Information, values and expert decision-making: the case of soil decontamination

Abstract

Building on insights from cognitive psychology and scholarship on decision-making, this article examines the respective role of values and information, and the interaction between them, in the formation of expert judgment. We analyze data from an original expert survey on soil decontamination practices and test several hypotheses found in the literature. While it is common to assume that experts rely primarily on factual information when making decisions, we find that values may also orient the judgment of experts when such information is lacking. In such cases, experts may be influenced by their value predispositions, leading to a wider range of expert assessments. Conversely, the judgment of experts who possess the relevant information tends to converge on the best known outcomes. We thus find that relevant knowledge mediates the role of values in expert judgment. While suggesting that some caution should always be taken when deferring to experts, our findings suggest that governments and the public are justified in taking experts’ judgment seriously.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    There are exceptions: (Tetlock 2005; Weiss 1979).

  2. 2.

    By valid judgment, we refer to an expert’s ability to propose the best known solution to a specific problem. In the context of the present study, decontamination professionals are hired to advise their clients on the most appropriate means of decontaminating their land. The best known solutions in this case are those that are efficient in the sense of maximizing the output/input ratio, ensuring a maximum of efficacy with a minimum of resources.

  3. 3.

    While conventional excavation is efficacious, it is also very expensive. Phytoremediation for certain pollutants offers an efficacious way to decontaminate land over a longer time period but at much lower cost. For projects that are not time sensitive, phytoremediation may offer the most efficient solution in terms of maximizing the output-to-input ratio.

  4. 4.

    Baseball cards are a type of collectible trading card related to baseball. Common in countries where baseball is a popular sport (i.e. North America, some parts of Latin America and Japan), baseball cards can be highly sought after and be of significant monetary value.

  5. 5.

    However, only experts accredited by the province’s environment ministry are authorized to certify decontamination plans and evaluations as required by law.

References

  1. Atkinson, M. M. (2013). Policy, politics and political science. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 46(04), 751–772.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Barac, T., Taghavi, S., Borremans, B., Provoost, A., Oeyen, L., Colpaert, J. V., et al. (2004). Engineered endophytic bacteria improve phytoremediation of water-soluble, volatile, organic pollutants. Nature Biotechnology, 22(5), 583–588.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Barke, R. P., & Jenkins-Smith, H. C. (1993). Politics and scientific expertise: Scientists, risk perception, and nuclear waste policy. Risk Analysis, 13, 425–439.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Batty, L. C., & Dolan, C. (2013). The potential use of phytoremediation for sites with mixed organic and inorganic contamination. Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, 43(3), 217–259.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bissonnette, L., St-Arnaud, M., & Labrecque, M. (2010). Phytoextraction of heavy metals by two Salicaceae clones in symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi during the second year of a field trial. Plant and Soil, 332(1–2), 55–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Blinder, A. S. (1997). Is government too political? Foreign Affairs, 76, 115–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Brambor, T., Clark, W. R., & Golder, M. (2006). Understanding interaction models: Improving empirical analyses. Political Analysis, 14, 63–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Brunner, R. D., & Ascher, W. (1992). Science and social responsibility. Policy Sciences, 25(3), 295–331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Campos, V. M., Merino, I., Casado, R., Pacios, L. F., & Gomez, L. (2008). Review: Phytoremediation of organic pollutants. Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research, 6, 38–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Chaiken, S., Liberman, A., & Eagly, A. H. (1989). Heuristic and systematic information processing within and beyond the persuasion context. In J. S. Uleman & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), Unintended thought (pp. 212–252). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Chen, S., Duckworth, K., & Chaiken, S. (1999). Motivated heuristic and systematic processing. Psychological Inquiry, 10(1), 44–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Considine, M., Alexander, D., & Lewis, J. M. (2014). Policy design as craft: Teasing out policy design expertise using a semi-experimental approach. Policy Sciences, 47(3), 209–225.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Doyle, C. (2008). La Phytoremédiation: Une Solution À La Contamination Des Sites de Traitement Du Bois? Université de Sherbrooke.

