[asa] Cooney Testimony: A Study on What is Wrong with Science Policy

From: Rich Blinne <rich.blinne@gmail.com>
Date: Mon Mar 26 2007 - 14:06:17 EDT

I've watched the first third of the congressional hearing and I have some
thoughts on how best to reform science policy. The first thought was the
wasted time spent on this whole "follow the money meme" which in my opinion
is intellectually lazy. It is not relevant who Cooney's previous client was.
This should have been clear when he was deposed by staff that he was merely
attempting to do a good faith effort to be loyal to his then current client
and not his previous one. What was also clear was that there was severe
structural problems with how science policy is done that transcends any mere
example of corruption.

Cooney claimed that he was making sure that any budget request matched the
science in the NAS 2001 report. His lack of science training was evident of
applying uncertainty in one area (predicting local effects of climate
change) to all areas of climate science. This was passed off by the
committee as "thinking like a lawyer" rather than "thinking like a
scientist". If I was David O. I would be supremely insulted that Cooney's
extremely sloppy and non-evidence-based thinking was considered indicative
of his profession. Cooney not having the intellectual chops to do this,
however, masks an even more fundamental problem which is indicated by the
next example.

Cooney deleted a reference to the accuracy of the models improving from the
record because the 2001 report said their was inaccuracy. Unless the report
was prescient it would not know how much better the models would get. In
fact, the report called for more funding of climate research to decrease the
innaccuracies. The research that followed bore fruit and we are in much
better shape now than when the report was generated. Cooney used this report
-- and it appeared that this was a matter of policy rather than personal
preference -- as the sole basis to judge the science of anything that came
out later. The fact that Cooney did that poorly doesn't take away from that
this whole approach is ill-advised. The science was made to force fit to a
policy derived from a 2001 report. The problem is that plan is thus static.

Contrast this with how planning is done in industry. A plan is crafted by
management. As the plan is executed by technical staff there are what are
known as exceptions. If the exceptions are significant enough the plan is
modified. In the case of climate science we had an upside exception. The
risk management paid off and allows for more aggressive decision making as
the uncertainties are now much lower. When Cooney or other policy makers see
exceptions between the original plan and the documents that cross their
desks it's time to poll the authors and modify the policy accordingly. They
should not just delete or change the text. The same should have been the
case when the media was asking for interviews concerning 2005 temperatures.

For those of us in industry, this is a duh. This reflects what people at my
work humorously refer to as Blinne's Reality Principle. If you break
reality, reality breaks you. We cannot choose to ignore physics because our
customers will not accept non-working chips. Government can and does choose
to live in never-never land and how the current climate policy is being
derived here reflects this. The stakes are too high and we need the most
nimble and the most fact-based science policies ever. Top-down-only policy
making simply will not work in this environment.

This also shows that the approach of not picking "winners" for green
technology but let the market do it is a wise one. The reason why the EV-1
failed but the Prius succeeeded was because the former was done via a
government program and the latter by Toyota. Industry will probably be
forever more nimble than government. But, industry cannot do policy and the
policy makers need to learn from our processes to do a better job.

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Mar 26 14:07:01 2007

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Mar 26 2007 - 14:07:02 EDT