Wednesday, February 26, 2014

CON: Scientists should not be advocates:

The concept of scientists being advocates and the controversy that surrounds that has been around for decades. Many believe that scientists cannot be both advocates and still remain as scientists, because science is supposed to be an objective study. Scientists and advocates are two entirely separate roles, where one is conducting research and activities to gain knowledge, and the other is to push an agenda. There is not meant to be any bias in science that may affect the ending results, and scientists can lose professionalism if they become advocates and bias data or promote a certain itinerary.
Advocacy is defined by Merriam-Webster as a process by an individual or group that aims to influence public policy and support a cause or proposal decision within a social, political, or economic setting. This means that the person advocating something must take a strict side, and use research to sway the public and government official’s opinions about an issue. As a scientist, you no longer have an impartial point of view at this point. If a scientist was going into a research study knowing that their results would be brought before the government in hopes to change a cause, even if the scientist doesn’t want to actually bias the results, they might on accident and not even realize it. This may be resolved by using speakers to speak for the scientist’s research, so that that person can be an advocate while the scientist just found the set in stone data. This can remove the chance of bias if the scientist discovered something and then hired a representative speaker to advocate his or her results.
Scientists are held publically accountable for the work they do. Any research they publish can more and more be accessed now days from websites and other means on the Internet by common people in the public. Not only are resources such as this way more available tan they once were, but more people can easily access and read scientific data and articles and call a scientist out if they seem to be tampering with results or biasing a conclusion. This can be illustrated by the cigarette example in class. Scientists skewed and basically made up data that showed cigarettes made you prettier and weren’t bad for you at all. They were paid very generously by tobacco companies for these “findings”, and became advocates for smoking. With out the Internet, regular people in the public couldn’t access this data to disprove anything. At that time, there wasn’t much data out there on such things as smoking and the consequences such as lung cancer anyway, so every one believed the scientist’s findings for a long time. When the public learned they had been fooled, actions were taken to hold those said scientists publically accountable and they were fired.
Scientists  have also experienced being paid off to take a side or skew results, as shown in the Krimsky 2013 article. In the 1980s, social scientists compared the outcome measures of drug studies that were funded by government agencies and private companies. The scientists came under the “funding effect”, which is a situation were their results could be statically correlated with their funding resources in the drug studies. The scientists came under bias to receive a pay, and their chemical toxicity and tobacco research was skewed heavily. The scientists were thus driven by financial interests and did not compile real hard-fact data. They were trying to advocate something through biasing results in hopes to get a check.
Science is a neutral stance, while political systems and opinions alter and make everything opinionated and motives come into play. I don’t think scientists should be advocates because of the way science and advocacy is supposed to separately work, as it is in very different ways.

Krimsky, S. (2013). Do Financial Conflicts of Interest Bias Research?: An Inquiry into the “Funding Effect” Hypothesis. Science, Technology & Human Values, 38(4), pages 566-587.

Pro: Why Scientists Need a Voice in Policy Making

While science advocacy is not today's norm, I believe that it should grow into an accepted practice among policymakers. The biggest argument I heard in our class debate against scientists promoting advocacy is that they will let their biases and preconceptions cloud their judgment on the subject, end up corrupting results, and lead other policymakers that aren't scientifically gifted astray. A similar argument is presented in an article by Jake Price (2011), that science, and therefore scientists have to remain removed from the issue or their predispositions become a problem. While I can see that this is a worthy concern, it also seems like an ignorant one. 

All people are biased. And I know that by bringing that up, I sound like I shouldn't be supporting science advocacy, but here me out. All people are biased: politicians, teachers, janitors, policymakers, accountants, scientists. You can't ever escape bias, no matter hard you try, because it's what makes you unique. We learn bias from our families, friends, and environments; they are impossible to avoid. Since everyone is biased, wouldn't it be better to have someone involved who knows the science behind the policy, like a scientist, rather than just policymakers, who might not take the time or have the capacity to completely understand the results of any testing that was involved.

Additionally, it would be hard for a scientist to present corrupt results in a paper. Papers are reviewed multiple times in a double-blind edit by the scientist's peers. If their experiment, results, or conclusions don't make sense, the reviewer recommends that the scientist conduct more research and that the journal not publish the article. While scientists can be biased, science itself cannot. Results don't lie, and if science is done properly, the experiment leads to a logical conclusion. If a scientist tried to present something to their peers that wasn't completely supported by the results of their research, then the conclusions they made in that paper wouldn't be accepted. So rather than barring a scientist from policy making, perhaps policymakers should consider their own biases before more carefully before the scientists they work with. 