  14. Druckman, J. N., & Bolsen, T. (2011). Framing, motivated reasoning, and opinions about emergent technologies. Journal of Communication, 61(4), 659–688.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Finucane, M. L., Alhakami, A., Slovic, P., & Johnson, S. M. (2000). The affect heuristic in judgments of risks and benefits. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 13(1), 1–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Flynn, J., Slovic, P., & Mertz, C. K. (1993). Decidedly different: Expert and public views of risks from a radioactive waste repository. Risk Analysis, 13(6), 643–648.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gottweis, H. (1998). Governing molecules: The discursive politics of genetic engineering in Europe and in the United States. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Haas, P. M. (2004). When does power listen to truth? A constructivist approach to the policy process. Journal of European Public Policy, 11, 569–592.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Henderson, M. (2012). The geek manifesto: Why science matters. London: Bantam.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Ikem, A., & Egiebor, N. O. (2005). Assessment of trace elements in canned fishes (mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines and herrings) marketed in Georgia and Alabama (United States of America). Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 18(8), 771–787.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Jasanoff, S. (1990). The fifth branch: Science advisers as policymakers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Jasanoff, S. (2003). (No?) Accounting for expertise. Science and Public Policy, 30(3), 157–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Jenkins-Smith, H. C., Silva, C. L., & Murray, C. (2009). Beliefs about radiation: Scientists, the public and public policy. Health Physics, 97(5), 519–527.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kahan, D. M., Jenkins-Smith, H., & Braman, D. (2011). Cultural cognition of scientific consensus. Journal of Risk Research, 14(2), 147–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., et al. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change, 2, 732–735.

  26. Kahneman, D. (2003). Maps of bounded rationality: Psychology for behavioral economics. American Economic Review, 93(5), 1449–1475.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lachapelle, E., Montpetit, É., & Gauvin, J.-P. (2014). Public perceptions of expert credibility on policy issues: The role of expert framing and political worldviews. Policy Studies Journal, 42(4), 674–697.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. List, J. A. (2002). Preference reversals of a different kind: The ‘More is Less’ phenomenon. American Economic Review, 92(5), 1636–1643.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Margolis, H. (1996). Dealing with risk: Why the public and the experts disagree on environmental issues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. McIntyre, T. (2003). Phytoremediation of heavy metals from soils. In D. T. Tsao (Ed.), Phytoremediation, advances in biochemical engineering/biotechnology (Vol. 78, pp. 97–123). Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Mitchell, N. J., Herron, K. G., Jenkins-Smith, H. C., & Whitten, G. D. (2007). Elite beliefs, epistemic communities and the Atlantic divide: Scientists’ nuclear policy preferences in the United States and European Union. British Journal of Political Science, 37(04), 753–764.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Montpetit, É. (2011). Scientific credibility, disagreement, and error costs in 17 biotechnology subsystems. Policy Studies Journal, 39(3), 513–533.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Montpetit, É., & Lachapelle, E. (2015). Can policy actors learn from academic scientists? Environmental Politics. doi:10.1080/09644016.2015.1027058.

