing all perspectives of an issue from a scientific standpoint and then proposing all findings for a complete presentation of the issue. The former would seem more attractive to a politician, or a scientist who has been charged with generating an argument for a certain political standpoint. But I think to be an honest broker in these situations is the best course of action and one which I try to take when I need to make a decision or formulate an opinion. We have the ability as a society to scientifically analyze issues and then communicate the findings, so why do we instead rely on sound bites and campaign ads without communicating the scientific arguments? It would be really interesting to get into the heads of those in power in this country and beyond to see how they make decisions, how informed they really are, and whose advice they take in order to make informed decisions. One would hope that our leaders think through a decision as much as possible before they make it and try to educate themselves on all aspects of the scientific arguments presented. But that’s akin to asking a politician to not be a politician, and I doubt that’s particularly reasonable.
What would it be like if a scientist or engineer, who had a stellar record of being an honest broker for policy alternatives, were suddenly thrust into a position like the presidency? I’ve often wondered what it would be like for a pure, lifetime engineer, with no experience in politics whatsoever, were put into a leadership position and asked to make decisions. Personally, as a self-proclaimed moderate and Christian, I would want to know each and every aspect of an issue or decision presented to me before I was to make a decision. Realistically that may not be possible, mostly because proper data gathering, treatment and presentation takes time, and time is often a luxury leaders do not have. But, would an engineer who is initially uncorrupted by politics (like the military commander Maximus in Gladiator) and has an exemplary moral/ethical record do a better job than a lifetime politician? I look forward to your responses!