Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pro: Scientists should be advocates for policy making

By definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, advocacy is the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal. I argue that scientists should be advocates for policy making. In doing so, they can influence policies that shape science, such as funding decisions. According to Chan (2008), scientists are “obligated to step well beyond research and even recommend particular solutions to policy goals.” The key word in the following statement is recommendation. My argument doesn’t mean that scientists themselves should be the ones formulating or creating the actual policy. That would be the job of a politician or policy maker. Instead, scientists should be advocators because “politicians and government institutions either misrepresent or ignore scientific findings and conclusions” (Karr, 2006) and the purpose of science in policies should be to inform policy-makers about the relevant science for an issue they are considering, once again only recommending specific policy outcomes. Scientists hold the unique information that is important to relay to the public.
Others may disagree that scientists shouldn't be advocates because they can be subjective in interpreting their results, but I have an explanation that works against that idea. Most, if not all, scientific articles that are published in popular journals can only be published after number peer edits from others who were a part of the study being reviewed. If any misconception, biased, or subjective tone or information is portrayed, an editor will immediately reject the article and ask for revisions. However, if it passes one editor, it then has to be reviewed by another, this is not always the case, but it happens frequently.  By the time an article gets published, it has been reviewed numerous times by non-objective scientists in the same field as the researcher publishing the piece.
Conservation biology is a growing field that has not been very developed and difficult to grasp because it can be a very dense field. With its popularity increasing, it is important that the public understands the science behind the findings. Who better than the scientist to interpret their results to the general public in a way that is both comprehensible and can lead to implications that lead to conservation?  Research is typically funded by vast sums of money that goes to academic and government research, so the information that is produced in labs or by scientists is for the public. The public owns this information. It is their tax dollars that are helping fund these projects. However, reviewing scientific articles has been made very difficult for the general public because most journals require a fee in order to review the articles published. It is no wonder that the public relies on news stations and reporters to relay scientific information and implications of their results. A con that I foresee with news reports is that they leave out critical information. They themselves make scientific findings subjective. This is why we need scientists that are advocators because if we don’t have assertive people, the general public will be given the wrong information and then influenced to vote for a policy that won’t even be beneficial to the ecosystem or problem at hand.
 So I ask, if this be the case, who is more biased or subjective, a scientist trying to advocate correct information or a news reporter that relays incorrect information? If scientists didn’t advocate, we would have evidence out there that is incorrect or not plausible. It would be deceit. I then ask, what would be the point of doing research if a scientist wasn’t allowed to communicate or recommend solutions the proposed problems? Scientists publish and write about their research in order to communicate to others. However, science is a subject that is not easily understood by everyone, like policy makers. Therefore, it is an obligation of a scientist to follow up that their research is being conveyed in the correct manner. That may appear biased or unethical or probably shouldn’t be the job of the scientist to do, but it also isn’t the role of a policy maker to just implement a policy about a conservation issue that they didn’t research themselves or understand.If a scientists can keep an open mind and separate the role of a scientist from the role of an advocator, I believe this will be beneficial in constructing good and accurate policies.

Chan, K. M. A. (2008). Value and Advocacy in Conservation Biology: Crisis Discipline or Discipline in Crisis?. Conservation Biology, 22(1), 1-3. 

Karr, J. R. (2006). When Government Ignores Science, Scientists Should Speak Up. BioScience, 56(4), 287-288.  


  1. I agree with you. Scientists that aren't allowed to voice their opinion is the same as a teacher not allowed to share their opinion on a said topic. Published articles are usually unbiased due to the strictness of the editors and even if some hint of bias does get through, the consensus findings for multiple articles on the same topic could eliminate that problem. If a problem identified by scientists that could have a negative impact on the future of conservation for example, it should be voiced because they're the experts and if they don't speak up, other people might not identify the problem until it is too late. The difference in being an advocate and a debater is that the advocates don't try to win you over, simply showing support for a policy and voicing their opinions- why should there be a problem with that if it's their opinion? It's not like what they say will be the policy without any discussion.

  2. I believe this sums up many of the key aspects as to why scientists should be advocates. One of the points I strongly agree with is that scientists are experts in their field of work and so should be the ones to ensure that their findings are communicated to the public clearly and accurately. The general public does not know how to interpret scientific data and analyze results, and I believe it should be up to the scientists to make sure their work is understood in order to make an impact on our world. If information is just presented without any implications for the future, or. ideas as to how findings can benefit public policy, then it is in a sense meaningless information, because it will not be applied to the ways in which it can benefit other fields of work and the overall quality of the world we live in. I also agree that if the scientists remains objective in presenting scientific fact and research and then provides the public with the understanding that their suggestions are based on their expert opinion within their field, there should be no negative impacts on public policy.