Biodiversity and Agricultural Landscapes: Can the Wicked Policy Problems Be Solved?


This is the pre-publication draft of a paper that appears in Pacific Conservation Biology 10, 2 (2004): 124 - 143 © Andrew Brennan 2003

Philosophy Discipline, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia. Email: 2 Philosophy Program, La Trobe University, Victoria 3086, Australia.


Conservation issues for agricultural landscapes are typical examples of 'wicked' public policy problems: that is, ones in which questions are not clearly defined, and there is apparent conflict between different sets of values, all of which are legitimate. The paper argues that how to protect intrinsic value in nature is itself a wicked policy problem, complicated by the fact that at least three different senses of "intrinsic value" are easily confused. The challenge for policy in Australian agriculture is how to protect remaining natural values by processes that are fair to stakeholders, governed by scientific credibility and sensitive to the plurality of values held by groups within the community. The paper argues that scientists themselves can play an important role not just in problem definition, but also in helping set the agenda for action that will be effective in preserving natural diversity. Keywords: Biodiversity, scientific credibility, public policy, intrinsic value, salinity policy

INTRODUCTION This paper attempts to map a conceptual framework within which to think about the conservation of biodiversity and the management of natural resources. The focus is on those Australian landscapes and environments where agriculture, or agribusiness, is carried on. As will be shown, many of the issues facing agricultural policy are not purely technical; the scientists, economists and other specialists who work in this field have been called on to provide more than optimal solutions to well-defined technical problems. Ecologists and zoologists who have been active in bringing Australia’s environmental problems to public attention are already aware that they fulfil more than a purely scientific role in the broader community. Indeed, the very notions in which public discourse is phrased – terms like “harm”, “disease”, “biodiversity”, “natural”, “pollution”, “scarcity” – have no agreed scientific definition. Urgency is given to the present investigation in the light of the fact that a plethora of policies, strategies and legislative instruments over the last twenty years – aimed at conserving biodiversity – have apparently been highly ineffective. It is therefore an open question whether Australia will be able to protect its remaining endemic fauna and flora from the kind of damage which has typified the two centuries of European occupation of the land. Linked to this question is a profound puzzle. Why, in the light of so many initiatives to counter species loss, land degradation and the threats to terrestrial ecosystems, has the Australian environment continued to show signs of marked decline in key features? Although the present paper has no definitive answer to the puzzle, the framework developed here diagnoses some of the factors that may have contributed to the problematic situation and provides a basis for practical steps to reverse the decline in the quality of Australia’s natural environment. POLICIES, ETHICS AND WICKED PROBLEMS Communities of human beings can be thought of as nested structures containing further sub-communities. While some common patterns of behaviour, shared values and dispositions will be widespread over some large populations – for instance, those who are all

citizens of a single nation-state – even countries that are not very populous show clear subdivisions into subcommunities marked by political, religious, ethical and other differences. Such differences show up in many ways, for example by adoption of different rituals, different styles of dress, divergent forms of language, distinct notions of identity, different understandings – and networks – of obligation and so on. When a large community has to make major policy decisions, the process leading to these will typically reveal the existence of divergent concerns and values among its subgroups. A major problem in such cases is finding agreement in language so that dialogue and communication move forward despite the presence of a plurality of perspectives, ambitions, anxieties and values. Many environmental problems are “wicked” (Rittel and Webber 1973); that is they involve competition among many different kinds of goods and a multitude of perfectly legitimate interests. Rittel and Webber argued that to take wicked problems as having true or false, optimal or sub-optimal answers is to invite confusion, namely the confusion between problems that can be clearly defined and readily solved, and problems that require compromise, balance and trading across legitimate values. Since wicked problems cannot be clearly defined, it is hard – if not impossible – to tell when they have been resolved. Since wicked problems involve the competition between multiple goods and different – but perfectly legitimate – values, it is not helpful to regard them as having right or wrong answers. The emergence during the twentieth century of new forms of environmental ethics has helped give substance to the idea that there are values in nature worth preserving for their own sake, not just for their usefulness to humans. However, the moral crusade to protect centres of intrinsic value in nature – whether individuals, species, landscapes or systems – has run into direct conflict with the commodification of nature associated with economic rationalism and the anthropocentric basis of many existing legal and political instruments and institutions. In the resulting debates, opponents may find themselves locked into mutual denunciation and misunderstanding – features typical of wicked problem situations. Agricultural scientists, ecologists and zoologists are in difficult territory here. While they would like to draw on the



enthusiasm of conservation organizations, the conceptual resources of philosophy and the modelling skills of economists, they can instead find themselves under friendly fire from all directions. Finding a language acceptable to many or all interests is not itself a trivial matter. To begin with, it may be useful to clarify some notions about value itself. Values in nature – instrumental and noninstrumental It is common to regard many debates and arguments about value in terms of clashes of rights. For example, farmers may claim a right to clear their land, while some of their neighbours demand a right to enjoy a healthy and biotically diverse landscape. Conservation groups and radical environmentalists are sometimes accused of talking as if nature has rights – though in fact there have been few systematic attempts to make sense of the idea of rights for natural things apart from certain animals (for a systematic attempt to establish that animals have rights, see Regan 1983, and for a review of the main positions in environmental ethics see Brennan and Lo 2002). Rights talk, however, is ambiguous and not the most basic level of ethical discourse. Many moral systems can make no sense of the notion of rights at all, which is why Jeremy Bentham famously dismissed all talk about rights as “nonsense on stilts” (Bentham 1789). A utilitarian theory – which counts action as right when it has a good outcome – will generally be sceptical of the idea of rights, preferring instead to think about actions in terms of whether they promote welfare, pleasure or the satisfaction of preferences. Non-utilitarian theorists who are willing to ascribe rights to humans are also generally unwilling to ascribe rights to nature or its parts (for more details see Taylor (1986)). Either kind of theory, however, can still make sense of values being of different kinds and being attached to more than just human beings. For example, in the utilitarianism of Peter Singer, the outcomes of our actions need to be morally valued in terms of preferences, pleasures, pains and suffering for any sentient being, not just those of humans (Singer 1975; 1993). When Singer uses the phrase “animal rights” this is, for him – though not for Regan – merely a façon de parler. One way of putting Singer’s moral position is to say that, for him, the experiences of some non-human beings have value or disvalue. The pain of a rat is something about which we should be morally concerned, he argues. By arguing in this way, he extends the kind of view which was held by G. E. Moore that the only intrinsically valuable things in the world were human experiences (Moore 1903). Certainly, there seem to be some experiences which humans value for their own sake – the experience of being with family and friends, the challenge of a sporting competition, the attempt to learn a piece of music, the taste of a fresh strawberry, and so on. To call such experiences intrinsically valuable is just to claim that they are valuable in themselves, without considering any further end they serve. While Moore’s conception of value was targeted exclusively on human

