May 14, 2015
This essay argues that, in place of the present hit-and-miss system of specialist advisement (a system of scientific experts performing case-by-case studies at numerous regulatory agencies, the US Office of Technology Assessment, for example), we require a corps of professional public servants for the dissemination of credible, learned, relevant and useful information pertaining to the issues of the day. This is necessary because scientists as a group are poorly prepared for the task of advising (as contrasted with the quite different task of conducting research in their subject area), and, more importantly, because governments cannot ask scientists to provide that information without also incentivizing third parties (albeit unintentionally) to compromise the institution of science itself. This corps must also be poised to perform such aggregations of opinion (or arbitrations between conflicting opinions and interests) when requests are duly submitted by both governmental and citizen bodies. The product of this corps will be a dynamic, massively cross-referential, virtual document that I shall refer to as the Citizenpedia. This essay is devoted to justifying the government subsidy of such a document, as well as to evaluating the best role for scientists in a democracy. It will contrast the Citizenpedia proposal with practices that have been tried: (1) governmental agencies and (2) citizen panels. Most importantly, it is devoted to showing that a world in which the Citizenpedia advises governments is substantially different from one in which either citizens or “experts” do, just as it is substantially different from a world (our own) in which the media plays the largest role in educating the public on science policy matters.