Wednesday, February 26, 2014

PRO: scientists for advocates (Xitong Wu)

Advocacy, as defined by the Webster dictionary, is the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal (1). Based on that definition I believe scientists should be able to advocate for policies that are related to their research and field of expertise. Although their research is supposed to remain neutral, scientists, just like other politicians have opinions on certain policies. Policy is made by a consensus agreement on what should be done concerning an issue based on the facts presented. Being experts in the field, scientists understand the facts and the consequences of certain actions better than those with a lesser understanding. After educating the policy makers on what is happening and the data found in the research through unbiased (as much as possible) facts, the scientists should have a recommendation, or advocate for what they believe is the right choice of action due to their expertise. The concern for scientists advocating is that the facts and data may be skewed to support the scientist's bias; however, if multiple scientists (preferably from different research teams in the same area of topic) are allowed to present the facts and data, bias should be weakened by the majority. 
There are instances when findings and recommendations by scientists have been ignored, which resulted in consequences that could have been prevented or dampened if words of scientists weren't ignored (2).
Everyone has bias towards an issue and scientists are no exception. However, because scientists are the ones who have researched the topic, they are more qualified than not to be able to advocate for the said proposal. As long as the facts presented are kept in check by a group of unrelated scientists, the issue of bias should be avoided, thus scientists basically serve as extra policy makers who have expertise in the field. If they give unbias facts and separate the facts from their opinions and recommendations, their credibility should remain intact as they aren't forcing their views onto others (3).  

2). Karr, J. R. (2006). When Government Ignores Science, Scientists Should Speak Up. BioScience, 56(4), 287-288.  
3). Rykiel, E. J., Jr. 2001. Scientific objectivity, value systems, and policy-making. BioScience 51:433–436.

1 comment:

  1. It is impossible to be neutral on a subject that a person researches because they are interested in that area for a reason, whether it be for a personal interests, science, or career advancement. With that being said, scientists who are advocates should openly identify themselves as advocates. The problem with scientists as advocates is the system of accountability. Policy makers and politicians are held accountable by the public. The people can always vote them out in the next election. When it comes to scientists, who will hold them accountable? Yes other scientists can peer review their works but what about a scientist's policy preference? Ultimately, it is the public who will have to pay for a scientist's policy mistakes through taxes, bailouts, or loss economic opportunities.