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Environmental Philosophy

Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 2005

Heather Douglas
Pages 14-29

Boundaries between Science and Policy
Descriptive Difficulty and Normative Desirability

In the debate over the role of science in environmental policy, it is often assumed that science can and should be clearly demarcated from policy. In this paper, I will argue that neither is the case. The difficulty of actually differentiating the scientific arena from the policy arena becomes apparent the moment one attempts to actually locate the boundary. For example, it is unclear whether scientific summaries to be used by regulatory agencies are in the realm of science or policy. If science, then should the authors consider the regulatory implications of uncertainties? If policy, then what is the relevance of a peer review of the document solely by scientists? This descriptive problem is only accentuated by a normative problem: should we try to keep the two realms distinct? The traditional answer has been yes, for the primary reason that the science should not be infected by the social and ethical values so prevalent in the policy realm. I will argue that, to the contrary, social and ethical values are desirable components of scientific reasoning. Indeed, on closer examination, the norms for values in reasoning are the same for science and policy. If I am correct, the pressure to delineate science from policy abates.

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