An Argument for Societal Values in Policy-Relevant Research

Kevin C. Elliott

in Is a Little Pollution Good for You?

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199755622
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199827121 | DOI:
An Argument for Societal Values in Policy-Relevant Research

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This chapter argues that nonepistemic or contextual values should not be systematically excluded from any of the four categories of value judgments considered in Chapter 2. The argument rests on three major principles. First, the “ethics” principle is that scientists have ethical responsibilities to consider the major societal consequences of their work and to take reasonable steps to mitigate harmful effects that it might have. Second, the “uncertainty” principle is that those who are researching policy‐relevant topics often face situations in which scientific information is uncertain and incomplete, and they have to decide what standard of proof to demand before drawing conclusions. Third, the “no‐passing‐the‐buck” principle states that it is frequently socially harmful or impracticable for scientists to respond to uncertainty by completely withholding their judgment or providing uninterpreted data to decision makers. Based on this third principle, scientists cannot always leave difficult value judgments about interpreting uncertain evidence up to policy makers. Therefore, there are sometimes ethical reasons for scientists to factor societal considerations into their responses to uncertainty even when they address judgments about choosing scientific language or interpreting evidence. The upshot of this chapter is that administrators and policy makers need to find ways to limit the influences of powerful interest groups without naively trying to seal scientific research off from all societal influences and considerations.

Keywords: hormesis; value judgments; gap argument; error argument; nonepistemic values; contextual values; science and values; uncertainty; research ethics

Chapter.  11497 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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