John Tierney at the New York Times discusses some of the ambiguities scientists face when they get involved in policy.
I think that the issue is a bit more complicated than he makes it out to be. It would be great if a scientist could simply say: here’s my science cap and here’s what we know (within limits of uncertainty). Now I’m putting on my policy cap and here’s what I believe we should do. Unfortunately, the separation is not so simple. It strikes me that the issue is rendered even worse by the fact that not everybody involved in debating these issues is an honest broker, and it would be unwise for scientists involved in policy to assume otherwise. Scientific uncertainty/debate is easily recast by politicians as reason for inaction and grounds for “hearing out the other side.” Even when the “other side” has no science to back it up (see the evolution/creationism “debate”). At times a scientist has to resort to calling into question the critics’ credentials, and if not that, then at least the critics’ understanding of the issues.