Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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. 


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