experience, Singer (1993) extends the notion to animal experience especially the experience of pain and suffering. “If a being suffers”, he writes, “there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration” (p.50). For him, then, pain is bad in itself whether suffered by a human or an animal. What about things and people, rather than experiences? Valuable things may include human beings, higher animals, and abstract phenomena like education, justice, honour, truth and love. For such things, we can ask to what extent these have value as a means to some further end – instrumental value – and to what extent they are of non-instrumental value. To avoid confusion, it is important to separate out different meanings and get clear on notions like intrinsic, extrinsic, objective and subjective. These distinctions are not often made clearly in the literature of either environmental philosophy or environmental economics. Here are some definitions: (i) x has non-instrumental value: x has value independent of its usefulness, that is regardless of whether x is a means to some other end. Human beings are the prime example of things of noninstrumental value (e.g., Kant 1785). (ii) x has non-subjective value (i.e., objective value): x has value independent of subjects’ attitudes. Some writers argue that natural objects and processes have just such value: for example, a world with a diversity of plant species, but without any valuing subjects in it, would be objectively valuable in this sense (e.g., Routley 1973; Rolston 1975). (iii) x has non-relational value (sometimes called nonextrinsic value): x has value independent of any relation x may or may not have to anything else (Moore 1904). Some writers argue that every animal has equal value, whether the species to which it belongs is endangered or not, whether endemic or not. This would be because each animal is a centre of life and experience – a property that depends on no relations to other things (Regan 1983). Some writers use the term “intrinsic value” as simply equivalent to “non-instrumental value”. Using it this way does not exclude its opposite: trees can be valued for their own sake even though trees provide timber for many uses. However, it is easy to slide from sense (i) to a stronger sense such as (ii) or (iii). Many writers have argued both for the intrinsic (non-instrumental) value of nature and for the objectivity of value in nature (Callicott 1989; Rolston 1989). Generally, writers who claim that nature, or natural things, have intrinsic value all agree that “intrinsic” means at least what is captured in definition (i). Notice that things which have value in virtue of being rare or endemic to an area will not have that value in the third, non-relational sense (even though they may additionally have intrinsic value in sense (i)). In the context of conservation, rarity itself is a disvalue. A butterfly collector may treasure a specimen because of its rarity, but conservation efforts targeted on the last individuals



of a threatened species will aim to protect and enlarge that population, that is, to make its members less rare. When people ask: what is valuable in its own right?, they can be asking about intrinsic value in any of the three senses given above. The national and international conventions, legislation and treaties referring to the intrinsic value of species, ecosystems and natural processes may be safely regarded as referring to non-instrumental values (sense (i) above), but are no doubt taken by some people to refer to value in a stronger sense. Although legislation may in many cases reflect the fact that people value natural processes and things in a non-instrumental way, many statements about intrinsic value can also be regarded as helping to spread the idea that nature has value in its own right. Likewise, the ideas that have inspired environmental ethics and many people active in conservation movements have been framed in terms of the noninstrumental value of natural things and processes, though not in terms of rights. The forester and game manager Aldo Leopold (1949) urged, in A Sand County Almanac, that people should “quit thinking about land in economic terms” and instead recognize that “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” (p.224-5). In the preface to the collection, he commented “that land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics” (op. cit., p.viiix). The vocabulary of “love” and “respect” seems appropriate to our relation to items that are of noninstrumental value. A more recent inspiration for environmentalists is in the deep ecology platform, formulated by Arne Næss and George Session in the early 1980s (Næss and Sessions 1984). The first three statements of the platform read: (1) The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life have value in themselves (synonyms intrinsic value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes. (2) Richness and diversity of life-forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves. (3) Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs. The kind of value identified in points (1) and (2) certainly draws upon sense (i) of intrinsic value identified above. That something is of non-instrumental value gives us a reason – in many cases – to care about its preservation and to try to ensure its continued existence. If people are disposed to value naturalness and biodiversity for their own sakes, this alone gives a reason why they should be protected, independent of their usefulness to humans and other forms of life. The deep ecological platform, in common with other work in environmental ethics, gives little help in distinguishing the value of native or endemic species from exotic ones. Being native or endemic does not contribute to intrinsic

value in sense (iii), but is often cited as valuable in one of the other two senses. It may be that the value of being native, like the value of being natural itself, is associated with the fact that some things – individuals, species and systems – have evolved independent of human manipulation and interference (see Elliot 1997; Katz 1997). For those who take this view, although there could be significant intrinsic value in a diverse agricultural landscape, this will always be less than the value of a naturally diverse landscape. Given that many philosophers, conservationists and scientists argue that at least some natural things have value for their own sakes, not just for their utility, it is not surprising that economic approaches to valuing nature have come under attack (see Sagoff 1988; O’Neill 1993; Brennan 1995). The reductive attempt to reduce all values to preferences and express preferences in terms of willingness to pay (or accept compensation) seemed – to the critics of economic approaches – to threaten the reduction of all value to usefulness. For Sagoff and the other critics of techniques like contingent valuation, the pricing of natural “goods and services” threatens to fictionalize, socialize and commodify natural things as if they are of no more value than the toothpaste, watches, shoes and socks available at the supermarket. To break out of this particular confrontation, one solution may be for philosophers and economists to consider ways in which they can forge a shared vocabulary so they can jointly help solve one of society’s most pressing concerns: the conservation of natural diversity in the face of the explosion of consumer desires and increasing human population. The tension between environmental ethicists and economists is one aspect of wider academic rivalries that might be diminished were disciplinary frameworks regarded as complementary – not alternatives – in the approach to wicked problems. Where a problem is complex, it involves a plurality of competing goods, and so requires a plurality of approaches. Reductivism is still a strong tendency within many disciplines. Part of the excitement of work within a disciplinary framework is exploring just how many phenomena can be illuminated within the terms of one discipline alone. Yet every discipline framework comes with limitations: there will be questions it cannot put and ideas it cannot express. This is not a merely academic point. When discipline-based experts come to grips with environmental problems they may end up competing rather than collaborating. A well-designed policy process has to guard against the dangers of overspecialism and the tunnel-vision it can induce. There is always the danger of policy being hijacked by one disciplinary perspective to the exclusion of others. OUTLINE OF A FRAMEWORK FOR BIODIVERSITY POLICY Salinity in Australia Salinity is just one aspect of a massive environmental crisis presently faced by Australia. Over the country as a whole, the effects of land clearing, grazing, burning,



