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Hardcover | Out of Print | 280 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 2 charts, 9 tables | July 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014373
Paperback | $30.00 Short | £24.95 | 280 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 2 charts, 9 tables | July 2010 | ISBN: 9780262514378
eBook | $21.00 Short | July 2010 | ISBN: 9780262290227
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Knowledge and Environmental Policy

Re-Imagining the Boundaries of Science and Politics


During the George W. Bush administration, politics and ideology routinely trumped scientific knowledge in making environmental policy. Data were falsified, reports were edited selectively, and scientists were censored. The Obama administration has pledged to restore science to the policy making process. And yet, as the authors of Knowledge and Environmental Policy point out, the problems in connecting scientific discovery to science-based policy are systemic. The process—currently structured in a futile effort to separate policy from science—is dysfunctional in many respects.

William Ascher, Toddi Steelman, and Robert Healy analyze the dysfunction and offer recommendations for incorporating formal science and other important types of knowledge (including local knowledge and public sentiment) into the environmental policymaking process.The authors divide the knowledge process into three functions—generation, transmission, and use—and explore the key obstacles to incorporating knowledge into the making of environmental policy. Using case studies and integrating a broad literature on science, politics, and policy, they examine the ignorance or distortion of policy-relevant knowledge, the overemphasis of particular concerns and the neglect of others, and the marginalization of certain voices.

The book’s analysis will be valuable to scientists who want to make their work more accessible and useful to environmental policy and to policymakers who want their decisions to be informed by science but have had difficulty finding scientific knowledge that is useful or timely.

About the Authors

William Ascher is Donald C. McKenna Professor of Government and Economics at Claremont McKenna College.

Toddi Steelman is Associate Professor of Environmental and Natural Resource Policy in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University.

Robert Healy is Professor of Environmental Policy at the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and Professor of Public Policy Studies at the Terry Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

