The Science Times section of yesterday’s New York Times provided an article by Cornelia Dean about Congress and science. The article quoted Daniel Greenberg, author of Science, Money and Politics, as suggesting that many congresspersons could not answer ten basic questions about science. He was further cited for blaming “politics” for Congressional failure “to take good action on science issues.” Most votes on science issues he indicated follow voting along party lines. We might interpret that to recognize that basic science relies heavily on funding from the federal government, and one party tends to vote against federal funding.
The article focused primarily on a briefing for Congress organized by Representative Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican, to fight misunderstanding of science. As the Times suggests “there is growing concern that Congressional misunderstanding can produce misguided policy.” The topic of the briefing was “how science works.”
What I found most interesting in the article was the discussion of Donald Kennedy, a biologist and the former President of Stanford University who is currently the editor of Science magazine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Science magazine includes an editorial in each issue and many have been written by Dr. Kennedy. He has not refrained from discussing the potential environmental consequences of global warming and has addressed the dangers of federal government inaction on climate change issues. The Times reported that Dr. Kennedy’s editorials on climate change led Robert Ferguson of the Center for Science and Public Policy to send by e-mail “critiques of Dr. Kennedy” to congress to “decide if attending the event is worth your time.” Materials on the website of the Center for Science and Public Policy appear to be dubious about hypothesized effects of global warming and anthropogenic climate change. The Times reported that Robert Ferguson “presents briefings to Congress.”
Here are Dr. Kennedy’s insights for Congress, as reported by the Times:
1. Experimental replication—the observation that results are repeatable—constitutes truth in science.
2. Peer review, the editorial policy of having scientific peers review research reports prior to publication, does not guarantee truth. This is because peer review does not involve repeating the experiment; it is simply a check on the sense of the report as it is written.
Both are good points for Congress to understand.
The Times reported that the congressional aides and one Democrat senator who attended were pleased with the educational opportunity of the session.
The article: Cornelia Dean, “Where Science and Public Policy Intersect, Researchers Offer a Short Lesson on Basics.” The New York Times, 31 January 2006, p. D3.