Having seen the distinction-earning research design essay written by Lee Jones last year, I am now thoroughly fearful about the whole project. The extent of research he seems to have done, and the clarity with which he seems to have understood his question both stand in marked contrast to my present situation.
As such, it is perfectly clear that I really need to get cracking. The essay is due on May 29th.
Research Design Essay Planning
My Approximate Structure:
Note that this listing will not necessarily conform to the page-by-page ordering of the research design essay or the thesis itself. This is more a breakdown of areas I need to cover, sorted categorically.
1) The Question:
The purpose of this thesis is to examine the connections between science and environmental policy making, on both the practical and theoretical level. That will involve assessing, in the first instance, the ways in which environmental science has contributed to the development and nature of global environmental policies. Secondly, it will involve the examination of the role envisioned for science by both policy makers and environmental scientists themselves: with a focus on issues like credibility.
2) Background, history and relevance of the question:
Narrative style introduction
I will probably begin with a discussion of what might be termed the standard model of science-policy interaction. That is to say: either scientists or the public at large identify the existence of some environmental problem. Consider, for example, the discovery of high levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the Arctic in the mid-1980s. Scientists then investigate the problem to the point where it is well understood. In this case, that happened through the Nothern Contaminants Program in Canada, as coordinated by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. A treaty was then drawn up through international negotiation to address the problem, with provisions included for further study and the fine-tuning of the instrument in response to new information and understanding.
Interrogating the narrative
I will then try attacking both the general model and the specific example, raising questions about which issues get investigated and why: the importance of funding and bureaucratic interests in such affairs being a key consideration.
Having opened the thesis in what I hope might be an interesting way, I will provide general background on the importance of the question and circumstances in which it has arisen. As with the question overall, this will include both discussion of the practical issues of dealing with scientific data and approaches when generating environmental policy and with the theoretical considerations involved.
Justification and central argument
The last portion of this section will address the matter that Lee terms: “What’s new? Who cares?” Also, it will establish any overall argument that I want to adopt for the thesis. Possibilities for such an argument include:
- The representation of science as objective is hopelessly indefensible and should be rejected.
- The monolithic understanding of ‘science’ as a single body that can provide a single answer is outdated. A new and more complex understanding of science must emerge to replace it.
- The flaws within the science-policy relationship have largely been on the basis of relatively basic, practical considerations. With appropriate safeguards in place, the standard model sketched out in the introduction can form the basis for good policy making.
One good possibility is to list a number of viable explanations, explaining that I will evaluate each on the basis of sources and analysis. Of course, it would be good to state at this point which of the explanations I find most convincing, though this probably doesn’t need to be done in the design essay.
In order to access the connections between science and policy making, I will engage with two case studies: the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. The first seems initially to be a clear example of science identifying a problem, then producing a comprehensive understanding that formed the basis of political action. The second is a case wherein various forms of conflict and uncertainty have paralyzed action.
The second component of the thesis will be the aforementioned theoretical examination. One example through which this will be investigated will be the response in the scientific community to Bjorn Lomborg’s controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist. By challenging what he calls the ‘litany’ of environmental science, Lomborg provokes the scientific community into dialogue about what their role is, as an epistemic community and as a body capable of political action.
I will propose interviews with both environmental scientists and negotiators with the aim of better understanding how the influence of the different groups manifested itself in the immediate case of the negotiations. In the case of the Stockholm Convention, it seems quite probable that some form of interviewing would be possible, since many of the people involved were Canadian and are likely to be sympathetic to the project.
Interviewing John Buccini, who chaired the Stockholm negotiations, might be particularly valuable. I wrote my qualitative methods take-home exam on interviewing in the form of an introductory letter to him and list of possible questions.
4) Literature review
My literature review will include both primary sources relating to the two agreements discussed above and the various articles, editorials, and documents related to the Lomborg controversy. There will also be secondary sources about Stockholm and Kyoto, as well as general secondary sources about the relation of science to policy. These will likely include sources from related fields such as global health. Hopefully, Peter Dauvergne will be able to send me at least a few source ideas for this initial bibliography.
This will probably consist of little more than a list of titles, sorted categorically.
Potentially relevant prior M.Phil theses
R.K. McMahon, Nuffield
‘An examination of bureaucratic motivation in the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Environment Agency for England and Wales’ (1999/2000)
L.R. Rodriguez, St Antony’s
‘The political economy of state-oil relations: Institutional case studies of Venezuela and Norway’ (2000/2001)
J.W. Cyhn, Green
‘The political economy of technology development’ (2000/2001)
Micah Schwartzman, Balliol
â€˜Towards a Defence of Public Reasonâ€™ (2002/2003)
Jonathan Quong, Nuffield
â€˜Deliberation and Diversity: An Essay on Public Reason and Identity Politicsâ€™ (2003/2004)
Other relevant theses
Lindsay Johnson, University of British Columbia (MA)
‘Advocates, Experts or Collaborative Epistemic Communities?’ (2006)
Last tinkered with: 15 May 2006