19 June 2009

Review of The Honest Broker in Policy Sciences

The journal Policy Sciences has published a review of The Honest Broker by Kevin Curry and Susan Clark. It is a long and thoughtful review, and very positive. Here are a few excerpts:
Roger Pielke Jr. offers a way to sort through the complicated relationships between scientists and decision making. His perceptive, clearly worded, and engaging book offers both important academic insights and a model of professional practice for anyone wishing to engage effectively with politics and policy.
Curry and Clark engage several earlier reviews of THB, and clearly present my position with respect to advocacy by scientists:
Some reviewers (e.g., Rosenberg 2007; Skolnikoff 2008) disapprove of Pielke’s criticism of issue advocacy, but they seem to miss the crux of his argument. Pielke does not argue against issue advocacy. In fact, he argues that all four of the roles he describes for scientists are "critically important and necessary in a functioning democracy" (p. 7). Pielke’s argument is simply that scientists should clearly identify when they are acting as issue advocates. They should not obscure their goal and standpoint by using the assumptions of the linear model of science, or assume value consensus is present when it is not, or claim to be concerned with intelligence when they are actually concerned with promotion.
The review offers some criticism as well, and it is well taken:
In our view, the biggest shortcoming of The Honest Broker is its failure to develop the role of the honest broker more fully, especially in terms of the common interest concept as explicated by Lasswell and McDougal (1992). Pielke notes that very few people fulfill the role of the honest broker, and he clearly advocates for more attention to it. He notes that the role will most likely be played by a committee of scientists and provides examples: the now-defunct U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, the European Enquete Commissions, and the Foresight process in the United Kingdom. We would have preferred a more thorough discussion of these cases, along with specific examples of how these organizations improved decision making by helping to clarify and secure common interest outcomes. We also expected suggestions for how committees of honest brokers might be integrated into our existing political and legal landscape. The lack of specificity here is unfortunate, because the role of the honest broker seems consistent with the commitment of the policy sciences to freedom through insight, knowledge integration, and an explicit engagement with values. Our guess is that the role of the honest broker is the role many policy scientists would choose for themselves.
You can buy a copy of The Honest Broker here.


  1. I haev asked my local library to buy your book.

  2. -1-Dean

    Many thanks, let me know what you think.

  3. I'm not sure I would characterized the last box as criticism.. I think it is more like a request for some followup books. Which would also be of interest to me.

    What I like about The Honest Broker's current size is that I can loan it to busy people who are not science policy wonks and they can actually get through it and the concepts.

    In terms of the committee as the source of honest brokerhood, what might be interesting to me to explore in your next book, would be how science groups can behave as honest brokers of high quality, rather than personality-mediated producers of lowest common denominator vague verbiage. As so often happens in committees, scientific and non.

    Additionally, having known NAS science committees results to be edited NAS members, I have to believe science has plenty of "small p" politics to sort out effectively to become group honest brokers. I wonder how good ones do that.

  4. Welcome to blogger. Wish Eli could tell you it is a better place, but the overhead is lower...

    The basic problem with your book is that honest brokers don't do what you think they do. In your words:

    "an honest broker works to expand (or at least clarify) the scope of choice available to decision makers. I have contrasted this with the issue advocate who works to reduce the scope of choices available to decision makers"

    Brokers do not expand the scope of choices available to clients, they narrow them. Brokers make a living by matching buyers to sellers and taking a commission. Ethical brokers will go out on the market seeking product suited to clients and will seek clients suited to products available to the broker. In other words the honest broker selects the best options out of a wide market based on her expertise.

    Honest brokers know what is available for purchase and what their buyers needs are. They select the best matches. Their biggest job is to stop clients from committing financial suicide by listening to people who pick stocks off the web.

    Stripping the broker function from its ability to recommend purchases based on expert knowledge (policy) guarantees a nasty outcome.

    It's the difference between the Yellow Pages listing of restaurants (your version) and Zagat (Eli's)

  5. Eli- Thanks for the comment. Perhaps the new site can represent a new start for some things best left behind. What do you say?

    Your critique is relevant to a dictionary definition of "broker" but not so much to the analysis in my book. The difference between issue advocate and honest broker is a matter of degree. You are correct that Zagat is different than Lonely Planet, and both are different than a brochure at a kiosk in your hotel lobby.

    But do read the book, as you'll find many of these nuance acknowledged, as well as the argument that issue advocates are critically important as well.

  6. I liked the book very much, it touched on some very delicate matters. However I don't think Enquete Committees are the answer, see Andrea Vierecke's article "Complex Problem Solving In the Cooperation between Science and Politics", http://www.cpw-online.de/complex_ problem_solving.htm. It just adds another layer to politicizing effect.

  7. I liked the book very much, it addressed some very important issues, however I don't think the Enquete Commissions are the answer. See Andrea Viercke's article, "Complex Problem Solving in the Cooperation between Science and Politics", http:www.cpw-online.de/beitraege/complex_problem_solving.htm. As long as human beings are doing science this problem will continue to plaque us.

  8. Well done for getting another positive review, Roger. THB is a useful book that itself tries to cross the divide it analyses. I for one would be interested to hear what you have done recently to actually increase the role of honest broker in your area of policy involvement, and the pitfalls you have encountered.