Two publications of political science that I recently had on my desk made me wonder where science stops and where investigative journalism begins - or vice versa.
In the first article "The Quint", Catherine Gegout investigates the secretive decision-making of Germany, France, the UK, Italy and the US in an informal working group before 2002. The group took decisions and more or less imposed them on the other Member States in the Council of Ministers without the possibility of them participating. Gegout interviewed multiple members of national bureaucracies under cover of anonymity and could slowly make sense of the informal body that Germany, France and the UK did not acknowledge at all and Italy and the US only mentioned in passing on the national websites.
The second article is Gijs Jan Brandsma's PhD thesis "Backstage Europe" in which the Dutch researcher brings light into the secretive comitology system of the European Union. National representatives are often not held accountable for decisions and yet they have a wide discretion in their actions:
(W)ithin only a few minutes the committee rushes through five official votes related to the points discussed before lunch, and the meeting closes instantly. Then Van Veen [name replaced] turns to me and smiles: ‘You saw that? We just spent 50 million here’ (p. 29).
Like Gegout, Brandsma based his research on personal interviews with decision-makers in national bureaucracies - under the cover of anonymity.
For me, these two papers provide a check on decision-makers in the way in which investigative journalism puts a check on them. But they are published in a scientific journal and will only reach the academic community and a few students. In consequence, this check is confined to an elite community. Will any policy changes result from these articles? Is that the intention of the scientist? Does he intend to saw the chair of a decision-maker, or does he see himself as the person providing the saw? And if he wants to actively saw, do policy-makers feel more threatened by revolting scientists than by revolting masses (i.e. classical journalism)?
You could argue that an important function of the European blogosphere is to find the little flaws in European policy-making which slip through the filter of the MSM, thereby providing an additional check on policy-makers. Science has the resources to provide the same.
But it is not enough to debate hot scientific findings in the scientific community. In the interest of public accountability, I would like those discussions to reach the media and the blogging community as well.
Update (30 January 2011): Don't miss the interesting take on the topic by Kosmopolito. And his add-on published here (3 March 2011).