Scientists are faced with a challenging predicament when it comes to whether they should be public policy advocates. In my opinion, scientists should advocate for policies that pertain to their field of expertise. Scientists possess important knowledge and research within their field of study, and, as such, it is their role in the policy decision-making process to provide this information effectively to the public. Following a standard scientific procedure involves collecting and analyzing data found during research, and, providing recommendations for future studies. If scientists only provided the facts, without providing more meaningful implications behind them, they would be omitting viable suggestions that could benefit future studies. In the same way, when scientists relay their work so that a nonscientific audience can understand it, they must also provide suggestions for how their findings can influence public policy. Issues arise when scientists try to address concepts outside of their range of research without informing their audience that they are no longer basing their response on scientific fact.
Some scientists fear advocating their position in public policy sets them at high risk for losing their credibility within the scientific community. But, if research is presented in an unbiased way, and, data has not been skewed, elaborating on their findings according to how its successes influence policy decisions will not cause the loss of credibility, as long as accurate reasoning is used to back each claim. If scientists are open and honest about when they are referring to scientific fact and when they are offering their own personal views, credibility will not be questioned (Rykiel, 2001). Scientists have an obligation to articulate their work to the public in this way to carry their research further, especially those involved in environmental sustainability.
As our world continues to advance technologically, scientists need to find a way to make their research findings more accessible to the rest of the world. In addition, as experts in their particular field, they must be able to communicate their knowledge with the rest of society effectively and be open about any uncertainties in their findings. It is crucial when scientists are providing this information to the public that they are clear about whether they are talking about actual scientific findings and facts, or, whether they are referring to their own suggestions and opinions on the issue at hand (Scott & Rachlow, 2006).
Certain fields of study, such as conservation biology, have applications that extend beyond the scientific process. When there is disconnect between management decisions and biologists who are experts on the matter, it stresses the importance for the scientist to take the initiative and become involved in environmental conservation decisions. In order to be effective policy advocates, scientists must incorporate accurate education for the public and keep in mind their scientific responsibilities so they can be sure that they are not presenting biased or inaccurate information.
Rykiel, E. J., Jr. 2001. Scientific objectivity, value systems, and policy-making. BioScience 51:433–436.
Scott, J. M., and J. L. Rachlow. 2006. Science, policy, and scientists. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 4:68–68.