Why Policy Papers are Difficult
- Scientists present facts/results leading to conclusions.
- Scientists write in impersonal tone with facts driving the paper.
- Policy papers are driven by an opinion which is based on
- verifiable facts;
- social, political, and legal interpretation of facts; or
- emotions deriving from the cause of current situation
or implications of proposed policy.
- Scientists are not used to writing with such disparate information.
- Scientists don't normally use social, political, legal arguments.
- They are uncomfortable with arguments that don't flow from facts.
- They are not used to the appropriate vocabulary.
- They have difficulty keeping dispassionate tone of science.
Details of the Long Paper
- Topic: science or technology policy.
- Audience: your classmates. So technical level is that of talks.
- Purpose: advocate, attack or defend some specific policy or point
of view that leads to an action.
- Length: 6-8 pages with some illustrations plus references.
Abstract and conclusions are mandatory.
- Illustrations: original tables and/or figures, each with an informative
caption that supports the point of the table/figure.
- Topic: 8:00 am Monday 10 May by email
- Sentence outline: 5:00 pm Thursday 13 May (See samples.)
- Draft: 5:00 pm Thursday 20 May
- Review of peer paper: 5:00 pm Monday 24 May
- Final version: 5:00 pm Wednesday 2 June
Graduating seniors due 4:00 pm Tuesday 1 June.
Searching for Topics and
References for the Policy Paper
- Take advantage of previous relevant work experiences.
- Seek out many sources.
- Start early.
- Initiate discussion by email with instructor.
- Use only a single source.
- Use a textbook as source; find original sources.
- Wait until the last minute.
- Be limited to list on web or suggestions below.
Misconduct/fraud in science:
low electromagnetic fields
Science illiteracy: feasibility/necessity
Public perception of the internet,
e.g., censorship, commerce
The case for public money for
manned versus unmanned space missions
search for extra-terrestrial intelligence
science, eg, big versus small science
Continuing controversy/Is legislation needed?
of humans or human parts
danger of cholesterol (vitamin C, marijuana, etc.)
danger of cellular phones
global warming: fact or fiction
ozone hole and its importance
Scientific challenges after the Cold War
Science-based stockpile stewardship
Monitoring nuclear pollution
Role of science/technology in developing
Starting what new?
Do we need more or less scientists/engineers?
Points to remember in picking science policy question.
- Two sides. If you can see only one side to the question, then
- Either you have too narrow a viewpoint to understand and
answer possible objections to your view.
- Or the topic is inappropriate for a policy paper.
- Ample material. You need to find enough current material
that you can pick and choose in constructing your point of view.
- Interest. You should care about the topic.
Example of Sentence Outline
Will Electric Vehicles Really Reduce Pollution?
The amount of pollution created by electric vehicles depends mostly
on the source of the electricity used to charge them.
This makes it impossible to determine if electric vehicles pollute
less than internal combustion engine vehicles without considering where
they are to be deployed and by what sources of electricity they are to
An electric vehicle that is charged with energy from a clean
source will produce little pollution, while one charged with energy
from an unclean source may produce more pollution than an internal
combustion engine vehicle.
The sources of energy for most regions fall somewhere between these
The use of electric vehicles will allow new possibilities in
pollution control and management that may outweigh some of their
While not ready to be used everywhere, electric vehicles have the
potential to pollute much less than internal combustion engine vehicles
- Internal combustion engine vehicles are responsible for the vast
majority of pollutants that plague urban areas today.
- These emissions are directly responsible for many of the air
quality problems faced in major urban areas.
- Electric vehicles produce little or no pollution directly; most of
the pollution associated with their use is created at the power
plant that provides their electricity.
- While studies of the pollution-reducing ability of electric
vehicles in California are quite favorable, they cannot be
applied to the rest of the world as a whole.
- We can expect similar results for the United States, namely, that
while electric vehicles produce much less carbon monoxide and
hydrocarbons, they use similar levels of nitrogen oxides and
carbon dioxide, and increased levels of sulfur oxides.
- Not all pollutants related to electric vehicles arise from the
generation of electricity.
- While electric vehicles may not always hold an outright advantage
in terms of pollution reduction, they allow for more control
over the pollution that is generated.
- The use of electric vehicles would allow even further decreases in
auto emissions over time because only about 10,500 power plants
will have to be monitored, maintained, and upgraded as opposed to
the over 100 million private automobiles.
- Because so many tradeoffs in local versus global pollution are
involved, it is impossible to say with certainty that electric
vehicles provide the best short term solution to transportation
At present, for the vast majority of the country, neither
electric vehicles or comparable gasoline-powered vehicles holds a solid
advantage over the other in cleanliness.
This balance will probably not change any time in the near future as
the problem with electric vehicles is not inherent to them, but rather
to the means by which we generate our electricity.
Although electric vehicles offer some compelling advantages over
internal combustion engine vehicles in terms of pollution management,
the real advantage of electric vehicles lies in the future when more
electricity is produced from cleaner sources.
For those living in California, or in other regions with a high
percentage of energy production coming from clean sources, the future
is already here.