Rice, J. C. (2011). Advocacy science and fisheries decision-making. ICES Journal Of Marine Science / Journal Du Conseil68(10), 2007-2012.

Pro: Scientists as Educators and Citizens

Conservation biologists can be advocates. The word conservation means to preserve something for the future. That means the goal is to keep things like they are now. Therefore, the word conservation has a value connotation. If the word conservation itself contains a value judgment, then how could conservation biology not contain an inherent value judgment? A science having a value judgment is not as problematic as Kai Chan makes it out to be. If a science itself has a value bias, then the scientists working in that field naturally, will also hold that value. It should be easy to acknowledge that while people generally consider science unbiased or objective, all science holds at least one value in common—knowledge. Science and scientists strive to better understand the universe, that behavior represents a value. If we can acknowledge that physics has an inherent value system, we should also respect that conservation biology holds certain values, as labeled by the adjective conservation. Therefore we should regard conservation biologists as experts in the field of preserving the Earth’s natural resources and on the value of conservation.
As experts on conservation, conservation biologists have a duty to be advocates. Their role in the world is to study the world and better understand it. Knowledge must be shared, otherwise it would be lost. If we didn’t have scholarly journals scientific progress would almost never be made. Information informs our scientific processes and allows us to progress. Knowledge fuels progress, so if we want our society to make progress on conservation we should give society knowledge of conservation. With the extinction death clock ticking, it is vital that society make rapid conservation progress. In order to speed this progress along conservation biologists should be advocates, dutifully spreading information to the people and the powerful so that personal choices and policy can be informed by science.
It is dangerous to make uninformed decision about conservation. Public health can be endangered if the public is not informed about toxicology from oil spills and other pollution, disease outbreak in potential vector species and, in the long term, the collapse of our ecosystem would mean an end to ecosystem functions we rely on for food, clean water, breathable air and a hospitable climate. The policies that control how the government regulates corporations and individuals are written by elected officials who respond to the public’s demands. A public that is well informed about conservation issues will choose candidates who represent their views more accurately. Conservation biologists should help educate the public through free lectures and by helping journalists accurately represent science. If educating the public about current issues is considered advocacy, then, yes, scientists should be advocates.  
However, scientists should not be advocates that help write legislation. Scientists are not law experts and should not write laws. However, part of a scientist’s job is to spread knowledge. A scientist can come and give presentations to the legislators, state their scientific opinion, and encourage a discussion of the science where the representatives can ask questions or make their own points.
Scientists should also be able to act as advocates through social media, organizations or street protests. In all of these settings a conservation biologist could help spread accurate information to more people. Then people could make more informed judgments. If everyone has the right to free speech, congregation, and peaceful protest, then that “everyone” includes scientists. Uninformed opinions can be shared openly on the internet. To counteract that misinformation it should be important to have informed opinions of scientists shared too. Scientists don’t have to engage in any of these activities, but they can if they want to.

A key claim against advocacy is that it will make scientists biased, and that their political opinion will impact their work. Scientists are already trained not to be biased, but some scientists do go bad and try to spread misinformation, sometimes because their funding comes from a certain organization and they have a conflict of interests. However, scientists must state any conflict of interests at the end of their papers. 

Pro: If scientists don't advocate, who will?

Scientists need to advocate for their science. To put it simply, if the people who understand the situation best don't bring attention to it, who will? It could be argued that scientists do publish their findings, technically sharing it with the world that has the responsibility to do what they will. However, in reality these articles are published in scientific journals that the average citizen would have to pay an exorbitant amount to access. Citizens not trained in the jargon and specificity of certain scientific fields probably would not have the time and energy to decipher it anyways.

"With society moving toward a collapse, the idea that scientists, especially ecologists, should just do their work, present their data and not do any interpretation leads to the kind of imbecility we have in Washington today, where you have an entire Congress that is utterly clueless about how the natural world works," Paul Ehrlich said in a Stanford article.

Considering how many scientific journals there are, a pertinent piece of information could sit for years without being noticed by anyone outside of the scientific community. Even if it is noticed, the person or group discovering it most likely wants the information for their personal use and will pick quotes that support their own statements as opposed to sharing the scientists’ statements.

