The U.S. Needs Scientific Mediation
Scientific mediation is designed to bring out the nonscientific biases that lead scientists to opposite conclusions based on the same scientific knowledge.
Joel R. Primack is a professor of physics and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is a member of the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics.
Primack specializes in the formation and evolution of galaxies and the nature of the dark matter that makes up most of the matter in the universe. After helping to create what is now called the "Standard Model" of particle physics, Primack began working in cosmology in the late 1970s, and he became a leader in the new field of particle astrophysics. His 1982 paper with Heinz Pagels was the first to propose that a natural candidate for the dark matter is the lightest supersymmetric particle. He is one of the principal originators and developers of the theory of Cold Dark Matter, which has become the basis for the standard modern picture of structure formation in the universe. With support from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Department of Energy, he is currently using supercomputers to simulate and visualize the evolution of the universe and the formation of galaxies under various assumptions, and comparing the predictions of these theories to the latest observational data.
With Nancy Abrams, he is the author of The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos (Riverhead/Penguin, 2006) and The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World (Yale University Press, 2011).
Scientific mediation is an idea in response to having a scientific committee composed of experts write a report that poses some solutions to some technological or scientific problem, such a report often papers over the differences or else it might have a majority report and a minority report.
That is often not very helpful either to the government or to the general public. So the idea of scientific mediation is that scientists representing the crucial different sides in the important debate where the scientific issues have to be understood to make the wise decision, those scientists, first of all, stipulate what they agree on. And for each of the areas in which they fundamental disagree they have to explain to each other’s satisfaction why they disagree.
This usually brings out the nonscientific biases that lead the scientists to opposite conclusions based on the same scientific knowledge. It also can make clear where there’s a lack of knowledge, and so it’s impossible to have a scientific consensus.
And that’s the sort of information that I think nonscientists need to have in order to understand what the debate is really all about. So, scientific mediation is a nice alternative to the usual approach, which is to appoint a committee of experts or a small number of experts to advise the decision makers. And it’s unfortunately a process that hasn’t been used in the United States. It’s used very extensively in certain foreign countries, especially Sweden.
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