Blue Ribbon Panel: Where Does Science End and Policy Begin?

The BiPartisan Policy Center has announced a Blue Ribbon panel that will issue recommendations intended to inform Obama's call for a Memorandum on Scientific Integrity.

Importantly, the panel will study and address an important theme that continues to re-occur in the so-called "science wars": what is the dividing line between where science ends and policymaking begins? Or as I blogged earlier today, what is the demarcation between the first and second premise in compelling policy action?

From the press release to the interim report issued today:

The report's premise is that "a critical goal of any new procedures for establishing regulatory policy must be to clarify which aspects of a regulatory issue are matters of science and which are matters of policy," such as economics and ethics. "The tendency, on all sides, to frame regulatory issues as debates solely about science, regardless of the actual subject in dispute, is at the root of the stalemate and acrimony all too present in the regulatory system today."

The panel's recommendations include the following:

*Federal regulatory documents should spell out "which aspects of disputes are truly about scientific results and which concern policy." The report suggests that this might be done by agencies describing "what additional science would change the debate over a proposed regulatory policy and in what ways" the debate would change.

*Federal agencies should make frequent use of scientific advisory panels made up solely of scientific experts.

*Scientific advisory panels "should not be asked to recommend specific policies. Rather, they should be empanelled to reach conclusions about the science that would guide a policy decision." Separate advisory panels, which should include scientific experts, can advise on policy questions.

*Federal agencies should use more open processes for naming advisory committee members that could allow for public comment, in part, to uncover conflicts-of-interest potential advisors may have.

*The federal government should issue clearer, more consistent policies on conflict-of-interest.

*When federal agencies or advisory committees review scientific literature, "not all studies should be given equal weight in surveying a field."

*Policymakers "should be wary of conclusions about risk that are expressed as a single number."

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This is terribly important. Confusing the two branches makes for corrupted science and bad policy.