Title: The duty of Science in formulation of policies


Background | Information | Essay | Argument | Conclusion | Lesson


What do water quality problems in Mexico, the contents of cattle feed as they relate to Mad Cow disease, and climate change or global warming have in common?

Browner's warning is:

  1. Current environmental regulations based on old legislation is being eclipsed by scientific findings
  2. The persistent attention required to solve these ecological problems will require: and uncommon level of citizen awareness, public participation in decision-making, an unusual level of concern, focus and diligence from Congress and an engaged leadership

The Answer is? Are new scientific findings being, or not being, written into laws to protect health and the environment with sufficient speed.



"Most of the Colorado River Delta lies in the state of Baja California. The delta region includes...two border cities, as well as many small towns and common land arrangements called ejidos."


"The Gulf of California is one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world."

pp. 27-29


Although there is disagreement about the nature of the relationship between science and politics, it is generally assumed that there is a close causative connection between the two streams of events...."

Noel Harrison.

Political response to scientific uncertainty.

p. 109.

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"The Climate change topic is notable not only for the sheer magnitude of the scientific resources that have been devoted to the subject by a broad variety of disciplines, but also for the extent to which these efforts have been facilitated internationally through [joint] programs...."

"Science has played a critical role in alerting the world community to the distinct possibility that human activities are releasing gases into the atmosphere that could significantly alter the global climate in ways that would trigger a myriad of other environmental changes, which in turn would have economic and social impacts."

"The Kyoto Protocol is important as a first step toward an international climate change regime."

Marvin Soroos, p.104.

"THE PRONOUNCED GLOBAL WARMING TREND OF THE 1980s lent greater urgency to addressing the threat of human induced climate change."

p. 98.

"Formal negotiation that began in 1991 have led to the adoption of two major treaties, The Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) of 1992 and recently finalized Kyoto Protocol, which commits the developed countries to reducing their emissions of GHGs."

p. 83.

"Largely attributable to human activities."

p. 86

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A public relations rather than public health problem  
Water quality problems; toxic discharge and fresh water diversions:  
"precautionary principle" represents customary law (ICJ)  
GHG, greenhouse gases:  

diminution of arctic ice cover by 14 percent in 50 years


Heavy precipitation events increased 2 to 4 percent


1/3 degree Celsius increase in sea surface temperatures


abrupt, discontinuous impacts


"tragedy of the commons," Aristotle's common & least care




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1928, Hoover Dam in Boulder Canyon completed on the Colorado River, dry-out began.

1929, Onset of persistent dry (arid) conditions on the southern Great Plains leads to the worst ecological disaster in US history: the Dust Bowl.

1950s-1993, shrimp fishing in the Golfo de California, booms, peaks and crashes.

1985, previous atmospheric models on ozone depletion called into question.

1986, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy discovered in Britain (the UK)

1992, UNEP hosts the Rio Conference on Environment and Development

1993, Mexican Government created upper gulf/delta biospheric reserve

1997, European Parliament's BSE Inquiry Report, scathing indictment of science

1998, Citizen's Technical Advisory Council for the gulf/delta reserve formed

2002, Bonn Agreement on FCCC adopted the basic tenets of the Kyoto Protocol

2005, Kyoto Protocol takes effect in EU, Russia, & other nations except US & Australia



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Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, BSE


"Institutional factors such as ideology, bureaucratic rivalries, and communication difficulties, affected how scientific advice was used."

p. 75.

"While scientists were an integral part of the political process and competition, scientific uncertainty and other factors deterred their exerting independent determining influence over policy decisions."


"...may lack understanding of the nature of the problems, including their intrinsic cause and effect relationships, and may be unable to craft effective policy solutions."

Brown, p. 53

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a major "food security issue" (p. 54) as to what is fed to animals we consume

international water quality issues, fishery declines,endangered species and toxic contamination.

trans boundary pollution with planetary atmospheric consequences and numerous point sources of dirty air emissions.

Policy, is a word like "police" that stems from the Greek word Polis, or Polis, symbolizing the community of free (men) citizens, as opposed to slaves. Hence a community of decision makers. It was a demotic (based on the people), in the sense that people participated in formulating rules and regulations and enforcing civil conduct for the purpose of promoting social ends, or desired common outcomes.


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For examples see:

National significance of the Florida Everglades

Cultural Significance of Wildlife in America's Natural Heritage

Our Common Threat: the challenges & opportunities for international solutions to sustain our Earth


General suggestions about writing papers.


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Ideology is an insufficient shield to protect human health and the environment.

Science is not a search for truth, but a means to dispel uncertainty to some limited extent.

Confronting problems requires that we learn from our mistakes through, free and open inquiry.

The cost to most people of ignorance, in a highly technical and industrial world is more than we can afford.

Not all problems can be solved and the consequences of these ongoing, accumulating and intractable situations will mean economic and social losses to people in disproportionate amounts to their capacity to afford protection.

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Problems, policies, and politics are three streams that emerge to sometimes address difficult arguments. But often they converge and neglect key features of problems. Thus, political negotiations often fail to fully solve difficulties. Why?

One reason is because players in the political arena may not have "window's of opportunity," to focus on the problem. They may lack a viable or robust constituency to move a coherent agenda, such as the case of US health care since it was first proposed in 1948, by President Truman. The staff who work on these problems may overlook crucial details needed to be comprehended and addressed in a demotic manner due to powerfully influential lobbyists.

By a demotic manner, I mean that a majority's rights are asserted, while the minority interests are protected in the fashioning of acceptable, if only temporary, solutions to crucial matters.

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Science does not inform policy, as much as policy may distort science. Instead science takes a back seat to ideological values, which give rise to policies. People's political faith, or ideology and bias often divert, subvert or invert the scientific experts' findings. Facts from scientific investigations are always discovered, it must be remembered, in a backdrop of uncertainty.

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