by Stephen Schneider
Never forget: Whenever an expert tells you there is a scientific basis for something, that expert is out of his depth or making a logical mistake because policy is always a tradeoff among alternatives.
Ask three questions of scientists:
- What can happen?
- What are the odds?
- How do you know?
That is where the scientific expertise stops. Scientists will have opinions about what to do. If I have a microphone and I'm asked a question then I'm going to tell you my values.
Never think that you are not expert enough to deal with a technically complex decision, because you don't need to understand the technical details to make the decision.
You need to know from technical experts what can happen and what are the probabilities because that leads to the values which you are as good as anybody else in applying.
As printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, February 2, 1992.
Stephen Schneider is an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who works in the areas of global warming and climatic change. His remarks are excerpted from comments made recently at the College of Wooster in Ohio.
IT'S A VALUE JUDGEMENT
Technical information has its place,
but protecting the environment is
not ultimately about technical issues.
It's about the values that people hold.
It may be a technical question for
scientists to determine if a particular
chemical causes cancer. It is a value
judgement, however, for people to decide
if they want themselves or their
children exposed to that chemical.
From the Introduction to Where We Live, a Citizen's Guide to Conducting a Community Environmental Inventory (Working Draft), by Donald F. Harker and Elizabeth U. Natter, Mountain Associates for Community Economic Development, 443 Chestnut St., Berea KY 40403 USA
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