introduction of exotic species and soil compaction have been enormous. Despite a political rhetoric of care for conservation and diversity, the rate of native vegetation clearing has actually increased during the last ten years. Forty per cent more land was cleared in 1999 than in 1991 (ABS 2002, p.26) and so it is hardly surprising that the 2001 State of the Environment Report remarks that “clearance of native vegetation remains the single most significant threat to terrestrial biodiversity” (SOE 2001a, p 73). Only four countries in the world cleared a greater area of land than Australia did in 1999, namely Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bolivia (SOE 2001b, p.75). Recent massive land clearance in Queensland and New South Wales have put pressure on native diversity and wildlife leading to increasing fragmentation of remnant vegetation. Salinity in agricultural areas is a result of clearing native species whose adaptive root systems enable them to function as effective groundwater pumps. It now ranks as one of the significant threats to native biodiversity on the continent. Australia has recently gone backwards on five of the six key indicators of progress on environmental matters – biodiversity preservation, land clearance, land degradation, the condition of inland waters and greenhouse gas emissions (ABS 2002). Something seems amiss with recent land management and it has been argued that radical changes to use of agricultural land needs to be considered including setting aside large areas from productive use (Stirzaker et al. 2000). Several commentators have described Australia as the “continent in reverse” (Christoff 2002) or “the laggard state”, the country that once was at the forefront of environmental ethics thought, but whose environmental policy has declined in impact and effectiveness over the last decade (see Economou 1999; Crowley 1997). In this context, and given a history of inaction on dryland salinity, it seems unlikely that present salinity policies will fare any better than other aspects of conservation policy in Australia. The Australian Conservation Foundation describes Australia’s present economy as hot (fossil-fuel dependent), heavy (using large volumes of raw materials and generating large amounts of waste) and wet (water intensive) (ACF 2000). If, as seems highly probable, such an economy is ecologically dysfunctional and unsustainable, how can the country move to an ecologically sustainable path? A measure of the problem is shown by looking at it in microcosm. The state of New South Wales approved clearing of 208,360 ha in the period January 1998 to August 2000, while having a policy of no net loss of vegetation and having passed a Native Vegetation Conservation Act in 1997. There are at least 37 clearing situations which are exempt from the provisions of the legislation (SOE 2001, p.42) and the extent of such clearing is not subject to any notification procedures, hence is unknown. The same state has also passed no less than fourteen acts since 1974 aimed at conserving wilderness, protection of endangered species, managing water resources and general environment protection. The

state’s landcare program, which is a community-led program aimed at sustainable management of natural resources, is supported by no less than ten government agencies each of which has its own commitment to sustainable development and management within its area of responsibility3. Some of these agencies, in turn, have wide ranges of responsibility, some of which are devolved onto more than one department4. The operative principle seems to be that several different departments will share research into key issues such as soil acidity, salinity, nutrient management and so on (LCFS 2003). The level of State government is immediately below that of Commonwealth (Federal) government In the same period (from 1974) in which New South Wales passed fourteen pieces of environmental protection legislation, the Commonwealth passed 18 pieces of protective legislation, although one of these – the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 – actually replaces five of the earlier pieces of legislation in the attempt to “consolidate and streamline the role of the Commonwealth in environmental protection” (SOE 2001, p.38). In addition to legislation there have also been numerous policy initiatives and strategies developed at Federal and State level. These range from national frameworks for ecologically sustainable development, landcare and bushcare programs, to more local coastal management programs, weed strategies, rivercare and streamwatch programs. To complete the picture of all the agencies, groups, individuals, policies, programs and strategies involved in biodiversity conservation, it would be necessary to add the contributions of community groups, development and public health authorities, private sector organizations and individuals including landholders, firms, industry associations and, of course, research and scientific institutions in the country. Finally, local government would also have to be included given its responsibility for securing community initiatives and for implementing many of the sustainability strategies agreed at higher levels.


These are the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, the State Forests Department, Environment Protection Authority, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Agriculture, Waterways Authority, Department of Mineral Resources, Department of Education and Training, Department of Lands and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Energy and Utilities. 4 For example, soil loss measurement, erosion, coastal engineering and conservation of protected lands all fall within the ambit of the Department of Lands and Rural Affairs. Coastal lands acquisition, dryland salinity, waterlogging and drainage, and thirty-four other conservation support functions are the responsibility of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources. Soil acidity, waterlogging, soil structure, salinity, and irrigation advice and design are the responsibility of NSW Agriculture.



The sheer complexity of provision for biodiversity protection might go some way to explaining why so many agencies and structures have done so little to protect the Australian environment in the last decade. A recent government audit document (ATBA 2002) argues: “There is an array of regional frameworks for program delivery and other administrative purposes. To avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion, biodiversity monitoring should reflect an established ecological framework rather than contemporary administrative arrangements.” (p.3). Notice that this recommendation means that administrative frameworks should be adapted to scientifically-based structures – such as bioregions, catchments, ecosystems and the like. This proposal will be considered later in the context of determining the roles of the ecological sciences in policy processes. Policy Processes Public policy often involves wicked problems, like the salinity one, where environmental, economic, social and political issues are all interlinked. Salinity is not just an issue in terms of the loss of native diversity, leading to a reduction in the intrinsic value of Australia’s landscapes. It also impacts on farm profitability, undermines roads, and can contribute to rural decline and stagnation. It is not, then, a tractable problem. This – in contradistinction to a wicked one – would be a problem where there is not profound uncertainty about its nature or effects, where a small number of already well-established interests are involved, and where there is a good chance of there being a technically-agreed solution that would command wide assent. Wicked problems, on the other hand, may impinge on so many areas of life and be seen from so many different perspectives, that even the early stages of problem definition and agenda setting get bogged down in rhetoric, debate and frustration. It has recently been suggested that Australia’s salinity problem, combined with the effects of global climate change, may pose threats to human health due to an increased spread of mosquito-borne diseases. For example there is a form of polyarthritis known as “Ross River virus” which is endemic in all Australian states. On average around 5000 cases of this non-fatal but highly debilitating illness are reported each year in Australia (Russell 1998). As salt flats spread under the impact of global warming, one of the vectors of Ross River virus in southern Australia – Aedes camptorhynchus – may be able to extend its breeding populations in many inland areas hence posing a health threat (Horwitz, Lindsay and O’Connor 2001). Such speculation draws attention to the fact that salinity can be seen as a public health issue just as much as an issue affecting conservation or the economics of farming and rural communities. There is then no single answer to the question: What is the salinity problem? for there is no longer a single problem to be solved. Wicked problems will not be susceptible to systematic analysis and solution like simpler, tractable ones. In

spite of this, analysts have tried to depict the general stages of policy in a systematic way like the following (based on Anderson et al. 1978): 1. Problem definition. This starts with perception that an issue exists requiring policy decision. It is seldom noted in the public policy literature that recognition of the existence of a problem such as acid rain, ozone depletion, threats to species, and so on may depend on scientific findings and expert interpretation of these. 2. Agenda-setting. At this stage, different interest groups jockey to have a say in policy formulation (next stage) and to refine, redefine the problem, or link it to their other agendas. 3. Policy formulation. Debate, analysis and evaluation follow the first two stages. Before final policy formulation occurs, there may be opportunities for more research, consultancy, and investigative work. This will almost certainly be true if a wicked problem is being approached seriously. Around this stage is when some groups will start to air draft policies and these can be put up to political, moral and scientific scrutiny. They can also be tested for support among interest groups, politicians and the public. 4. Policy adoption. This means less than it sounds – simply the statement by a government or agency that it has made the formal decision to commit to some policy, regime, treaty, legislation or other course of action. Adoption of a policy by a government, or a leader, does not guarantee that it will ever be implemented, or even reach the stage, for example, of being drafted into legislation. The policy process still has some distance to run. 5. Implementation. At this stage, the administrative agencies of the government consider how best policy can be effected, putting forward legislative proposals if necessary. However, powerful interests can at this stage force modifications or abandonment of the formally adopted policy. The legislation, for example, may be weak or may fail to pass through the relevant legislative body. The courts may rule against proposed legislation if it is contrary to existing precedents at law. It is also widely recognized that an administering authority can itself obstruct or modify policies that have been formally approved and officially implemented. Where a policy has to be implemented through more than one government agency, its effectiveness may also be undermined, for instance where agencies interpret it differently, or fail to agree on effective action in keeping with the legislation. 6. Outcome evaluation seeks to determine whether the adopted and implemented policy has in fact worked. In general, it is claimed that there are two different approaches to this: intuitive and scientific. The latter is meant to use scientific methods to arrive at quantifiable results concerning the environmental, health, economic and other impacts that policies have had.



