Knowledge for Development

Science, policy, and the transparency of values

Author:

Date: 28/07/2014

Introduction:

Guiding principles for communicating scientific findings in a manner that promotes objectivity, public trust, and policy relevance have been proposed by Kevin C. Elliott (Michigan State University, US) and David B. Resnik (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, US) . These are based on current ethical, conceptual, and empirical studies of objectivity and conflicts of interest in scientific research. Both conceptual and empirical studies of scientific reasoning have shown that it is unrealistic to prevent policy-relevant scientific research from being influenced by value judgments. Conceptually, the current dispute over an EC report on its regulatory policy for endocrine-disrupting chemicals illustrates how scientists were forced to make value judgments about appropriate standards of evidence when informing public policy. Empirical studies provide further evidence that scientists are unavoidably influenced by a variety of potentially subconscious financial, social, political, and personal interests. The authors conclude that when scientific evidence is inconclusive and major regulatory decisions are at stake, it is unrealistic to think that values can be excluded from scientific reasoning. Thus, efforts to suppress or hide interests or values may actually damage scientific objectivity and public trust, whereas a willingness to bring implicit interests and values into the open may be the best path to promoting good science and policy.   

(Environmental Health Perspectives, 01/ 07/2014)

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