Table of Contents

  • Knowledge and Environmental Policy
  • American and Comparative Environmental Policy
  • Sheldon Kamieniecki and Michael E. Kraft, series editors
  • For a complete list of books in the series, please see the back of the book.
  • Knowledge and Environmental Policy
  • Re-Imagining the Boundaries of Science and Politics
  • William Ascher, Toddi Steelman, and Robert Healy
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • © 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email special_sales
  • This book was set in Sabon by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited.
  • Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Ascher, William.
  • Knowledge and environmental policy : re-imagining the boundaries of science and politics / William Ascher, Toddi Steelman, and Robert Healy.
  •  p. cm.—(American and comparative environmental policy)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01437-3 (hardcover : alk. paper)—ISBN 978-0-262-51437-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Environmental policy. 2. Science—Political aspects.  3. Science and state. I. Steelman, Toddi A. II. Healy, Robert G. III. Title.
  • GE170.A82 2010
  • 363.7,0561—dc22
  • 2009048450
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • With special thanks to those who educated us and helped us understand knowledge in its many forms. For Toddi Steelman, her parents, Lance and Emma Steelman; for Bob Healy, his many teachers and mentors, especially Leland S. Burns and Frank Mittelbach at UCLA; for William Ascher, his parents Meyer and Beckie Ascher and Professor Harold D. Lasswell.
  • Contents
  • Series Foreword ix
  • Preface xiii
  • 1 Knowledge in the Environmental Policy Process 1
  • 2 The Generation of Policy-Relevant Environmental Knowledge 27
  • 3 The Transmission and Use of Knowledge in the Environmental Policy Process 61
  • 4 How Knowledge Shapes the Environmental Policy Process 99
  • 5 The “Ecology” of Knowledge and the Environmental Policy Process 125
  • 6 The Consequences of Knowledge Problems in the Environmental Policy Process 137
  • 7 Insights and Recommendations 161
  • Notes 211
  • References 229
  • Index 251
  • 1.4
  • 1.6
  • BooksChicago
  • Books Chicago
  • MITBooks
  • Series Foreword
  • During the George W. Bush administration, White House policymakers on numerous occasions ignored or manipulated scientific data, and they were often criticized for doing so, particularly by environmentalists who were convinced that the science bolstered their own policy positions. The Bush administration often gave more weight to political beliefs and goals than the views of scientists, policy analysts, and other professionals, most notably in the case of climate change. In response to such decisions across a wide spectrum of issues, by 2004, more than 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel Prize winners and 127 members of the National Academy of Sciences, accused the White House of distorting and suppressing science to suit its political goals. The use of science in policymaking, rarely among the most visible issues, rose to some prominence during the 2008 presidential election, and President Barak Obama singled it out for special mention in his inaugural address in January 2009. “We will restore science to its rightful place,” he said, leaving no doubt about his commitment to evidence-based public policy in general and specifically with regard to the environment, energy use, and climate change.
  • The history of public policy over the past four to five decades is replete with cases involving the abuse of science. The Bush administration was hardly the first to ignore inconvenient science, economics, public health studies, or national security analyses in support of its political agenda. Indeed, one of the best examples dates to the 1950s and 1960s when key legislators and corporate executives manipulated the generation and communication of scientific data related to tobacco and its health effects. Despite the definitive Surgeon General’s report of 1964 on smoking and heath, the tobacco industry, backed by its supporters in Congress, argued that cigarettes were safe and possibly even beneficial to public health. Eventually, independent research showed the opposite to be true. The public was only told years later that the tobacco industry actually had knowledge early on that cigarette smoking causes a number of significant health problems. As this example illustrates, members of Congress and other legislative bodies, much like the president, also face difficulties in incorporating science and other expert knowledge in policymaking.
  • How knowledge influences the policymaking process is one of the most fundamental questions in studies of public policy, but it is also much more complex than often appreciated. This is particularly true in environmental policy, where science is expected to play a strong role in setting broad policy goals as well as in development of the administrative rules and regulations that form the bedrock of contemporary government action. Yet the balance also could tilt too much the other way. The problem is not just that obstacles exist to the use of science in policymaking. Even policymakers who are open to the idea of using science fairly must confront the real challenges presented by the structure of the knowledge-policy relationship. Formal science has a clear role to play in environmental policy and many other areas, but decision making must also be open to other forms of knowledge.
  • In this book, William Ascher, Toddi Steelman, and Robert Healy seek to untangle the connections between knowledge, politics, and public policy. Their goal is to explore how knowledge processes, initially structured in an effort to separate politics from science, are in many ways highly dysfunctional and fail to contribute as they should to sound environmental policy. They set out to do this by dividing knowledge processes into three functions, generation, transmission, and use, and then systematically analyzing the effects of these functions on policy processes. As a result, they are better prepared than previous students of the subject to offer sensible recommendations for how the constraints on knowledge production, communication, and use can be overcome and environmental policymaking can be strengthened. A notable contribution of the book is its careful integration of literature on science, politics, and policy and its application to the challenge of understanding the role of knowledge in the environmental policy arena.
  • The authors do a masterful job in the introductory chapters of introducing the central concepts involved in the application of knowledge in environmental policymaking and in expertly laying out the central questions that should be asked. The succeeding chapters address those questions clearly and concisely, weaving in the pertinent literature and selected case studies to offer an integrated and informative assessment. Their discussion of how uncertainty and lack of knowledge can pose dilemmas for policymakers is particularly strong, and in the concluding chapter they are able to offer a plethora of insights and recommendations for the most appropriate and accurate use of knowledge in environmental policy.
  • The book illustrates well the goals of the MIT Press series in American and Comparative Environmental Policy. We encourage work that examines a broad range of environmental policy issues. We are particularly interested in volumes that incorporate interdisciplinary research and focus on the linkages between public policy and environmental problems and issues both within the United States and in cross-national settings. We welcome contributions that analyze the policy dimensions of relationships between humans and the environment from either a theoretical or empirical perspective. At a time when environmental policies are increasingly seen as controversial and new approaches are being implemented widely, we especially encourage studies that assess policy successes and failures, evaluate new institutional arrangements and policy tools, and clarify new directions for environmental politics and policy. The books in this series are written for a wide audience that includes academics, policymakers, environmental scientists and professionals, business and labor leaders, environmental activists, and students concerned with environmental issues. We hope they contribute to public understanding of environmental problems, issues, and policies of concern today and also suggest promising actions for the future.
  • Sheldon Kamieniecki, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Michael Kraft, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
  • American and Comparative Environmental Policy Series Editors


“[I]ts novel framework offers an important advance in the conversation among all scholars working at the interface of knowledge, politics, and policy making.”—Review of Policy Research


“This book is a lucid, concise, yet comprehensive primer on how environmental science and policy interact in the governing process and how that interaction can be improved.”
Walter A. Rosenbaum, Director Emeritus, Bob Graham Center for Public Service, University of Florida