Policy has no beginning, and no end. The above steps are thus a linear imposition on a fluid, non-linear system. Since different policies, once adopted, have complex interactions with others, it can be virtually impossible to separate out the effects of one policy from those of another. The presence of many different interest groups, competition and hostility between different government agencies, and the changing political allegiances within a given society, all add complexity to the environment within which policy is devised, implemented and evaluated. If decisions on salinity and its treatment will affect many different communities and interest groups at different levels, it will be helpful to consider just what kind of policy process would do justice to the complex of values, interests and needs bound up in this case. An initial, but inadequate, picture of what is involved is given in Fig. 1. It shows different sub-communities, characterized by distinct values, ideologies and so on bringing their values to the policy process (provided, that is, they are consulted in such a process). Since the issue of who is, and who is not, consulted in policy deliberations is a political matter, this has been indicated by an extra label. The policy process will, ideally, provide a forum in which the different communities’ concerns about health, welfare, education, aesthetics, sustainability and so forth can be expressed, clarified and debated. For some analysts (see, for example, Stone 1997) such notions as “harm”, “risk” and “rights” are not defined prior to, and independently of, the policy process, but rather become articulated and defined only through that process. This is just what should be expected in the case of wicked problems which provide scope for interaction among various kinds of experts, corporate and governmental interests, as well as the various communities who are the stakeholders in the issues under discussion. As Fig. 1 shows, the output of the policy process can be conceptualised in terms of decisions at different scales: for simplicity, these have been reduced to three very general headings, namely decisions affecting societal/cultural matters, those connected with technological and economic matters, and finally those associated with ecological issues, such as ecosystem health, integrity, sustainability and biodiversity. Dangers and inadequacies While Fig. 1 gives a rough overview of some aspects of the policy process, it fails to provide a clear picture of policy dynamics. By the latter is meant the fact that at any given time many policy discussions will be taking place, agendas are being continually set, redefined, modified, and the outputs of previous policy decisions are themselves among the factors that influence present discussions. More serious and more difficult to rectify are the partitions that the diagram itself invokes. If salinity is an issue that simultaneously affects economic welfare, socio-cultural values and environmental systems then how can the policy decisions on this matter be segregated in the way implied by the diagram? Following from this question, we can ask

how these three realms of effects are related to each other. As already noted, one factor influencing the answer is academic disciplines themselves. Whether these issues are integrated in a pluralistic fashion, or reduced to just one dimension, may depend on whether the scientific input to policy is dominated by a particular group of experts. A second problem arises from the compartmentalization that arises within government and conservation agencies themselves. As already seen, there is no shortage of agencies, mission statements and legislation aimed at protecting the Australian environment. Can the over-compartmentalism of different agencies and the sheer number of parties involved make it difficult to agree on effective policy? In recently completed but so far unpublished work which criticizes failures in the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Bryan Norton has been critical of a phenomenon he calls “towering”. This is the situation in which agencies and departments build up their own “towers” of expertise, interest and research, often expressing values and couched in discourse, that are internal to the agency in question. This is a disastrous state of affairs, Norton argues, if environmental problems themselves are wicked. For example, Norton fears that the growth of environmental ethics has encouraged the idea that environmental problems can only be addressed through a moral crusade. Just as some economists try to force all values into a single reductive mould (dollar values) so, Norton argues, environmental ethicists have tried to force all natural values into comparable units of intrinsic value. The trouble with both approaches, he argues, is that they channel attention away from the ways values change and evolve, embedded in unfolding cultures. The solution to problems of sustainable development will involve some compromises, but probably also some evolution in the values a society professes. At the agency level, Norton argues, the notion that one kind of solution – engineering, ecological, economic, or whatever – is right and others wrong leads to a fruitless dialogue of the deaf which impedes the processes of growth and mutual learning. When agencies at State and Federal level have overlapping spheres of responsibility, towering seems like a real risk. Accordingly, a constraint on policy processes, to reduce the risk of towering, might be that chains of overlapping responsibility for salinity management and biodiversity protection should be eliminated in favour of simple agency structures. A further suggestion is that administrative and policy structures should match a particular scientific understanding of the problem: for example, administrative structures can be built around ecological or agro-ecological regions. Although such an arrangement may seem to reduce overlap in agency responsibilities, it runs the risk of giving one perspective too much control of the policy process. Such an idea is unlikely therefore to work in all cases.



THE POLICY FRAMEWORK IN MORE DETAIL Policy and Science In the early days of public policy theory, it was assumed that policy-making could be thought of in “scientific” terms with the participants in such processes conceived as rational actors (Dror 1968). In the 1950s, Herbert Simon pointed out that the rational-actor conception of the human being was undermined by two factors – namely that our own reasoning capacities are limited and the world itself is complicated (Simon 1957). As has just been argued above, one public policy issue – salinity – can have ramifications in many areas of economic, social and cultural practice. For Simon, and his immediate followers, the complexity of issues and the bounded nature of our rationality, meant that we

could aim not at ideal policies, but only at ones that are good enough (Simon called these “satisficing” choices). Charles Lindblom went so far as to argue that Simon’s findings meant that the best policy options available were only incrementalist and that a rational society should try to make sure it “muddled through” rather than engage in dramatic policy shifts and strategies (Lindblom 1959). Muddling through, however, may be an inadequate response to critical problems, and the Dutch attempt to take a more radical approach to policy will be considered later.

Ideologies, rituals


Values and concerns Networks



Health Education Aesthetics Cultural Sustainability

Political selection Societal/community/cultural


Sustainability Economic/technological Integrity Health Ecological


Fig. 1. The General Policy Scheme.



