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An alcoholic policy decision?

June 19, 2010

While dissertating this fine morning, I came across a gem of a quotation, which I felt like sharing:

Language invites the confusion of supposing that a policy decision about science is (or should be) a scientific policy decision, and that what scientists do must be science. But a policy decision about science is no more a scientific policy decision than a policy decision about alcohol is an alcoholic policy decision. Indeed, much of what scientists do is not science at all. They make breakfast, walk the dog, teach students, fix lab equipment, write grant proposals, review manuscripts, gossip about their colleagues, and so on. These days scientists are called upon to study and render opinions about many problems, but those problems are not thereby transformed into scientific problems. Most of the problems in this book have been studied by scientists and have important scientific dimensions, but they are not scientific problems, and there is little reason to suppose that science provides the right instruments for making sound decisions in these cases. … What scientists know isn’t always relevant to decision making, and what is relevant to decision making isn’t always what scientists know.

That’s from Dale Jamieson’s essay in this book about prediction.

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