Experimentation Involving Controversial Scientific and Technological Issues: Weather Modification as a Case Illustration

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The development of weather modification requires resolution of a number of scientific questions. To resolve them necessitates field experiments that frequently extend over many years and cost millions of dollars. These projects usually are highly visible to the scientific community and, often, to the public as well. Weather modification and similarly risky technical efforts requiring field research typically involve a large number of scientists with varying interests and incentives. As they seek to resolve certain scientific controversies, the projects also generate other conflicts that are organizational, budgetary, and sometimes public. The scientific conflicts cannot be separated from these controversies in their environment. Solving the one kind requires dealing with the others.

To learn how such projects should be designed, conducted, and evaluated, we studied four major weather-modification projects and determined the origin and resolution of their scientific, management, and policy controversies. The assessment revealed that to conduct major field experiments concerning scientific topics viewed as controversial within the scientific community is extremely difficult due to the multifaceted nature of the scientific controversy. The major scientific controversies were a result of six factors, including 1) proceeding with an inadequate scientific knowledge base; 2) a flawed project-planning process; 3) differing views between funding agencies and project scientists; 4) lack of continuing commitment by the principal agency conducting the experiment; 5) changes in project directors; and 6) poor performance by project scientists.

This study reveals that, in order to minimize scientific controversy, certain procedures should be followed that impact on the environment of the project as well as the intrinsic science performed therein. First, an initial, in-depth assessment of the need for the proposed project vs the state of scientific readiness must be conducted using the most credible scientists in the field. Then, the most knowledgeable scientists should be involved in the planning process, and third, the major funding entity—usually the federal government—must make a commitment adequate in both time and resources. The selection of a single institution clearly committed to the study of scientific issues to be investigated is a critical fourth factor, and those selected as project directors must have demonstrated scientific and management skills. Finally, a project needs thorough and frequent oversight by a knowledgeable and prestigious group. Ideally, those involved in the planning would have strong input in the evaluation.

* Changnon Climatologist, Mahomet, IL 61853. Also associated with the Illinois State Water Survey.

Maxwell School, Syracuse University and Syracuse Research Corporation, Syracuse, NY 13210

The development of weather modification requires resolution of a number of scientific questions. To resolve them necessitates field experiments that frequently extend over many years and cost millions of dollars. These projects usually are highly visible to the scientific community and, often, to the public as well. Weather modification and similarly risky technical efforts requiring field research typically involve a large number of scientists with varying interests and incentives. As they seek to resolve certain scientific controversies, the projects also generate other conflicts that are organizational, budgetary, and sometimes public. The scientific conflicts cannot be separated from these controversies in their environment. Solving the one kind requires dealing with the others.

To learn how such projects should be designed, conducted, and evaluated, we studied four major weather-modification projects and determined the origin and resolution of their scientific, management, and policy controversies. The assessment revealed that to conduct major field experiments concerning scientific topics viewed as controversial within the scientific community is extremely difficult due to the multifaceted nature of the scientific controversy. The major scientific controversies were a result of six factors, including 1) proceeding with an inadequate scientific knowledge base; 2) a flawed project-planning process; 3) differing views between funding agencies and project scientists; 4) lack of continuing commitment by the principal agency conducting the experiment; 5) changes in project directors; and 6) poor performance by project scientists.

This study reveals that, in order to minimize scientific controversy, certain procedures should be followed that impact on the environment of the project as well as the intrinsic science performed therein. First, an initial, in-depth assessment of the need for the proposed project vs the state of scientific readiness must be conducted using the most credible scientists in the field. Then, the most knowledgeable scientists should be involved in the planning process, and third, the major funding entity—usually the federal government—must make a commitment adequate in both time and resources. The selection of a single institution clearly committed to the study of scientific issues to be investigated is a critical fourth factor, and those selected as project directors must have demonstrated scientific and management skills. Finally, a project needs thorough and frequent oversight by a knowledgeable and prestigious group. Ideally, those involved in the planning would have strong input in the evaluation.

* Changnon Climatologist, Mahomet, IL 61853. Also associated with the Illinois State Water Survey.

Maxwell School, Syracuse University and Syracuse Research Corporation, Syracuse, NY 13210

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