Scientists should not practice advocacy in terms of promoting particular policy goals for several reasons, including the fact that scientists are no less biased in the result they would like to see than other stakeholders, and that bias can jeopardize the important role of science in policy. Science is very important for policy as it informs the public and policy makers of the current state of the subject of the policy and can continue to study and inform as the policy is implemented to test effectiveness of a chosen policy goal. If scientists promote specific goals in some policies, they risk the reputation of science and the future of its potential impact on policy effectiveness. If, however, scientists perform their studies and share their results with other scientists and the public as they are taught, the results of the studies may speak for themselves, at least to different stakeholder groups.
For example, a study on the effects of the Deep Sea Horizon Oil Spill on a species of tuna, discussed in a February 2014 BBC article found that individuals present or developing during the oil spill experienced heart problems as a result (Amos 2014). The scientists involved in the study discovered the cause of the heart problems: the blocking of a key pathway for the development of the heart’s ability to beat correctly resulting from contact with polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the oil (Amos, 2014). They also suggested a further area of study based on these findings would be the effect on humans by PAHs in air pollution because the same pathway that leads to the heartbeat of the tuna is present in humans (Amos, 2014). The scientists in this study did not advocate for any specific policy such as reduction of fossil fuels, stricter car emission regulations, etc. In fact, it was the author of the article, not the quoted scientists who mentioned that car exhausts put PAHs into the air we breathe (Amos, 2014).
Despite the scientists merely stating the results of their study, there are many policy implications that other stakeholders can take from it and use to make recommendations that scientists can then study for effectiveness without risking science’s reputation. While it is important that scientists continue to study issues that are relevant to policy, and for other scientists to continue evaluating those studies and the science used in policy, that should their role. Such as role does not require the scientist to be an advocate at the same time, and in fact may be detrimentally affected if advocacy by the scientist is pursued.
Amos, J. (2014). Tuna hearts ‘affected by oil spill’. BBC News, 14 February. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26184116.
Skeptical Swedish Scientists Blog. Retrieved from http://skepticalswedishscientists.wordpress.com/scientific-method/.