Our Klamath Basin
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Science and its
Science is making a comeback in the
Obama administration, everybody says. It is getting back
its proper role. But what is the proper role?
One signal that science is ascending was the appointment
of Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University as head of
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Another was the designation of Steve Chu, a Nobel-winning
physicist from California, as secretary of energy.
The Bush administration has often been accused of putting
science down. Administration officials supposedly
overruled scientists or even altered their findings.
If they did that, it was wrong. No question about it. But
maybe they did it because under various laws they had no
choice if they wanted to follow a policy they considered
wiser than what scientists advised.
Under some federal laws ó the Endangered Species Act is
one example ó things have to be done once a scientific
determination has been made that a species is threatened
or endangered. But what if the required actions themselves
are against the public interest, more broadly defined?
When the laws or the courts donít offer a reasonable
compromise between what science and other considerations
demand, what choice do officials have other than to ignore
the science? And if they canít ignore it, they might be
tempted to steer it in a certain direction.
If science says the dams on the Snake River have to come
out in order to save certain fish runs, but if taking out
the dams wastes billions of dollars and increases
unemployment and the price of electricity in a big part of
the Northwest, a responsible federal official might well
conclude that the science has to be ignored for now.
That is not being hostile to science; it is acting
responsibly in the public interest.
Science, properly done, is invaluable in informing public
officials and the rest of us. But it cannot be put in the
position of deciding public actions without consideration
of everything else.
We can only hope that the Obama appointees in various
agencies will keep this in mind. (hh)
Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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