Science and policy decisions

Photo credit: SciDevNet

Copyright: David Rose / Panos

Why science is not enough for good policy

“For policy decisions to be both scientifically and politically legitimate, the contributions of scientific evidence and expertise, as well as non-scientific considerations need to be transparent and accountable.”

by Erik Millstone E61356146F1839A8A9B8CD78DCBE489D

Speed read

  • Much of the science on policy-relevant issues is incomplete and unresolved
  • Related evidence, uncertainties and expert interpretation must be made public
  • Revealing assumptions will help science truly contribute to sustainability

Science can help and hinder knowledge of sustainability so we need a better grasp of its role, says Erik Millstone.

Debates about the ecological unsustainability of industrial economies emerged because of scientific research into environmental changes — research that produced evidence of harm to natural resources, animals and people. While this illustrates that science is essential, we should recognise that it is also often problematic, especially in policy debates.

Conflicting assumptions

Few would argue against the goals of ‘sustainability’. But the different parties involved — governments, organisations or companies, for example — make many conflicting assumptions about what should be sustained and what should be modified or eradicated. This accounts for the different perspectives of organisations and individuals who pursue their interests by trying to impose their perspectives, for instance by trying to control policy and research agendas, assessments and conclusions.

Read the full article: SciDevNet


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.