Why a Center for Science and Democracy?

A mission rooted in the need for evidence-based solutions to common problems

The United States has enjoyed sustained prosperity, security and health over much of its history in large part because of our strong commitment to independent and rigorous science. Sound decisions start with the best possible information, grounded in fact and tested by reason. And free inquiry flourishes best in a free society.

The Founding Fathers understood the importance of this partnership, as did leaders from Lincoln to Eisenhower, FDR to JFK. Because of our nation's high regard for scientific expertise, the United States became recognized in the 20th century as the global leader in science and innovation.

A Troubling Trend

In recent years, however, understanding of science and respect for its role in decision making have declined. An excessively partisan political climate and an increasingly noisy media landscape have combined to produce an environment in which science is easily drowned out by misinformation or manipulated for the benefit of private interests.

And this couldn't be happening at a worse time. Our leaders are grappling with some of the most complex and daunting problems in our history: stemming the tide of global warming, finding sustainable ways to feed, power and transport ourselves, reducing the threat of catastrophic war. We cannot hope to solve these problems without the aid of rigorous, independent science.

Defending Science's Role

In response to these challenges, the Union of Concerned Scientists has launched a new intiative: the Center for Science and Democracy. The Center is dedicated to strengthening the essential role of science, evidence-based knowledge, and constructive debate in the U.S. policymaking process, using three core strategies:

  • Restoring public confidence in, and support for, the use of independent science in public policy making;
  • Helping decision makers, citizens and journalists distinguish evidence-based information from propaganda;
  • Working with scientists to help them become more effective communicators and policy contributors.

Suggested Readings

Many scientists, journalists, and other thought leaders have written about the importance of the relationship between science and democracy and the problems resulting from the current state of that relationship in the United States.

(Please note that the following links do not imply endorsement of the authors' views.)

Lewis M. Branscomb and Andrew A. Rosenberg, "Science and Democracy," The Scientist, October 1, 2012

Lewis M. Branscomb, “Science, Politics, and U.S. Democracy,” Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 2004

Bernard Cohen, Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Madison, W.W. Norton, 1997.

Gordon Gauchat, “Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere: A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010,” American Sociological Review, 2012

Andrew J. Hoffman, “Climate Science as Culture War,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2012

Rush Holt, “Politicians Should Think Like Scientists,” Nature, 27 September 2012

Sheila Jasanoff, The Fifth Branch: Science Advisers as Policymakers, Harvard University Press, 1994.

Dan Kahan, "Fixing the Communications Failure," Nature, 21 January 2010

Robert Kuhn, "Science as Democratizer," American Scientist, September-October 2003

Neal P. Lane, “Science Policy Tools: Time for an Update,” Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 2011

Shawn Lawrence Otto, “Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy,” Scientific American, October 17, 2012

Last Revised: January 14, 2013

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