Inspired by the failure of rationalistic policy models, other theorists took an overtly sociological and political look at what happened in real policy situations. For example, Carol Weiss argued that information, of any kind, is embedded in theories, models or other explanatory frameworks. These in turn always operate in conjunction with interests (that is, self-interested desires for power, wealth, status, etc.) and ideologies (fundamental political, religious and moral beliefs). Weiss’ III model (Information, Interests, Ideology) implies that scientific information, no matter how reliable, will always be processed, used and manipulated in conjunction with ideologies and interests (Weiss 1983). Pierre Horwitz and Michael Calver make an accusation of just such manipulation of policy in connection with one contemporary Australian case, namely the way the regional forest agreement for Western Australia was negotiated (Horwitz and Calver 1998). Using a modified version of some of Horwitz and Calver’s ideas, there may be a way to save a place for good science in policy processes and use it to temper the extent to which ideologies and interest can drive policy issues. If it is to be used in this way, however, scientists themselves may have to reconceive some of their roles in public debate and policy formulation. As already seen, different communities of interests will be stakeholders in public policy processes. In the case of salinity in Australia, the number of stakeholders is likely to be very large and a process of multiple levels and stages would seem to be appropriate in this case. For ease of exposition, however, the focus will be on just one or two aspects of the technical, scientific and economic inputs to any stage of such a process. The expectation is that a group of communities will be able to accept and live with a policy provided they have had appropriate input to the process(es) leading to the policy decision. Weiss’ observation, however, is that some stakeholder groups will usually try to hijack the process for their own ends, pushing their own interests, dominating and setting the agenda. Notice that processes will only function effectively if, in general, those who participate in them do so sincerely, that is matching their deeds to their words, and provided that participants are able to trust each other. Although the ethics of sincerity and trust are not often mentioned in the public policy literature, it is in fact reasonably easy to test for both of these and we can even imagine putting penalties in place to make it unprofitable for participants to abuse the process. Assuming a reasonable degree of sincerity and trust among those involved in the process, two problems remain as shown in Fig. 2. The first is how to ensure that the information going into the process itself is technically reliable or scientifically credible. Since natural and social sciences are fundamental in the planning, management and working of contemporary industrial societies, how can we be sure that credible information is used in formulating policy recommendations, strategies and the decisions that are ultimately implemented? Second, given that stakeholders are liable to try to advance their own interests, how can it be ensured that the entire policy

process is not a sham? Put another way, if societies are determined to reach the best available policy decisions, how can they strive to approach what Jürgen Habermas has called the “ideal discourse” situation (Habermas 1984), that is, one in which participants consciously avoid manipulation of each other, strategic manoeuvring and strategies that confuse the issues? A Role for Credible Science The last two questions are actually linked. Credible science, and the role of qualified scientists and experts in policy processes, is not separate from questions about the manipulation of process or the manipulation of stakeholders. To see this, however, we need to be clear on what makes a scientific position credible, or what confers credibility on the pronouncements of a particular scientific or technical expert. Scientists themselves are a resource here. Drawing on their practice, we can ask – for example – about the role of peer review in determining whether a position or a view has scientific credibility. When it comes to journal publications or selecting conference papers, work is regularly assessed by reference to peer review, among other criteria. Horwitz and Calver (1998) argue that peer review is one of several criteria that can be used to assess public processes. Although they do not state their criteria, Horwitz and Calver proposed four questions whose answers might suggest particular criteria. Here is a slightly modified version of their questions: (i) Has the process involved relevantly qualified scientists, what are their allegiances and are these balanced across the range of stakeholder interests which apply? (ii) Has the process provided a framework for, or facilitated in another way, recognizably scientific debate and thereby structurally facilitated the resolution of scientific disagreements? (iii) Has the process used scientific norms of peer review, publication and conferences? (iv) Has the process involved an explicit methodology from which conclusions can be justifiably drawn? That the criteria developed from these questions are robust, and may in fact be used by scientists themselves, is suggested by a small pilot study undertaken in Hong Kong with a group of environmental scientists in 2001 (see Table 1). These results, however, would need to be confirmed in a larger study before much reliance could be placed on them. Nothing in the study, however, contradicts the idea that peer review and other criteria that are in keeping with scientific practice itself can play a role in providing credible information for policy debates. As can be seen from Table 1, four criteria stood out as favoured by significant numbers of the scientists: • The data have been collected using appropriate methodology • The information has been collected and analysed by scientifically qualified people



• The source of funding for the research would not have biased the scientists putting forward the data • The information has been subject to peer review These all scored an average score of better than 6 (out of a maximum of 7). Four other criteria also proved highly popular scoring a mean of better than 5: • The scientists providing information have no connection with commercial interests • The data have been published in reputable publications • The scientists providing the information are recognized international authorities in the field • The data have been published

To find ways of using these criteria to design policy institutions that will protect processes from manipulation is not a trivial matter. What is important for the philosophy of policy and of natural resource management is that we can formulate tentative criteria such as these, and consider ways of making sure the information used in policy processes meets them. The establishment of expert review panels or independent review bodies, for example, may be one way of ensuring that only credible information is provided to policy participants. The active involvement of qualified and reputable experts at all stages of the policy process may be another factor that would help filter out unreliable information.

Social sciences


Natural Sciences







Manipulation of process? Habermas: ‘ideal discourse’?

Fig. 2. Partial framework for credible policy process .



Table 1. Criteria for scientific credibility1. The data have been collected using appropriate methodology The information has been collected and analysed by scientifically qualified people The source of funding for the research would not have biased the scientist putting forward the data The information has been subject to peer review The scientists providing information have no connection with commercial interests The data have been published in reputable publications The scientists providing the information are recognized international authorities in the field The data have been published If the information is concerned with risk, it involves extrapolation from statistically well established data The scientists providing the information work at reputable universities or research centres If risk estimates are given by an individual or team, then that individual’s or team’s previous estimates of risk is a guide to the credibility of their present work The data have been presented at international conferences The data corroborate my own research findings The information is consistent with widely-accepted theories The data are compatible with information I already have

N 17 17 17 17 17 17 17 16 17 17 17 17 17 17 17

Mean 6.76 6.24 6.12 6.06 5.65 5.59 5.18 5.13 4.82 4.82 4.71 4.00 2.76 2.71 2.71

SD² 0.44 1.03 0.99 1.09 1.62 1.54 1.51 1.59 1.59 1.91 1.49 1.80 1.64 1.40 1.45

Survey of seventeen environmental scientists from Hong Kong Universities, 2001, using 7-point scale (7=strongly agree, 1=strongly disagree). ²SD, Standard deviation.

