In medical and environmental policy, scientists play prominent roles in decisions. Agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency have scientific advisory councils that review the relevant scientific literature and advise policy decisionmakers about pollution exposure standards and pharmaceutical and medical device safety. When the decisions of governmental officials do not follow scientific recommendations, critical news coverage follows. The implication is that “science” is sufficient for policy decisions and that “politics” should not play a role.
The discussion about science and politics is occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent New Yorker article lauded Iceland’s response to the pandemic because the prime minister deferred to scientists in her decisions: “It was very clear from the beginning that this was something that should be led by experts—by scientific and medical experts.” In the United States, 57 former scientists and public health officials issued a statement calling for a science‐based approach to the pandemic. The signatories said, “Sidelining science has already cost lives, imperiled the safety of our loved ones, compromised our ability to safely reopen our businesses, schools, and places of worship, and endangered the health of our democracy itself.”