In a way, scientists who advocate for causes they discovered within their results are protecting the validity of the science itself by sharing the actual significance. This directly contrasts with the common opposition that advocacy compromises the credibility of the science.

“[Paul Ehrlich also] said that scientists, before they embark on a research project, should ask themselves, 'How, if my research yields all the results I'd hoped for, will it make any difference to the world?'" If an ecologist doesn’t speak up the object of their study may disappear. Their research may be used to save a species and with this type of problem, time is essential.

Bergeron, L. (2011, 8 11). Scientists must leave the ivory tower and become advocates, or civilization is endangered, says stanford biologist paul ehrlich.Stanford Report

Pro: Why Scientist Must Be Advocates

           The concept of scientists advocating for causes has caused an uproar all across the scientific community. Ironically, scientists just as partisan as the general public when it comes to picking sides. Many argue that scientists cannot consciously act as both scientists and advocates in fear of generating a bias for whichever cause they vouch for. For scientists, I personally do not believe that bias exists within true science and to suggest so would be to undermine the scientific method altogether. The mere formation of a hypothesis is an educated guess which would then, under the same assumptions, alter a scientist's ability to read, interpret, and produce anything objective because they'd "be looking for the results". This is not only narrow minded but has little to no actual data to suggest data tampering involved in scientific advocacy.

            The figure above gives what some may consider an accurate representation of climate scientists, while climate change is even more evident than ever. Popular media outlets have definitely noticed and pleaded for the cases of many conservationist causes. One that the west of this country is currently experiencing is a raging drought that is leaving plenty of cattle without enough grass to get through the summer (Baguskas, 2014). In fact, its supposed  to be the worst recorded drought in California in 119 years (Estes, 2014). Patterns like these cannot be overlooked but the only ones qualified to record, interpret, and advocate for these red flags are scientists.

             Similarly, leaps and bounds have been made in cancer research which is in direct opposition to the humongous tobacco industry. Back in the sixties and seventies before the afflictions brought on by smoking were made known to the public, there was already research going on towards lung cancer research. What they found was so compelling that it warranted taking up a a good chunk of every cigarette's packaging: that cigarettes have been directly involved in the manifestation of lung cancer (Chapman, 2008). If scientists were to abandon their roles as public advocates, then the potential risk of a threat being pushed to the wayside simply because its message was lost to the public within a peer reviewed article becomes that much greater. Scientists hold a moral obligation to advocate for their research if warranted, if not simply for the methods by which their research is funded generally by government grants. I find that I am firmly pro advocate.


             Baguskas, S. A. (2014). Evaluating spatial patterns of drought-induced tree mortality in a coastal california pine forest. Forest Ecology and Management,315, 43-53. Retrieved from

            Chapman, S. (2008). Public health advocacy and tobacco control: Making smoking history. (1 ed., pp. 11-70). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing. Retrieved from and public advocacy&ots=McEHOeq63y&sig=Ugjh1NIdQivxRTYlAHmfJVd0BfE

             Estes, A. (2014, February 26). How bad is california's drought. Retrieved from

Con: Scientists Should Not Be Advocates

I believe that scientists should not be advocates based on the nature of science and advocacy. First, the nature of science is empirical and objective. Oxford dictionary defines it as “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” In stark contrast to the systematic study involved in science, advocacy may be defined as “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.”
My argument is that scientists may be advocates, but they cannot be scientist and advocate at the same time. Take Climate Gate for example, a situation in which hundreds of emails between top climate scientists were hacked and spread throughout the internet (Revkin, 2009). While climate change is now a widely accepted view, at the time it was still very controversial. The scientists that believed in the concept of climate change integrity and empiricism were compromised from the data breach and they came under serious fire for the emails that conspired between them (Revkin, 2009). The biggest problem arose from emails discussing other scientists that were opposed to climate change and using “tricks” to make their statistics look a certain way (Revkin, 2009). Additionally, they called into question the work of scientists that opposed their view on climate change, even bringing up the idea to challenge their PhD (Revkin, 2009).

Clearly from this example, these scientists’ advocacy got in the way of the proper use of data and even made them behave with a sense of immaturity towards scientists who did not believe in their data. Instead of using the other scientists’ research to better their own, they chose to call in to question the education of scientists that opposed their view. In science opposing results create evidence for further investigation, therefore these scientists left the role of scientist and can no longer be considered the scientific advocates that they claimed to be.

