The Honest Broker

Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics

Podcast on Science and Politics


I spoke with Prof Eric Garza of the University of Vermont about a wide range of issues in science and politics for his podcast, A Worldview Apart. Listen to it here.


Official Statistical Rebukes in the United Kingdom


The chair of the UK Statistics Authority, David Norgrove, sent a letter yesterday to UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson alleging that Johnson had engaged “a clear misuse of official statistics” (here in PDF). In an article in the Telegraph laying out his vision for Brexit, Johnson claimed, “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week.”

The claim of “£350m per week” was central to the Vote Leave campaign and has been judged to have been a “potentially misleading” claim by the UK Statistics Authority (here in PDF). There are some interesting science policy questions raised by the practice of having a government statistics agency empowered to issue a rebuke of a government minister. Let’s take a look at this issue in a bit more depth.

Continue reading “Official Statistical Rebukes in the United Kingdom”

No Science Advisor: 171 Days and Counting


President Trump has established a new record. It has been 171 days without the nomination of a science advisor, who also holds the position of director of OSTP. Ronald Reagan held the record previously (he also has the mark for earliest appointment).

Sources: Various media reports.


Book Review: The Retreat of Western Liberalism


In the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as US president a cartoon in The New Yorker (by @WillMcPhail and shown above) went viral. It shows passengers on a plane voting to replace the smug, out of touch pilot with a regular passenger, more like us.

The cartoon is fantastic, the type of thing that a political scientist like me could use as the basis for an in-depth discussion of the challenges of expertise and democracy in a 3-hour graduate seminar. But if you aren’t enrolled in a graduate course on contemporary politics, you are in luck.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Retreat of Western Liberalism”

Making Science Count in Policy Making

Above is a webinar that I participated in last week along with Pearl Dykstra, Professor of Empirical Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Member of the High Level Group of scientists advising the Cabinet of European Commissioners and Mark Ferguson,  Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland in October 2012.

The discussion was moderated by journalist and science writer Michele Cantazaro, who was recognized as European science writer of the year 2016. It was a good discussion and Prof. Dykstra and Dr. Ferguson are thoughtful on the practicalities of actually serving as a high-level science advisor to governments. I was in Tokyo at the time and it was deep into the middle the night. So if my comments are dreamlike, you’ll know why!

Technology Assessment as Political Myth


A bit of housekeeping.

Here is my 2015 keynote talk at the PACITA conference in Berlin. It is focused on technology assessment as political myth, concepts which are described in the talk. I focus on “basic research” and the “green revolution” as case studies of political myth found in technology assessment.

Trivia: Upon landing in Berlin to attend the conference I learned of the Grijalva “investigation” – made for a distracted few days.

Here is the link:

House Science Testimony


Last week I testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  You can see the full hearing and the written statements from each of the witnesses here. You can jump right to my testimony (here in PDF), which focused on how members of Congress can help to secure scientific integrity in the information they receive from scientists.  Continue reading “House Science Testimony”

Propaganda Syllabus: Ignorance

One part of understanding propaganda and its effectiveness is understanding why people believe the things that they say they believe. But it is not just individuals — beliefs are shaped by many factors, including institutions and practices. Understanding the nature of belief is important for understanding why it is that knowledge alone (whether you call it facts, truth, science, or whatever) does not compel action.

This section of the propaganda syllabus focuses on ignorance, defined by the OED as a “Lack of knowledge or information.” What is ignorance and why does it occur? Continue reading “Propaganda Syllabus: Ignorance”

Propaganda Syllabus: Dynamics 1

It has been a busy semester so far, and I finally have a chance to revisit my evoloving propaganda syllabus. In this entry I include research on the dynamics of “the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols.”

In other words, how does propaganda shape collective attitudes? These papers provide some insight to that question. Propaganda dynamics can be thought of in terms communication, using the famous definition: who says what, to whom, how and with what effect. Continue reading “Propaganda Syllabus: Dynamics 1”

Blog at

Up ↑