Perspectives on Capitol Hill: Notes from a former Fellow

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Abstract

The AGU Congressional Science Fellowship (CSF) enables scientists to venture into the policy arena and return wiser about the political forces that shape our nation and the scientific enterprise it supports. As chairman of AGU's CSF selection committee for 5 years after leaving the Hill, I have observed that this experience has a lasting influence on the Fellows by providing them with a unique and valuable appreciation of the relationship between science and policy.

Science does not provide the answers to policy makers' ultimate questions. We elect our officials to arbitrate and act on concepts such as equity, good, and evil. Science is mute on the values that underlie the decisions societies make. Technical information is crucial inidentifying concerns, framing issues , and defining the physical conseque nces of alternative actions. Yet in the end, a subjective value judgement determines what policy is “right.” Take the example of nuclear energy: should our policies encourage or discourage its use? On the surface this appears to be a question with a technical answer. Congress has called on dozens of scientists to offer an answer and predictably has found Nobel Laureates on both sides because any answer involves a value judgement. Science can approximate the risks and benefits, but society must decide what ratio between the two is acceptable .

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