Review: Knowledge and Environmental Policy: Re-Imagining the Boundaries of Science and Politics

By Little, Peter C. | Electronic Green Journal, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Review: Knowledge and Environmental Policy: Re-Imagining the Boundaries of Science and Politics


Little, Peter C., Electronic Green Journal


Review: Knowledge and Environmental Policy: Re-Imagining the Boundaries of Science and Politics By William Ascher, Toddi Steelman, and Robert Healy Reviewed by Peter C. Little Oregon State University, USA Ascher, William, Steelman, Toddi, and Healy, Robert. Knowledge and Environmental Policy: Re-Imagining the Boundaries of Science and Politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2010. 280pp. ISBN 9780262514378. US $23.00, paperback.

Knowledge and Environmental Policy continues the complex and variegated environmental policy discussion of the evidence-action interface and the contentious relationship between science and politics. The authors, who maintain that they are not "antiscience relativists" (p.5), are up front about their stance on the science-politics relationship: "science is thoroughly embedded in social and political practices" (p.5). Science, like other forms of knowledge they argue, is "not simply an input into the policy process; it also changes in many different ways the governing processes associated with it, from the institutions of decision making to the principles that these institutions employ in environmental policy and management" (p.21).

The book showcases how knowledge generation processes complicate environmental policy decisions that aim to be evidence-based decisions. The reason for this complication, according to the authors, is twofold. First, they contend that knowledge generation for environmental decision making is rarely "a systematic process" (p.29). Second, and perhaps the greatest crux environmental policymakers face, is the fact that "knowledge generation is a political process" or a process "affected by the value systems of institutions, professions, and individuals" (p.29).

The politics of knowledge are what make up the active ingredient of the so-called "boundaries" of science and politics, and the authors are optimistic in their view that such boundaries can and ought to be "re-imagined" to create progressive environmental policies for the 21st century. The book argues that "Reimaging boundaries means being explicit about how biases influence the knowledge generated, transmitted, and used" (p.163) to make environmental policy decisions. In other words, "We need to raise awareness of the filters that come into play when knowledge moves from generation and transmission to use" (p.163).

Knowledge and Environmental Policy makes one key recommendation that provides a strong backbone for the book, which is the need for greater "integration of local knowledge and public-preference knowledge into decision making" (p.

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