Prospects for Change
Divergent scientific conclusions and predictions about the physical world enable groups and decision makers advocating competing policy alternatives to each cite supportive scientific arguments. The tentative nature of scientific knowledge prevents possibilities for insuring accountability or ending controversy in public decision making. Variability in technical analysis is used by groups to strengthen their case against a particular policy alternative or decision. However, the level of political conflict is not only a function of the variability in technical analysis. On the contrary, political differences are the source of the passion for technical disputes. Consensus-based methods offer attractive opportunities to stakeholders in public decisions, although the benefits do not come without serious costs. Scientists in public disputes are usually not independent stakeholders. More often, they are drawn into public debates as advisors to other stakeholders or the decision makers. Decision makers appear to have much to gain and little to lose by suggesting consensus-based supplements in decision making involving complex scientific issues.