Has Public Policy Become Too Public?

In 1897, the House of Representatives in the US state of Indiana unanimously passed legislation that redefined the calculation of the value of pi , the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Fortunately, the bill died in the state senate.

That historical anecdote might elicit a sardonic chuckle from those who remember their high-school mathematics, but around the world non-experts are increasingly being called upon to formulate public policy that requires an understanding of subtle and complex scientific and technological phenomena.

"How can you tell whether a whale is a mammal or a fish?" a teacher asks her third-grade class.

"Take a vote?" chirps one pupil. This suggestion may be amusing coming from a child, but there's nothing funny when governments apply it, as they increasingly do, to complex policies that involve science and technology.