Okay, maybe we don't really.
I had a great time tonight. After Nancy's Objectivity seminar, where I got kind of angry and loud, I repaired to the pub with ECM and Marilena to continue the discussion. The question is the science-policy boundary. I was riled up about the practice that is common where scientists get together (on their own or at government's behest) and try to tell people what to think on the basis of their authority (rather than, say, because they have a good argument or know anything about what they're talking about). More charitably to everyone involved, we were interested in hashing out what the proper relationship of government and science is.
I guess I have a radical view? I think that we don't need the thin kind of interaction that we have now, with committee reports and funding streams forming the bulk of the science-policy relationship, but rather multiple levels of inquiry that bridge the gap. Just like in privately funded research, where ultimately we have a private interest to further or problem to solve (say, how to sell widgets to suckers), where we go from high-level theory to applied science to engineering to corporate research labs to development and production to corporate decision making and back again in a complex but high-bandwidth set of interactions and cross-border talk (where each part nevertheless retains some autonomy), so in the case of private interests and practical problems of a social nature, we need some more robust set of bridges analogous to the levels of engineering, research and development that we have in the technological case.
Anyhow, that's schematic, but the basic principle is, if you have a problem which current research doesn't already solve, the best long-term solution is not to rely on a committee report, but to do more research. Of course, there are all kinds of messy issues here, about whether the analogy holds, how to make decisions under uncertainty, how to implement, how to make sure there isn't too much interference with science, and that was a lot of our discussion.
It was really nice, though. We had a beer, we yelled, pounded the table, did some armchair history of science, made some distinctions, got careful, reached some tentative agreements. It was some good intense philosophy of the sort I hadn't done for a while...
Of course, the seminar ended at 8 and I didn't get home until 12:30, so there's that. But it was worth it.