A few days ago I said of James Hansen’s increasing activism:
Hansen has decided that it would be perverse to hoard the social capital that comes with being a prominent scientist in the U.S., standing by nervously guarding his credibility while the climate goes to shit. So he’s taking a big risk and spending some of that capital. I wish more people would make the same decision.
Speaking of that, check out this Dot Earth post on Rich Somerville, one climate scientist that has come out of the ivory tower and started advocating for policy. (Somerville’s got a good column on the declaration he and 200 other scientists signed here.)
Advocacy is sketchy ground for scientists, partly for sociological reasons having to do with the habits and perceptions of other scientists, career incentives, etc. And there seems to be a vague worry out there that by explicitly "taking sides" in policy, scientists will lose their credibility qua scientists. I don’t really buy that — the credibility comes from peer-reviewed research.
The greater worry, to me, is that scientists, who are generally pretty politically naive, will charge out and start stepping on rakes. Being a savvy political advocate is a skill like any other, and not one scientists necessarily possess. I just hope they are careful, striving to articulate broad goals and leaving the messy details to be hashed out by others. That certainly seems to be the model Somerville’s working with so far.