Misguided Science Policy
Designed to give the public a voice in policy decisions, public meetings and consensus conferences can, in some cases, provide valuable insights into the local public’s views and opinions on certain issues. But they can also have disastrous consequences when used as a policy-making tool designed to tap public opinion more broadly.
The politics of site selection for controversial research often pits the collective need for state-of-the-art facilities against potential opposition from individual communities who would prefer that these facilities (and for that matter, cell phone towers, power plants, and waste disposal sites) be built in someone else’s backyard. Policymakers therefore rely on public, town-hall-type meetings to gather and prioritize a variety of perspectives. Such meetings often amplify conflicting viewpoints of residents and rarely result in consensus, but they are still surprisingly popular among policy makers.