Scientific and Political Integrity in Environmental Policy

44 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2008 Last revised: 6 Apr 2008

See all articles by Holly Doremus

Holly Doremus

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law


Many environmental policy decisions have vital scientific dimensions; they cannot effectively achieve societal goals unless the best available scientific information is accurately gathered and appropriately taken into account. In recent years growing numbers of critics have complained about the misuse or non-use of scientific information in environmental regulation and natural resource management. In this article, through close examination of several recent controversies, I show that shortcomings in the effective use of science can usefully be separated into two categories: problems of scientific integrity and problems of political integrity. Scientific integrity requires that data be gathered, interpreted, and expressed in ways that accord with the relevant norms of scientific practice, the most important of which for this purpose are objectivity and skepticism. Political integrity requires that decisions about what action to take in light of the available scientific information be consistent with relevant legal mandates, and that judgments about where the boundaries of those mandates fall and what action to take within those boundaries be revealed. Scientific and political integrity are linked in three important respects: both require the recognition and observance of role boundaries and limitations; both impose limitations on the role of personal biases and desires; and shortfalls or even perceived shortfalls in one can increase pressures to ignore the other. They are distinct, however, in the identities of the actors responsible for them, and in the nature of the measures that might be taken to ensure them. Political integrity can be addressed through increased oversight of the executive branch, including a variety of measures designed to enhance the role of career employees relative to political appointees in regulatory decisionmaking. Scientific integrity is more difficult to address through regulatory measures. It is best encouraged through increasing awareness of the boundaries of scientific and political judgments and reducing incentives for those acting in the professional role of scientists to overstep those boundaries.

Keywords: law and science, environmental law, administrative law, civil service, principal-agent, peer review, agency oversight, transparency

Suggested Citation

Doremus, Holly, Scientific and Political Integrity in Environmental Policy. Texas Law Review, Forthcoming, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 135, Available at SSRN:

Holly Doremus (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

790 Simon Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
510-643-5699 (Phone)

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