What applies to experts in natural science can also be applied to technical inputs from social scientists including economists. In these areas, there are also clear standards for what counts as technical qualifications, what counts as methodologically appropriate research methods and so on. We thus seem to have found the basis for designing processes that have some degree of technical and scientific credibility. These remarks gesture towards a way in which credible science and credible expert testimony can be used to safeguard against certain manipulations of policy and of people. This linkage between the two is shown by the large block arrow in Fig. 3. The establishment of mechanisms to protect processes from being manipulated by information that is not technically credible stops short of ensuring Habermas’ ideal discourse situation is reached, but provides some protection from appeal to bogus “experts”. The addition of mechanisms that check for sincerity and trust, and of those that might rule out unethical and unfair manipulation of process, would perhaps make additional impacts on the way processes are in fact conducted in Australia and other countries. None of this, however, is enough: far more needs to be done to flesh out what an appropriate legal and political framework for salinity policy should look like. POLICY FRAMEWORKS FOR WICKED PROBLEMS A Dutch Alternative to Muddling Through Fig. 3 makes space for the need to establish an appropriate legal and political framework for the policy process and also gestures towards one issue that has repercussions for the discussion of dryland salinity. This concerns the case of high uncertainty or what has

been called “post-normal science” (Funtowicz and Ravetz 2003). According to Funtowicz and Ravetz, where systems uncertainty is present and risks are high but unquantifiable by technical means, issues should be discussed by “an ‘extended peer community’ consisting not merely of persons with some form or other of institutional accreditation but rather of all those with a desire to participate in the resolution of the issue”. Such devices as “citizens’ juries”, focus groups and “consensus conferences” are – they claim – forms of just such post-normal deliberation where inclusive dialogue replaces “rigid demonstration”. Whether the notion of and “extended peer group” is appropriate, the Funtowicz and Ravetz suggestions pose a more general question about the role of science in policy and its capacity to influence problem definition and agenda setting. Norton’s concerns about towering are echoed by Paul de Jongh, who writes about the Dutch success in achieving integrated approaches to policy by contrasting it with a former state in which “Governments develop policies and bureaucracies to address each specific problem or problem areas – such as waste, or pollution of the air, the water, the soil. After a while this leads to an inefficient duplication of effort. It resembles a hiking trip in which everyone is carrying his or her own equipment….. In the policy field that means separate bureaucracies for air, soil, water, toxics and so on. Each has its own scientists and budgets: each issue has its own corresponding laws and regulations”(de Jongh and Captain 1999, p.7). The Dutch dealt with this problem by means of a radical approach to environmental quality. Norton argues that the Dutch strategy of building a plan for long-term sustainability through their 1989 National



Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP) can be commended as a model. Given that towering and reduplication may also be problems for Australia it may be worth considering how the Dutch experiment fared. The Dutch first developed a new way of talking about environmental problems: instead of concentrating on effects on media, such as pollution effects on air, soils and waters, they instead classified the sources of the impacts in terms of economic activities, such as power generation, pig farming, and so on. Once causes are identified, integrated management has a chance because different agencies can concentrate on where they can influence the causal chain. In keeping with this strategy, the NEPP grouped thousands of companies into just a few groups – refineries, transport, agriculture, and so on. If we were to follow this practice in the approach to characterizing salinity, land clearing and other pressures on Australia’s environment, then it would be necessary to look at the role of pastoralists, arable farming, mining, power supply and so on in contributing to the effects already described above. Changing the focus from effect to cause means changing from thinking about what is wrong to the much more pertinent question: what are we doing wrong? Once a society becomes aware of what is being done wrongly, the people, institutions and companies from each causally contributory group can be deliberately involved in the environmental planning process. This also meant, in the Dutch case, finding ways of talking that could be understood and agreed on by the different groups. This focus on finding new ways of talking goes with the emphasis on policy processes rather than outcomes. As one commentator remarked, the NEPP was “70% process and 30% substance”. A second important feature of the Dutch planning framework was the selection of a suitable time span for planning – one generation, that is 25 years. Such a time scale makes major changes conceivable yet the fact that citizens are talking about the period in which the children of many of them will grow up gives a sense of urgency as well. Sustainable development is thus concretely linked to the condition of the land that people would like to pass on to their own children. Norton comments that part of the NEPP’s success lay in the fact that it replaced confrontational politics with inclusive, integrated approaches. While Australian and USA environmental policies seem to fluctuate according to the priorities of the government in power at a particular level, the Dutch managed to make progress in the face of political change. One factor that emerges from Norton’s description is the significant role given to one particular scientific body, the RIVM, the National Institute for Health and the Environment. It was the RIVM which conducted the early studies which projected the 25 year effects of “business as usual” with the anticipated pollution abatement regime in place. Their model showed that pollution in the Netherlands would have to be cut by seventy to ninety per cent if environmental quality was protected over the 25 year timescale.

In working out how to develop a radical new approach RIVM made a very significant move. Although it already possessed considerable scientific expertise, the institute also drew in the expertise of all the major scientific institutes of the country in framing its scenarios. The result was that its declarations appeared as a national consensus of Dutch scientists. As a result, “junk science” repudiating the findings could not get much leverage in public debates. It strikes me that this kind of scientific consensus building was probably a factor in ensuring that co-operation replaced conflict. To be fair, strong support for the NEPP from the Queen in her Christmas-day speech to the nation should probably also be mentioned as factor in building national agreement that enough was enough and that change was needed. Applications to Australia? For Norton, adaptive management means wide participation, explicit acknowledgment of plural values, and community-based and bioregional management (see Norton and Steinemann 2001, Norton 2002 ch. 27). In Australia, there may be signs that some of these trends will emerge in the new attempts to integrate total catchment management (through a series of committees) with bioregional planning. Yet what is to stop these new initiatives joining previous ones as rhetoric without action, administration without results? It has been suggested that Australia needs to focus more on implementation than simply on agenda setting and policy formulation (Crowley 1997). Crowley seems to think that study of the large-scale failures in policy implementation would draw attention to the weaknesses in existing policies, strategies, regulation and institutions. Nonetheless Crowley is pessimistic about the chances of dislodging what she calls “an emergent amoralism” in Australia and the success of economic rationalism in asserting the market above all other policy concerns. Meanwhile, zoologists and wildlife ecologists have suggested that a revolution in farming practice is necessary with an immediate halt to land clearing and the substitution of kangaroos for sheep in the rangelands (Lunney and Dickman 2002, see also Grigg et al. 1995). But how is such a revolution to come about? At the heart of many of Australia’s problems lies attachment to “property rights” and the freedoms of landholders to do as they want with their land. Some commentators suggest that Australia is only belatedly coming of age, reaching at last the stage when the individualism and freedom of the new frontier is giving way slowly to the civic responsibility and recognition of mutual interdependence that characterizes mature rural society (Reeve 2002a, 2002b). Reeve points out the self-deceptions and contradictions that underlie the modern rural ideologies in Australia. “The settlement of rural Australia” he writes, “was built on government land survey, government construction of roads, railways, bridges, bores, irrigation channels and dams,….. – the infant rural society was nurtured in the cradle of beneficent



government support. Yet the farming populace has a deep and abiding mistrust of government intervention in their affairs.” He goes on: “Agriculture is only possible in much of Australia because of the intellectual efforts of the scientists who bred new varieties of wheat, who discovered and devised solutions for trace element deficiencies and major pest threats. Yet many farmers continue to devalue ‘book learning’ compared to ‘the school of hard knocks’.” (Reeve 2002a, p.16) The remarkable prestige and power that some rural landholders – the pastoralists – have enjoyed in Australia is a remarkable sociological phenomenon, given the fact that they often pay only nominal sums for grazing rights over vast areas (McAllister and Geno 2001; Taylor 1997). The elite holders of land under pastoral lease in much of Australia have talked and acted as if they had absolute freehold (Holmes and Day 1995) and this in turn has reinforced the view that freehold farmers themselves should have the freedom to use their land as they see fit. The absolute right of farmers is an ideology found elsewhere, for example in the United States (Bromley and Hodge 1990; Centner 1990) and Germany (McHenry 1996). In such situations, where the ideology and rhetoric of absolute Social sciences