  34. Nisbet, M. C. (2004). Public opinion about stem cell research and human cloning. Public Opinion Quarterly, 68, 131–154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Nisbet, M. C. (2005). The competition for worldviews: Values, information, and public support for stem cell research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 17, 90–112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Paarlberg, R. L. (2008). Starved for science: How biotechnology is being kept out of africa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Panagos, P., Van Liedekerke, M., Yigini, Y., & Montanarella, L. (2013). Contaminated sites in Europe: Review of the current situation based on data collected through a European network. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2013, 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Reichenauer, T. G., & Germida, J. J. (2008). Phytoremediation of organic contaminants in soil and groundwater. ChemSusChem, 1(8–9), 708–717.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Rietig, K. (2014). ‘Neutral’ experts? How input of scientific expertise matters in international environmental negotiations. Policy Sciences, 47(2), 141–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Rimkutė, D. (2015). Explaining differences in scientific expertise use: The politics of pesticides. Politics and Governance, 3(1), 114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Rimkutė, D., & Haverland, M. (2015). How does the European Commission use scientific expertise? Results from a survey of scientific members of the Commission’s expert committees. Comparative European Politics, 13(4), 430–449.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Rowe, G., & Wright, G. (2001). Differences in expert and lay judgments of risk: Myth or reality? Risk Analysis, 21(2), 341–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Sabatier, P. A., & Zafonte, M. (1995). The views of bay/delta water policy activists on endangered species issues. West/Northwest Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, 2, 131–146.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Sabatier, P. A., & Zafonte, M. (2001). Policy knowledge: Advocacy organizations. In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences (Vol. 17, pp. 11563–11568). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Salt, D. E., Blaylock, M., Nanda, P. B. A., Kumar, V. D., Ensley, B. D., Chet, I., et al. (1995). Phytoremediation: A novel strategy for the removal of toxic metals from the environment using plants. Nature Biotechnology, 13(5), 468–474.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Schneider, A. L., & Ingram, H. (1997). Policy design for democracy. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Silva, C. L., & Jenkins-Smith, H. C. (2007). The precautionary principle in context: U.S. and E.U. scientists’ prescriptions for policy in the face of uncertainty. Social Science Quarterly, 88(3), 640–664.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Silva, C. L., Jenkins-Smith, H. C., & Barke, R. P. (2007). Reconciling scientists’ beliefs about radiation risks and social norms: Explaining preferred radiation protection standards. Risk Analysis, 27(3), 755–773.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Simon, H. A. (1945). Administrative behavior. New York: McMillan.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Simon, H. A. (1985). Human nature in politics: The dialogue of psychology with political science. American Political Science Review, 79, 293–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Slovic, P., Finucane, M. L., Peters, E., & MacGregor, D. G. (2004). Risk as analysis and risk as feelings: Some thoughts about affect, reason, risk, and rationality. Risk Analysis, 24(2), 311–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Tetlock, P. E. (2005). Expert political judgment: How good is it? How can we know?. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Vamerali, T., Bandiera, M., & Mosca, G. (2010). Field crops for phytoremediation of metal-contaminated land: A review. Environmental Chemistry Letters, 8(1), 1–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Van Metre, P. C., & Mahler, B. J. (2005). Trends in hydrophobic organic contaminants in urban and reference lake sediments across the United States, 1970–2001. Environmental Science and Technology, 39(15), 5567–5574.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Weber, E. U., & Stern, P. C. (2011). Public understanding of climate change in the United States. American Psychologist, 66(4), 315–328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Weible, C. M., Sabatier, P. A., & Pattison, A. (2010). Harnessing expert-based information for learning and the sustainable management of complex socio-ecological systems. Environmental Science and Policy, 13, 522–534.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Weible, C. M., Siddiki, S. N., & Pierce, J. J. (2011). Foes to friends: Changing contexts and changing intergroup perceptions. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 13, 499–526.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Weiss, C. H. (1979). The many meanings of research utilization. Public Administration Review, 39, 426–431.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the financial support of Genome Quebec and Genome Canada. They also thank the members of Genorem for their contribution to this research, as well as Patrick Fournier, Patrick Marier, four anonymous reviewers and the editorial team at Policy Sciences for their helpful comments and suggestions. Monika Smaz and Irena Nedeva provided excellent research assistance.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Éric Montpetit.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Montpetit, É., Lachapelle, E. Information, values and expert decision-making: the case of soil decontamination. Policy Sci 49, 155–171 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-015-9225-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Expert
  • Decision-making
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Values
  • Soil contamination