The Citizens’ Jury

I am in the process of interviewing Professor Tim Flannery by email, for an article in Earth Garden magazine. The result of our conversation should appear in the August, 2018 issue.

Tim Flannery is one of the heroes of the Australian, and even global, climate change action movement. His has been one of the most effective voices for rational reliance on science, for engaging in vigorous, positive action based on evidence.

One concept he is keen on is the “citizens’ jury” as a means for establishing public policy, including for matters such as taxation; generally for the matters politicians argue over, at least when they are doing their job rather than knifing each other.

Not being familiar with the concept, I looked it up Wikipedia, and found a 2002 scientific review of the process by Tom Wakeford.

“Like a legal jury, the cornerstone of a citizens’ jury is the belief that once a small sample of a population have heard the evidence, their subsequent deliberations can fairly represent the conscience and intelligence of the community. This age-old reasoning contrasts with today’s most common quantitative and qualitative methods for representing the public’s views: the opinion poll and the focus group.”

As with a jury in a criminal trial, you select a random group of people, e.g., from an electoral roll. They cross-examine expert witnesses presenting all sides of an issue, and attempt to reach a decision. Typically, they need not reach unanimity, but are expected to generate wise guide for action.

In an opinion poll or focus group, you find out what people believe. In contrast, the essence of the jury is for this group to find out what the facts are, by thoughtfully considering the opinions of experts, and other relevant evidence.

Would this work? Well, we’ve been entrusting such small groups of people with life and death matters on an individual basis. Why should matters of policy be different?

I’m interested in your opinion on the matter.

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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8 Responses to The Citizens’ Jury

  1. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Florence, as usual we are in agreement. And there are African-Americans on death row, or executed, or “merely” serving long jail sentences because a jury was racially prejudiced. But Tim Flannery’s point is that convincing a small group of citizens is easier than moving the actions of politicians and their cronies who have been bought by vested interests.
    Can’t be worse than what you’ve described, which is what we have now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Florence Weinberg says:

    Our problem here in the USA is that the Citizens’ Jury is presented with counter-science. The facts of climate change are clear and well known, but certain “scientists” are paid to point out that “there is still uncertainty. Natural climate disruptions cause climate change. Take for example. the Ice Age. That happened without human intervention, hence we can sit back, pollute, gorge ourselves, and watch all the fish in the sea die, all the wildlife on earth die, most plant life die–and it’s just another manifestation of nature.” Unfortunately, a large percentage of the jury will fall for arguments like that. They admit climate change, but human agency? Nooooo..
    We can just keep on repeating–and acting on–the truth.

    Florence Weinberg.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you for the comment, Florence.
      Currently, there are several court cases in the USA, some by/on behalf of young people, where a court of law is examining the evidence regarding climate change. Truth is going to win there.
      Also, there are several civil actions against big oil companies. Arnold S. intends to add another one, and good for him.
      I am optimistic that even in countries with dinosaur governments like Australia and the USA, experts like Mike Hansen and Tim Flannery would run rings around the false ones.


      • Florence Weinberg says:

        I’ve tried twice to reply and both times the system somehow refused to recognize me and erased my words. Here goes a third try.
        Yes, Hansen and Flannery and a host of other scientists run rings around the false ones, but that matters little when FOX News has a death grip on most of Texan listeners. The truth is simply brushed aside as fake news, as hateful propaganda against our peerless leader. Even truth-telling TV (CNN, MSNBC, for example) are preoccupied with the Stormy Daniels scandal and the recent White House firings, while Scott Pruitt of EPA is quietly okaying oil pipe lines, killing environmental regulations, cutting national parks in half, allowing clear cutting and oil drilling in them and along our coast lines, all on the QT. He’s undoing environmental regulation that took at least three administrations from Clinton through Obama to create, and few are noticing. Will we stop this in time? Will we stop it at all??

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Well, Trev, depends on what the jury is tasked with. Suppose it is to choose between three different ways of spending money on reducing traffic congestion in Sydney…


  4. mybooknks1 says:

    Our democracy entitles everyone to have an opinion. The problem is that every person believes theirs’ to be the only correct one. Anecdotal information can be proven correct, just as science sometimes gets it wrong. However, I believe that on balance we should put our support behind adopting the best that science can provide… provided that such science includes investigating the means of reducing the world’s burgeoning population. Pragmatically achieve that objective and control of a vast array of our current climate, poverty, social, religious and economic issues will surely (logically?) follow.

    Trevor Tucker.


  5. pendantry says:

    That’s a good thought. The result couldn’t be any worse than the nonsensical powerplays we’re currently obliged to endure — and could be a good deal better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      My thought also. The point is that their task is seeking information, and they are in no position to be bribed.
      At the same time, each will have preexisting prejudices, so the selection process should be designed to have these varied. In a criminal trial, the two lawyers take part in the jury selection process. What’s the equivalent?

      Liked by 1 person

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