89th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting

Monday, 12 January 2009: 5:00 PM
Politics, values, and decision making in US climate science
Room 121A (Phoenix Convention Center)
Ryan M. Meyer, Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes; Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
In 1990, the US Congress passed the Global Change Research Act, sending a strong message about the heightened importance of climate change to the national agenda. The Act asserted the necessity of a broad, organized scientific effort in order to make progress in addressing the problem. Among other things, this meant that “science as usual” – as it is typically funded within federal agencies and carried out in labs across the country – was no longer seen as sufficient. In other words, we did not just need more climate science; we needed more effective, better coordinated climate science.

What does it mean for science of any kind to be effective? Despite such emphatic direction from Congress, and such a significant investment in the years since (more than $30 billion total), evaluating the success of US climate science in generating results of value to the tax payers and their public servants remains a challenge. The program has certainly generated significant advances in our knowledge of how the Earth's climate works, and in our understanding of the many different physical aspects of climate change. What is less clear, however, is what social benefits we can expect to glean from such developments. What broadly supported, culturally desirable outcomes are supposed to result from the coordination and integration of climate science across federal agencies? Is the byzantine structure of the interagency program conducive to, or even consciously aimed at these extra-scientific goals?

One could approach these questions in a variety of ways. In this project I focus on the individuals who actually implement climate science policy. Through document analysis, interviews, and meeting and conference observations over the course of the last two years, I have examined the decision making and value frameworks of individuals who fund and build programs around climate research within federal agencies. This work addresses broad questions about the nature of public values in science policy, as well as specific issues relating to the connection of climate science funding to societal outcomes.

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