03 March 2012

Invitation for Input on a Second Edition of The Honest Broker

I am currently mulling over the idea of working on a second edition of The Honest Broker (CUP willing;-). I have received a lot of excellent comments, suggestions and critique on the original, and there has also been discussion in the academic literature. Currently I am thinking about adding three chapters:
  • a discussion of how policy makers should use experts (so, the flip side of the main perspective advanced in the book)
  • a discussion of best practices in "honest brokering" from around the world
  • a case study of the climate debate using the framework of the book, with a focus on science, the media, and decision makers (unsure about this one as it might distract from everything else)
What would you like to see in a revision? Advice and suggestions welcomed!


  1. This is an excellent idea. I have used both the book and some of the key ideas with great success with students and with public health professionals.

    I agree that a chapter on how "policy makers" use experts whould be useful. However, it would be important to emphasize that for most policy issues there is rarely, if ever, a single decision or a single policy maker. The latter misconception is quite commmon in health policy as a result of the work on "knowledge translation" in clinical settings that is extended to try and understand and model policy making.

    Patrick Fafard
    GSPIA, University of Ottawa

  2. -1-ottawaprof

    Thanks! I agree, it would be much more about (to get wonky) about the role of intelligence in a decision process.

  3. Here was an example of the role of experts in a policy decision process (EU 10% biofuel mandate) I found interesting, a LSE Grantham paper, an interesting source. I think the conclusion was that the policy-making gatekeeper filtered (gate-kept) his experts to fit the outcome:

    Bishop Hill blogged it:

    This is the paper:
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/eet.543/abstract is the paywall for the paper

  4. How about something you know about? Like wow to pose as a centrist expert without being a serious scientist?

  5. I would like to see some comparative case studies, and a differentiation between different institutional settings. It makes a difference if advice is provided in-house or externally. For the former, see the recent report on the UK system of 'chief scientific advisers' (and the problem of critical distance).

    Many countries will have in-house and external advisory bodies but how exactly they are involved is worth investigating.

  6. Govt should never used work that isn't totally transparent. Citizens who are potentially affected ought to have a right to "confront" the evidence against them.

    If the impacts of a proposed policy are significant, policymakers should spend the money to replicate the key studies. Given the estimates that possibly a majority of academic studies are flawed, the govt shouldn't operate under an assumption that a study that has been published is accurate.

  7. Less focus on US contexts and examples, and more on other parts of the world, a critique one can almost always use of texts from US scientists. For example, comparative national cases about the same issue, e.g. climate change science/policy interface in USA, EU and totally different cases like China, Russia or a country from the "south". Or why not "abortion politics" which is really different in Europe.

    More elaboration of the different ideal type roles. Are there important roles (common ones, and effective ones) that are missing? What about roles of scientists that tries to reconsile supply and demand? Or normative scientists that are not behaving like issue advocates?

    More comparision and evaluation of strenght and weaknesses of different institional arrangement of the science/policy interface, e.g. the linear model versus stakeholder models. Is a stakeholder model more effective than the IPCC linear arrangement?

    More on theory and concrete examples of success and failure on how the nature of the problem have implications on preferable interfaces to handle the problem. That could be really helpful and practical.

    To be more explicit about your own normative standpoints and the reasons for them.

  8. Good luck with CUP, Roger. I think a second edition would be very useful.

    My two cents: I agree with you that a case study of climate change would distract people from the main thesis and become a tail wagging the dog.

    Case studies of good honest brokering would be useful, but again would reinforce the impression many take from this that your thesis is that honest brokering is better than the other three modes of interaction between experts and government.

    Some things I'd really like to see in a new edition:

    (1) A much better explanation of what you mean by the "stakeholder model." People who are already familiar with STS have no problem with this, but when I teach students with your book, they need a lot of explanation from me about what you mean, which leads to the risk that I'm putting words in your mouth.

    Saying, "a stakeholder model holds not only that the users of science should have some role in its production but that considerations of how science is used in decision-making are an important aspect of understanding the effectiveness of science in decision-making," is really vague and doesn't give the novice reader a clue what kind of considerations you're talking about or why this is any different from a linear-model kind of science-arbiter mode of interaction. For instance, "users of science should have some role in its production" can sound like a science arbiter taking direction from questions posed by the users. This bit could use expansion and clarification.

    (2) Semi-Sovereign people is a lot about experts narrowing the scope of decision-making: S. gives a car-mechanic as an example and we might see the mechanic diagnosing an oil leak and narrowing down your choices to replacing the gasket (expensive, but solves the problem once and for all) or monitoring your oil level (inexpensive, but requires constant attention). You could be clearer why the HB role of expanding the range of choices is consistent with Schattschneider's emphasis on narrowing the range of choices.

    (3) You could be clearer about why you think two models of the political process and two models of science are sufficient. What's your argument why we don't need three or more models on either axis?

    (4) You refer to Harvey Brooks's distinction between science for policy (the dominant focus of THB) and policy for science, but when you criticize the linear model's impact on what you call "science for policy for science" you don't go further to discuss how policy for science looks in a stakeholder model.

    Moreover, in your book it's hard to see why the issue advocate on the funding side of things (e.g., John Peoples saying that federal funding for Fermilab research is part of what makes the nation worth defending) demonstrates more of a stakeholder than a linear model of science unless you're defining the stakeholder model so broadly that merely wanting government funding for one's research puts one into the stakeholder model.

    A clearer treatment of how the policy-for-science side of things works in a stakeholder model would be helpful.

  9. Following up on the stakeholder model of science: To some extent, what it looks to me as though you're doing is this: There's a wide variety of models of what science is and how it works. Linear model is most familiar to most people outside STS, so you're kind of lumping everything that's not linear model into a big bag called "stakeholder," and it's hard to define because people who subscribe to the whole array of models you collectively call "stakeholder" can't agree.

    You don't want to recapitulate all of STS, and most of your readers almost certainly don't care a bit about the differences between, say, Actor-Network Theory, Bordieusian capital theory, and Mertonian norms theory; but it would be helpful to give a bit more nuance about stakeholder theories---maybe what distinctions you find important within this category for the purpose of understanding science & policy, while avoiding STS inside baseball.

    Specifically, to echo your invocation of Lippmann, what important things about scientific advice to policymakers could different people who subscribe to models within the stakeholder grab bag agree to even if they don't agree on the deep theoretical foundations of that consensus (see, e.g., Cass Sunstein's "incompletely theorized agreements")?

  10. Roger,

    I think all three are excellent point for discussion. I would like to see examples of how policy makers deal with conflicting advice from several experts

  11. @Chris Chambers: STS = Science & Technology Studies.

  12. Roger - I found THB to be invaluable not just from the teaching perspective but also in shaping my own views of how scientists can best interact with policy makers. To this end, I'd appreciate more discussion about how scientists can be effective in the public sphere while still acting as unbiased researchers. Is it appropriate to advocate for a policy position while also publishing scientific studies on that same issue? Is it possible to remain an unbiased researcher, and retain credibility as such, if you have taken a public stance on a policy decision related to your science?

    I also agree that more examples of case studies would be valuable (it's been a while since I read the book so I don't remember the exact ones you used). But examples from, say, the development of the Montreal Protocol, which seems to be a case where science advising led to a successful policy outcome, would be useful, especially if they were contrasted with what would seem to be less successful examples of science advising, such as climate change.