Advocacy creates a need for moral, ethical, and political views to be involved to influence your position on a policy. Although science may be used concurrently with these other things, scientists should present any and all results and not tell policy makers how to make decisions. To be a scientific advocate one must leave the realm of systematic study and then can no longer be a scientist, but an advocate lobbying a specific position. In sum, scientists should not be advocates because there is an innate conflict between advocacy and the scientific communication of information and the concept of science itself, both key roles that scientists must fulfill.

Revkin, A. C. (2009) Hacked email is new fodder for climate dispute. The New York Times. Retrieved 
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Con: Scientists Can't be Advocates

Scientists Can't be Advocates!: In My Humble Opinion...

          I don't think scientists can also be advocates because it could make them biased or corrupt. If they are advocates for a cause and decide to do their own research, their results could be biased from the beginning. I say this because they might be looking more carefully for the results that they want to see or even tweak their data to fit their desired results more closely.  

        Another issue is that scientists being advocates could also make them corrupt. There have been so many cases where big companies (like the oil industry) that pay scientists to discredit other scientists work or tamper with their own work to please the company. Some argue that scientists are less likely to do this because it will ruin their name in their field, however, people do a lot of things for money so you still never know.    

^corrupt scientist/advocate 

Pro: Scientists, The Inherent Advocates

“The idea that science should be value-free is wrong.  Scientists must make value judgments all of the time, at the very least in the choice of projects, the choice of methods, and in the interpretation of results.  Scientists cannot avoid such judgments: being steeped in values is part of being human.” –Paul Erhlich

I believe not that scientists should be advocates, but that scientists are inherently advocates.  As the quote from Paul Erhlich states, science fundamentally has values put into it because scientists are human and part of being human is having values.  Thus, it is unavoidable for scientists to be advocates.   As Nelson and Vucetich (2009) state, this is especially true when the failure to advocate could lead to societal harm.  Protecting the public good and giving a voice to the voiceless is the responsibility as a citizen, not just as a scientist.  Nelson and Vucetich (2009) argue that scientists, “by virtue of being citizens first and scientists second, have a responsibility to advocate to the best of their abilities and in a justified and transparent manner.”  

This advocacy can take many forms, but perhaps the most important is the education of the public.  I believe that if scientists do not educate the public about facts then they are harming society.  A well informed public is one of the most powerful forces in policy making.  This is especially pertinent for conservation biology.  The time frame in which conservation biology works is much shorter than most disciplines. As Forbes (2011) states, “the critical challenge for policy in general, and for conservation policy in particular, remains in engaging the community and in building informed public judgement.”  Actively informing the public on environmental, conservation, and ecological information will lead to better policy making and decisions. This is due to the fact that everyone as citizens has a duty to protect the public good and a more scientifically aware person is more likely to do so.

A more informed public through advocacy by scientists can correct this present and prevent the possible future. 

While advocacy for science by scientists is important there are cases in which science is misused.  This ultimately and legitimately leads to the question, “Should science be purely objective in order to maintain integrity?” The answer is of course, yes, the integrity science should be protected, but the way to do this is not by delegating advocacy onto others, but rather the advocacy of science in the right manner.  One of the ways to better advocate science is to, “ensure science informs rather than inflames and the key issue for scientists and for science communicators is effective engagement with politicians, policy makers and the community” (Forbes, 2011).  Lack of effective communication hurts the public, the organism conservation efforts are trying to be focused on, and science advocacy as a whole.  Thus, it is important for scientists to invest their time into being effective communicators and in developing a relationship based on respect and understanding of their audience, in society generally and among policy makers specifically in order to make a better world for all (Forbes, 2011).  To conclude, problem is not should we or shouldn’t we advocate, because it is inherent in human nature that we should, but what is the best way in order to maintain integrity and benefit the common good. 

Forbes, S. (2011). Science and policy: valuing framing, language and listening. Botanical Journal Of The Linnean Society, 166(3), 217-226. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2011.01150.

Nelson, M. P., & Vucetich, J. A. (2009). On Advocacy by Environmental Scientists: What, Whether, Why, and How. Conservation Biology, 23(5), 1090-1101. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01250.