The ‘Iron Triangle’ and the Rise of the Counter-Norms of Science

45 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2020

See all articles by Lucas Bergkamp

Lucas Bergkamp

Hunton & Williams, Brussels; KU Leuven, Faculty of Law

Date Written: February 10, 2017


In this article, Lucas Bergkamp discusses the erosion of the ethical and social norms of science. Such erosion is occurring in what he calls ‘new science.’ New science is caught in an ‘iron triangle’ of ‘policy-science-valorization’ that renders it impervious to scrutiny and revision. New science is both a product and a cause of the redefined relations between politics and science, which have resulted in harmful politicization of science and scientization of politics. In this new symbiosis, scientists have captured policy-makers (regulatory capture), and policy-makers have captured scientists (scientific capture) for mutual benefit. Both politics and science can claim to be drivers of a ‘social justice’ movement ostensibly aimed at improving the world. As they cover each other’s backs, each is able to avoid effective accountability.

This article looks at one side of the iron triangle, and attempts to answer the question how the politicization of new science has become possible. How have some scientists come to serve political ends, acting like aids to policy-makers, while still claiming to be scientists? Science is held in high regard, and claims that science is ideologically or politically biased are generally treated with skepticism. New science is fundamentally different, however, and amenable to ideological or political appropriation. Several factors have contributed to new science’s politicization, including post-modernism, the rise of risk society, the precautionary principle and victimhood culture, infiltration of social institutions, including the progressives’ dominance in universities, and changes in the ethos of science. Here, the focus is on the latter, in particular the erosion of the ethical and social norms of science, and the rise of the so-called ‘counter-norms’ of science (particularism, individualism, self-interestedness, and organized dogmatism). This degeneration of the scientific enterprise has allowed scientists to act as suppliers of policy support, to advocate for a cause, and to suppress dissent. It has enabled new science to be exploited for political purposes, and to become an integral part of a social movement. New science is a method not for predicting the future, but for shaping the future; as such, it is part of a vision for a better world.

Adopting a macro-level perspective, the first part of this article discusses the iron triangle and the resulting pressure towards political use of science. It highlights the crisis and overextension of science, which have rendered it vulnerable to ideologies. The second part explains at the micro-level how it was possible that science became a political instrument. Here, the changing social and ethical norms of science are discussed. At the micro-level, the explanation of new science’s rise hinges on the dominance of the counter-norms of science. Attention is also paid to the strategies and tactics deployed by new science to gain political influence, which reinforce its politicized status. Throughout the discussion, climate science serves as a prime example of these developments.

Keywords: ethos of science, norms of science, sociology of science, pseudo-science, activist science, science and policy, science-based policy

JEL Classification: K32, Q39

Suggested Citation

Bergkamp, Lucas, The ‘Iron Triangle’ and the Rise of the Counter-Norms of Science (February 10, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Lucas Bergkamp (Contact Author)

Hunton & Williams, Brussels ( email )

11, rue des Colonies
1000 Brussels
+32 2 643 58 00 (Phone)
+32 2 643 58 22 (Fax)

KU Leuven, Faculty of Law ( email )

Tiensestraat 41
Leuven, B-3000

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