property rights is well entrenched, it can be hard to convince rural landholders that by insisting on absolute rights to their own property they in effect deny the rights of others. A landowner in a recharge area who exploits the right to remove vegetation, for example, denies the right of a neighbour in a discharge area to be free from rising water tables; to affirm the rights of owners to clear land is also to deny the rights of the wider community to enjoy the benefits of healthy and diverse ecosystems. These points about conceptions of land ownership and the ideology of absolute rights are important in the present context given the continuing popularity of appeals to absolute property rights in Australia and demands that rural landholders should actually have strengthened property rights (National Farmers’ Federation 2002, Anderson 2002). Some analysts (for example, Reeve 2002a, 2002b) argue that as long as the issue of property rights is not confronted, talk of a duty of care for the land, integrated catchment management or the need to protect ecosystem services will get nowhere. An owner’s “duty of care”, for example, cannot be tightly defined given the range of circumstances it is meant to cover.



Natural Sciences Law?


Uncertainty Post-Normal Science



Politics/ethics? Fairness



Manipulation of process?

Habermas: ‘ideal discourse’

Fig. 3. General framework for credible policy process.



Since common law recognizes no duty of care for the environment, such a duty is not legally enforceable. Integrated catchment management can be planned around a table but its implementation would involve restrictions on property rights that risk wakening “the slumbering dragon of absolutist and libertarian rhetoric” (Reeve 2002a). Whether landholders can continue clearing will depend on what are counted as property rights and on whether the community itself is believed to have the right to enjoy ecological integrity, endemic fauna and flora, or ecosystem services. What is to be done in the face of such intractable problems? How can we clarify the moral and ethical situation regarding care for nature, the existence of rights to a healthy, clean and biodiverse environment? How can policy processes be adapted to meeting the challenge of doing better in the future than we have done in the past? A partial prescription Many of the ideas are to hand that will help establish a productive framework within which to think of the issues raised so far. Credible science has a central role to play, so it has been argued, in setting an appropriate framework for managing and discussing wicked policy problems; economists, philosophers and other academic disciplines need to find ways to communicate rather than denounce each others’ perspectives, and no one perspective should be allowed to dominate the policy process; government agencies and policies should be simplified and chains of overlapping responsibilities should be replaced by simpler organizational structures which reduce the likelihood of towering. Existing scientific criteria for judging the quality of technical ideas can be adapted to policy processes so that such processes have a clear methodology and can render account to the public understood as an extended peer group. A suitable planning time scale can be adopted allowing a realistic chance of revising the property regimes and outmoded conceptions of absolute land ownership. These ideas have all been individually proposed but their joint implementation would take some real political will. It would be easy to add to them by putting some further conditions on policy processes – conditions which are often not met in real national or international planning forums. For example, the Johannesburg summit of 2002 was the first one that brought business groups, governments and NGOs together in a consultative and planning process. Why had these three groups not met sooner in the face of environmental disasters? Well known studies in anthropology and cultural theory confirm the importance of ensuring that all three of these groups are represented at all levels in policy processes. For example, Mary Douglas and other writers including Aaron Wildavsky, Steve Rayner and Michael Thompson have developed a model of “mindsets”, “cities” or “cultural biases” which classifies mindsets in terms of a two-dimensional space defined by what they call “grid” and “group” (Douglas 1992). Group perspectives vary according to whether an individual is

oriented towards individualism or collectivism. Low group, or individualist, perspectives involve a number of attitudes such as regarding fairness as a matter of equal opportunity, that nature is robust and thinking that problems are likely to be due to other people. High group – collectivist – perspectives regard fairness as equality of outcome, that nature is fragile and think that problems are likely to be due to the system, not to individuals. Douglas’ other dimension – grid – refers to the rule orientation that people have. Those who accept a high degree of structure regard fairness as equality before a system of laws, think that nature is robust only within certain limits and believe social problems are due to deviation from established precedent. Those with a high group/high grid mentality are what Douglas calls “hierarchists”. The three groups who met together at the Johannesburg Summit belong to these different camps – entrepreneurs with low group/low grid attitudes, communards (from conservation and human development organizations) with high group/low grid orientation and the hierarchists (the governments concerned with regulation and precedent). For each of these world views the same problems present very different threats and opportunities. In approaching the definition and policy formulation stages for wicked environmental problems like salinity, these very different perspectives on the problem need to be consulted and their interests given weight in the process (see Rayner 1999). Other work that has suggestive implications for policy processes includes David Bella’s suggestion that many organizations give more credence to information that favours the ambitions, growth or survival of the organization than to information that is critical of the organization itself. This, he argues, need not be the result of deliberate manipulation of information. Rather, organizations systematically but unknowingly distort information so that “good news” floats up to the higher levels and is in turn fed back to the middle levels. Those who produce “bad news” – whether or not it is true or credible – tend to be marginalized; their opinions referred back for more research or set aside in other ways (see Bella 1996). Bella’s analysis allows that, in some cases, no-one in an organization may set out deliberately to bias results: the biasing comes about despite reasonable intentions all round. Individuals who represent organizations in policy processes can then argue that they acted in good faith, supplying what they sincerely believe to be reliable information. Once some additional factors – such as, self-deception, dishonesty, good old-fashioned prejudice, department rivalries, personal feuds and other human failings – are included in the reckoning, it is not surprising that organizations themselves will on occasion pursue agendas in public policy debates that are not based on credible information. The suggestions made about credible science earlier in the present paper, if incorporated into processes, would go some way towards limiting organizational bias of this kind.



Natural Scientists in the Policy Process To air suggestions of this kind is to put forward ideas that may well take root in time and be given shape through adoption in various policy regimes. Yet, where natural biodiversity is waning, where high intrinsic value is being lost, and where economic decline, and social and cultural problems are also looming nearby, there is pressure for urgent action. In the face of such crises, can the natural sciences and scientists themselves have a role that can help speed up laggardly processes and guide them in sensible directions? The ideas about scientific and technical credibility stated previously already give science and scientists a

very special role in policy processes. To adjust the agencies, regulations and debates on environmental policy to ecological rather than political boundaries is already to recognize a special authority on the part of natural science within the policy process. This suggestion is taken much further in some recent work (Roll-Hansen 2002) which argues that modern scientifically-based societies should give scientists a major role in forming, defining and framing policy. Roll-Hansen argues that a main task of science is to provide sound advice for political decision-making. Science, however, can be seen in two guises, each associated with very different social roles:

Natural sciences

Problem discovery Conceptual means for thought/solutions Provides basic aims and questions for policy and politics

Servant in the execution of policy Means of solving problems that may originate outside science

