Board of Trustees Professor in Economics and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University National Academy of Sciences ~ British Academy ~ National Research Council ~ Econometric Society ~ American Academy of Arts and Sciences ~ American Association for the Advancement of Science ~ Distinguished Fellow, American Economics Association

03 January 2018

Opinion: Trump Administration’s attacks on science are taking a grim toll

 Opinion article published by The Mercury News

A new federal administration was installed less than a year ago. Since then, we have seen a March for Science and eloquent opinion pieces urging protection of the scientific enterprise. But the devaluing of science and harassment of scientists have only increased in severity. This should not stand.
Scientific input is crucial to analysis and formulation of policy. The dismissal of scientific understanding by the current administration has affected the physical, biological, social and medical sciences.
This anti-science perspective is manifest in numerous ways. Informative summaries of well-established science are removed from federal websites. Government scientists are abruptly transferred from jobs requiring their expertise to jobs that do not. Scientific advisory groups are disbanded. Severe budgetary cuts are proposed for government agencies performing important research. Unqualified individuals are appointed to government positions where scientific qualifications are essential. Key science positions at government agencies remain unfilled.
The most egregious attacks have been on climate science. U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord leaves the U.S. isolated from the international community — the only U.N. member declining to participate in the accord. Climate scientists have been prevented from speaking at scientific conferences. Some are forbidden from using phrases affirming the reality and seriousness of human-induced climate change, or from speaking to the press about matters directly related to their research.
A serious current concern is the stated intention of EPA head Scott Pruitt to assemble a “Red Team-Blue Team” exercise to re-litigate all aspects of climate science. This call for a “do-over” ignores many previous assessments of climate science by highly qualified experts.
These assessments have consistently acknowledged the reality and dangers of anthropogenic climate change. By calling for a new “Red Team-Blue Team” process, Mr. Pruitt is implicitly questioning the legitimacy of all previous assessments, and seeks to foster the erroneous impression of deep uncertainty. A similar strategy was used by the tobacco industry in challenging links between smoking and cancer.
How should all citizens – not just scientists – behave in this new Age of Unreason? One perspective is that we should simply continue with our normal lives. There may have been merit in this at the beginning of the Administration, when it was not clear how campaign rhetoric would translate into governance. Today, the time for strategic patience is over. Silence is complicity.

Scientists have a special responsibility to defend scientific understanding, and to advocate for the use of sound science in public policymaking. Citizens have responsibilities, too. We are not powerless. We can contact our congressional representatives. Write letters to newspapers. Become active on social media. Speak publicly about the dangers of embracing scientific ignorance. Enlist our friends and neighbors to speak out in defense of science.

Beyond individual actions, we see a pressing need for leading scientific institutions to use their voices. Among the goals of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science is to “Promote and defend the integrity of science and its use.” It is important to support the AAAS and other organizations that share this objective.
As members of the National Academy of Sciences, we particularly support the NAS mission to provide “independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.”
In fall 2016 two of us, and two others, organized an open letter pointing out the serious consequences of U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord. It was signed by 377 members of the NAS. Commenting on the open letter, Neil deGrasse Tyson said: “For lawmakers to not heed the advice of esteemed scientists on matters of science, in this the 21st century, signals the beginning of the end of an informed democracy.”
Charles F. Manski is the Board of Trustees Professor in Economics at Northwestern University. Ben Santer is a leading climate researcher and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Ray J. Weymann is Director Emeritus of Carnegie Observatories, Carnegie Institution for Science. All are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

03 September 2015

Cleveland Fed: The Media's Enormous Responsibility

In an exclusive interview with the Cleveland Fed, Charles Manski argues it’s not just statistical agencies that bear the “enormous responsibility” of communicating uncertainty to the public:

26 December 2014

Brookings Institution: Federal Budget Commentary (C-Span)

Charles Manski joined a Brookings Institution Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy discussion on the challenges of the federal budget process in remarks carried on C-Span:

16 July 2013

Royal Economic Society: Decisions in an Uncertain World

There is far more uncertainty in economics and policy-making than many would have us believe, according to Professor Charles Manski of Northwestern University.

Professor Manski was giving the Sargan Lecture at the Roya Economic Society annual conference in April 2013. The full lecture is available here:

The British Academy: Public Policy in an Uncertain World

On 27 March 2013 cemmap (The Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, an ESRC Centre hosted at the IFS) and the British Academy Policy Centre held a lecture by Professor Charles Manski, Board of Trustees Professor in Economics at Northwestern University and an International Fellow of cemmap.

Professor Manski discussed his new book Public Policy in an Uncertain World: Analysis and Decisions (Harvard University Press, 2013). In his book, he argues that society should face up to the uncertainties that attend policy formation. He observes that the current practice of policy analysis hides uncertainty, as researchers use untenable assumptions to make exact predictions of policy outcomes. Manski recommends more credible policy analysis that explicitly expresses the limits to knowledge, and he considers how policy makers can reasonably make decisions in an uncertain world.

The lecture was followed by a response from Lord Gus O'Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary and Visiting Professor at the Department of Political Science and School of Public Policy, UCL. This event was chaired by Professor Andrew Chesher FBA, Professor of Economics at UCL and Director of cemmap.

The lecture took place between 6pm - 7.30pm, at the British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH.

08 October 2011

The American Economist: Unlearning and Discovery

Charles Manski was recently asked to write an autobiographical essay for the journal, The American Economist. This thoughtful retrospective, Unlearning and Discovery, was the result:

25 December 2010

National Academy of Sciences "InterViews"

The following interview by the NAS' InterViews project was audio recorded in early 2010.

audio_icon Listen to the Interview (mp3, 29 mb)
     (31 minutes)

Economist Charles Manski has always been a skeptic. His refusal to take accepted views for granted led him to give up the Jewish religious training of his boyhood at 16; less than a decade later, it placed him among the pioneers of a new kind of economics, one with a more nuanced view of how people choose.

Using discrete choice analysis-a mathematical method for determining how people decide between alternatives-Manski has studied issues ranging from how government grants affect a student's choice to go to college to whether drug laws actually work. He's also tackled the thorny fundamental problem of "partial identification": how does someone deciding between two courses of action know which is better, when only one outcome will ever be known? Doctors studying the effects of a choice of treatments on a group of patients, judges handing down sentences for offenders, and other decision-makers must choose one alternative without ever knowing or "identifying" the outcome of the other. Manski's research has focused on resolving this and other complicated problems of decision and expectation, always with an eye toward helping society make better choices.

Manski is a professor of economics at Northwestern University, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2009.

Adaptive Partial Drug Approval: A Health Policy Proposal

From the recent issue of The Economists' Voice . . .

"Charles Manski of Northwestern argues that the drug approval process should be more continuous, so that patients can have access to beneficial drugs earlier and at the same time there are incentives for longer term studies than the current system produces, which could limit problems like those caused by Vioxx."

Manski, Charles F. (2009) "Adaptive Partial Drug Approval: A Health Policy Proposal," The Economists' Voice: Vol. 6 : Iss. 4, Article 9.
DOI: 10.2202/1553-3832.1449
Available at: