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!
This is a really interesting thought. I think that there would definitely be some hurdles for the Engineer/scientist to start. Just getting used to the pace of things, and the way things are handled. Which probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense to some of us. Once settled though I think initially they would do a better job. Power is a tricky thing to deal with, and with the right person lots of good can come out of it, but power also has the ability to corrupt. Now while I think putting a scientist/engineer into office would be a good idea, I’m not sure if they would be up to the task for all four years. Even with all of the experience politicians have, you can visibly see the toll that taking office has on them, they almost age exponentially when in office. I worry that if an scientist/engineer with no political experience were to take office they might not be able to just run with it as a politician would. I’m torn as to which would be better long term. In theory the engineer would be a good alternative, but in reality you can’t really know.
Great question! I’m reminded of how John Bachner from the American Society of Foundation Engineers encourages engineers to serve in politics because of the training in problem solving, etc. that we receive. He points out how many of the largest companies are run by engineers not MBAs. So I searched a little bit and found this really interesting blog by Bachner – http://asfetalk.blogspot.com/2010/02/little-blue-engineer.html. In response to your question, Bachner and I would reply, “I think engineers can do it!”
In the context of The Honest Broker, I think an engineer in politics, just like anyone else, would need to have many types of advisers, from Honest Brokers to Issue Advocates to Arbiters and Pure Scientists. Pielke’s point is that they all play vital roles but that we often ignore the importance of one over and against another. Policymakers should be less in the role of being one of these types and more in the role of listening to them to make a good decision. That is where being an engineer could be very helpful in politics. Engineers have or learn skill sets to make balanced decisions based on multiple inputs and often times conflicting concerns for safety, economy, aesthetics, etc.
There was a scientist who ran from president a few years ago as a fringe 3rd party candidate who claimed that one of the potential advantages of his leadership was that he would be able to apply the scientific method to a number of critical problems facing the country. He would objectively see what “worked the best” based on the available data, and then he would implement certain policies based on their measured effectiveness.
I couldn’t even get over the fact that even deciding what “works the best” (deciding on objective criteria for various issues) seems to require subjective judgment.
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