Deals with changing and uncertain knowledge Often faces profound uncertainty

Works best where knowledge is stable and uncertainty is calculable

Following Susskind (1994), Roll-Hansen notes the importance of science in issue definition, fact finding, bargaining and regime strengthening. Given that policy processes take place over long time scales, science also has a role in issue redefinition, policy evaluation, and the confirmation or disconfirmation of earlier conjectures and hypotheses. However, science cannot play an authoritative role in such work if science does no more than represent the self-interest of scientists themselves. Just such a limited view of science is encouraged by post-modern sociological analyses which often portray scientists as just one other group of stakeholders with an interest in increasing their research budgets by exaggerating threats or dangers to health or the environment. What can science, and scientists, do in the face of such sociological deconstruction of their work? RollHansen thinks that natural scientists should stick to those ideals which will enable science to serve society as a whole, not the narrow self-interests of scientists or their patrons. These ideals include the commitment to follow theories and arguments to their best conclusions, and maintenance of methodologies which track truth and are able to discover and correct mistakes. Deconstructive social science studies claim that scientific truth is no more than widely held, agreed beliefs. Stripped of any commitment to methodological

ideals, such a picture encourages the view that scientific consensus may reflect no more than the self-interest of scientists themselves. Roll-Hansen believes that science in an important sense tracks the truth about the world. For him, good science is critical, committed to both enlightening and instrumental roles in society, and thrives on free and open discourse that is not tied to fashion, alarmism or other such trends. Roll-Hansen rejects the old idea of experts being “on tap and not on top”, and hence merely servants in political and policy processes. In a modern industrial society he sees the social and political agenda being set by science which has a role to play at all levels of policy discussion. By implication he also rejects Habermas’ classification of sciences as technical (natural sciences), hermeneutic (humanities) and emancipatory (social sciences). It is the “emancipatory” social sciences, he thinks, that are keen to describe the natural sciences in ways that keep them as servants of the political process and having no business to question social aims or the definition of issues. Scientists as more than technical experts Roll-Hansen has not only set out a vision of how science can operate in policy processes; he also recommends moral ideals for scientists themselves, ones whose adoption will in some cases transform existing



roles. It should be noted that these ideals are not followed in regular scientific practice. For example, some research has shown that scientists do sometimes regard media exposure as a way of praising their own research, criticising competitors for grants and generally using the “extended peer group” to campaign for their own interests. This is explicitly stated by a scientist interviewed by Esa Väliverronen (Väliverronen 2001). Väliverronen proposes that a “weakening in the peer review process” is linked to the changes in “knowledge production” associated with post-normal science and its extended peer review group. As research focuses on trans-disciplinary areas, a wider review partly through the media, becomes appropriate and the media have taken on board part of the role that traditionally has belong to those funding research (Väliverronen 1993; 1998). In fact Väliverronen regards scientists as playing at least five different public roles according to five different “frames” for organizing the discussion of issues and setting boundaries to their discussion. In summary, Väliverronen proposes the following:
FRAME Popularisation Social problem FUNCTIONS Presenting new research results Interpreting new phenomena and problems Making and commenting on policy claims Raising funds, promoting research Rendering account for use of public funds Science criticism Commenting on research findings ROLE FOR SCIENTISTS Populariser Interpreter

60% of those involved in defining the issue were scientists and just over 20% were government officials. This seems to confirm other findings for the U.K. and Germany (see Barrier-Lynn 1991) which show that scientists have a major influence on public opinion at the stage of problem definition. In later stages of public discussion, industry, environmental movements and government tend to rely on their own scientific experts. The ensuing public debates often amount to little more than dialogues of the deaf where one side’s ‘expert’ disagrees with the other side’s ‘expert’. After enough of such debates, it would not be surprising if the public become cynical about the authority of science itself. In the case of “forest death”, such cynicism gets support: although there is no doubt that acid rain has damaged river and lake systems in Europe, there is no corresponding evidence that it has contributed to forest damage, let alone forest death. If science is indeed to be recognized as trustworthy, then scientific experts may need to think carefully before taking an issue before the public – especially one where they have a professional or monetary interest. Here Roll-Hansen’s warning has force: where new issues are being raised, and profound uncertainty exists, then sensible policy requires something better than just lining up experts on each side. The Dutch experience cited earlier suggests one way in which this danger can be avoided, using high levels of consensus to bring awareness of the issues to members of the community, independent of whether they are individualists, hierarchists or communards. If towering can be avoided then such consensus may be easier to obtain. Conversely, such consensus may itself go some way towards reducing the tempations of towering. There appear, then, to be good reasons for scientists themselves to consider how best they can contribute to framing policies, setting agendas and helping structure the articulation and solution of wicked problems such as salinity. The fact that scientists work for agencies that practise towering, that they sometimes use the media to advance their own sectional interests, that they are contracted to work for organisations who control the dissemination of research results – such realities can obstruct the development of a wider role for the scientist. It looks as if there is a choice to be made here, with scientists themselves being able to determine the roles they will play in future in policy debates. To undertake a wider role, they may have to adopt strict moral standards and commitments relating to their work, their public statements and their ways of gaining research funding. To adopt these standards would be to recognise that natural scientists have a special part to play in defining, exploring and managing issues that are not simply technical. In this extended role, the natural sciences can be just as emancipatory and interpretive as any other branch of knowledge, and can play a part not only in providing insight into the intrinsic value of natural diversity but also in ensuring its preservation.

Environmental policy Legitimation

Adviser/ Advocate Promoter Manager


According to this classification, the media can play an important role in framing environmental policy issues, but so of course can scientists themselves. Science journalism, so Väliverronen argues, tends to adopt a science-centred approach to topics where the map of the area being discussed is heavily influenced by scientists’ own perceptions of what a problem is, which aspects of it are worthy of argument, and what kind of solutions it is amenable to. While Väliverronen does not try to apply Roll-Hansen’s bifurcation of science into two kinds, it seems unlikely that all science journalism deals only with basic science and that all media framing of issues relates only to instrumental and applied science. Analysing Finnish newspaper reports on “forest death” between 1980 and 1995, Väliverronen found that



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Many thanks to Ted Lefroy and David Pannell for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper and to the editor of this journal. Generous help in preparing the final version was given by Nils Roll-Hansen, Julia Tao, Ho-Mun Chan, Y.S. Lo, and Christina Voigt. I owe a particular debt to Bryan Norton for giving me access to so far unpublished writing. Research for this paper was funded by a research enhancement grant from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong, 2003, and by an earlier City University research grant number 9010002 (Ethics, Science and the Law: A Multidimensional Approach to Environmental Protection and Quality of Life Issues in an Urban Framework). A special debt is owed to Julia Tao, principal investigator for the Ethics, Science and Law project, and director of the Governance in Asia Research Centre at City University. Thanks also to Rudolf Wu for enlisting participants in the survey of Hong Kong environmental scientists and to the other members of the City University Ethics, Science and Law research team for providing a uniquely supportive, stimulating and friendly environment for undertaking the research on science policy and credibility. REFERENCES
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