Science communication research has touched upon the science-policy interface—communication processes through which scientific experts and policymakers interact in order to craft legislative responses to social problems. However, this research is based upon outdated assumptions about the motivations of political actors, the functioning of the political process, and science’s role within policymaking. This preliminary research argues that the science-policy interface should be studied through a new lens, one in which scientific information is not engaged by political actors for strictly modernist, rational-choice reasons. Rather, this research asserts that policy actors engage science strategically, to manipulate discourse and control perception in an effort to further political agendas. This research engages qualitative interviews with an array of policy actors at the center of two contentious political arenas in the US: climate change and hydraulic fracturing. These examples are engaged as case studies to illustrate what is lacking when science-policy interface research fails to question basic assumptions about policymaking motives, and what is gained by new, more critical perspectives.
Joe Waggle is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland. His interests include the sociology of knowledge, environmental sociology, and science and technology studies (STS). He has studied the role of scientific consensus in policy making, as well as the role of scientific expertise in political debate. His dissertation critically analyzes the ways in which different political actors engage science and scientists in pursuit of their own political agendas in both the climate and energy policy arenas in the United States.