Turmoil in American Public Policy
Science, Democracy, and the Environment
by Leslie R. Alm, Ross E. Burkhart, and Marc V. Simon
April 2010, 175pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-38536-0
$64, £48, 56€, A87
eBook Available: 978-0-313-38537-7
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

To what extent should science inform and shape the environmental policymaking process? By what mechanisms does it do so in the United States and other liberal democracies? How can scientists most effectively discharge their duty as citizens and public trustees to ensure that environmental policymaking in the United States is scientifically sound?

This book explores the intricacies of the science-policy linkage that pervades environmental policymaking in a democracy.

These are the key questions that this primary textbook for courses on American public policymaking and environmental policymaking addresses and attempts to answer. Turmoil in American Public Policy: Science, Democracy, and the Environment first lays out the basics of the policymaking process in the United States in relation to the substantive issues of environmental policymaking. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, the authors highlight the views and experiences of scientists, especially natural scientists, in their interactions with policymakers and their efforts to harness the findings of their science to rational public policy.

The proper role of science and scientists in relation to environmental policymaking hinges on fundamental questions at the intersection of political philosophy and scientific epistemology. How can the experimental nature of the scientific method and the probabilistic expression of scientific results be squared with the normative language of legislation and regulation? If scientists undertake to square the circle by hardening the tentative truths of their scientific models into positive truths to underpin public policy, at what point may they be judged to have exceeded the proper limits of scientific knowledge, relinquished their role as impartial experts, and become partisan advocates demanding too much say in a democratic setting? Providing students—and secondarily policymakers, scientists, and citizen activists—a theoretical and practical knowledge of the means availed by modern American democracy for resolving this tension is the object of this progressively structured textbook.


  • Includes excerpts from 100 interviews with natural scientists and social scientists conducted over the past several years
  • Provides two figures illustrating the concepts of pluralism and elitism in the United States public policymaking process
  • Offers end-of-chapter reflection questions and suggested readings for students
Leslie R. Alm, PhD, is professor of political science and public administration at Boise State University, Boise, ID. His publications include Crossing Borders, Crossing Boundaries: The Role of Scientists in the U.S. Acid Rain Debate, as well as publications in various journals such as Policies Studies Journal, Journal of Environmental Systems, and American Review of Canadian Studies.

Ross E. Burkhart, PhD, is associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Boise State University, Boise, ID. Dr. Burkhart's research has been published in American Political Science Review, European Journal of Political Research, and The Journal of Politics.

Marc V. Simon, PhD, is associate professor in the Department of Political Science and coordinator of peace and conflict studies at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. Dr. Simon has published articles in International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the The Journal of Environmental Education.


"Turmoil in American Public Policy offers a refreshingly different take on the study of public policy with its unique and timely focus on the complex role of science in the contemporary environmental policy process. This highly readable text draws from the authors’ personal interviews with scientists over a twenty-year period as well as an extensive literature on public policymaking to illustrate the issues with clarity and force. The result is a distinctive and insightful study of the science-policy linkage in environmental policymaking that should appeal to both undergraduate and graduate students."—Michael E. Kraft, Professor of Political Science and the Herbert Fisk Johnson Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and author of Environmental Policy and Politics, 4th Edition, Pearson, 2006, and co-editor of Environmental Policy: New Directions for the Twenty-First Century, 7th Edition, CQ Press, 2010.

"A hugely important task for any democratic society is reconciling the often contradictory roles carried out by scientists and policymakers. Alm, Burkhart, and Simon address the challenge of communicating technical information to public officials in ways that preserve the integrity of science without undermining key political values like accountability and representativeness. The result is a thought provoking account of the nexus between science and public policy that is both enlightening and readable." —Charles Davis, Professor of Environmental Politics at Colorado State University, and editor of Western Public Lands and Environmental Politics, 2nd Edition, Westview, 2001.

“This is the environmental policy textbook that I have long wished someone would write! Its rich analysis of the intersections of science and democracy in the policy process provides a superlative perspective for illuminating the complexities and paradoxes of environmental policy making, resulting in an integrative coherence rarely achieved by a textbook. Offering an exemplary review of what we know about science and environmental policy, it should simultaneously serve as a valuable treatise and reference for analysts and researchers.”—Robert V. Bartlett, Gund Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Vermont, co-author of Global Democracy and Sustainable Jurisprudence

"A must read! The most significant contribution on the role of science in environmental policy since Lynton Caldwell’s Between Two Worlds: Science, the Environmental Movement and Policy Choice, in 1990."—William R. Mangun, Professor of Political Science at East Carolina University and co-author of Managing the Environmental Crisis, Duke University Press, 1999.

"This book offers a fascinating and unique portrayal of how natural and social scientists in the US and Canada experience and navigate the science-policymaking interface. By probing important questions about the connections between democracy and science, the authors call for change in how the worlds of science and policy intersect. Scientists, policymakers, scholars, and students with an interest in environmental policy will all find something of value in this volume."—Nina Burkardt, Social Science Research Analyst with the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado, and one of the authors of Resolving Disputes over Science in Natural Resource Agency Decision-making, a 2009 Bureau of Reclamation Technical Report

"An innovative perspective regarding the evolving contributions of science and scientists towards the evolution of public environmental issues, policy making aimed at the fight for environmental protection, as well as electoral platforms. Comparisons between American and Canadian environmental policymaking, their social aspects, and links to international cooperation provide a novel view of this important aspect of democracy in North America. A well documented book that will lead to interesting and much needed debates regarding major current concerns about the environment." —Claire Garon, M. Env., Research Associate and Canada Research Chair on International Management Standards and Environmental Affairs at Laval University, Quebec
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