Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Scientist Should Be Advocates: Scientist Can Play a Role in Developing Sound Policies

Scientist should feel free to be advocates, especially when concerning influential ideas and decisions.  While scientists should always maintain objectivity when performing experiments or research, this objectivity should not transfer over to their every day lives.  Scientists should be active within their community in advocating smart decisions and beliefs based on scientific principle.

Scientists acting as advocates can help support policies that could improve the world.  A common topic where scientists are now taking more direct approach is in environmental policy.  Environmental scientists are, naturally, more aware of what actions could benefit or hurt both humans and the rest of the environment when it comes to policy decisions.  Policy makers often lack scientific background and a proper understanding of many topics and typically have their own, very biased agenda they want to follow.  One study found that academic criteria can reduce the amount of advocacy seen in scientists with Meyer et. al. stating that "academic environmental scientist could play a more substantial role in developing sound environmental policies if the criteria for success in academic institutions...recognized the challenged in making science relevant to policy" (2010, p. 305).  While science is objective, the people who work in science should support scientific findings and advocate for decisions that take into account these findings.

While scientific advocacy can take negative forms, as long as scientists remain reasonable and open minded in expressing their beliefs and keep advocacy separate from scientific research, the world will benefit from people with strong backgrounds in science being active in policy and policy development.

Judy L Meyer, Peter C Frumhoff, Steven P Hamburg, and Carlos de la Rosa 2010. Above the din but in the fray: environmental scientists as effective advocates. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 8: 299–305. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/090143


  1. I agree that scientists often have more knowledge regarding topics such as environmental issues then policy makers. However, how would the findings be presented in their entirety. One key issue with environmental policy is there are often many component and groups that have interests in matters. Due to this complexity, how would the policies be developed that are devoid of bias and meet the full needs of the environmental issue as often the areas of what appears to be the most pressing concern are given precedence not only by lawmakers but also scientists advocating a particular issue.

    1. When you think about it, no decision is truly void of bias. If anything, scientist who wish to be advocates can do so and those who wish to remain objective can critique the ones involved in things like policy making, although this is similar to our current state of policy makers being critiqued by scientists. If anything, "pseudo" scientist advocates should exist who focus only on informing people as completely and accurately as possible. They could be a public figure who states the facts and then, if (s)he so chooses, follow up with their own personal opinion on plan of action, etc.

  2. I agree with the following argument you made. Scientists are the ones who have the possibility of being the most influential advocates because they have acquired the main points and important data that is necessary to make implications in regards to policy making. Although the opposing argument is made that scientists are biased, and that could definitely be the case, I think that if scientists separate the role of advocate from scientist, that leaves little room for subjectivity. If at all the two views collide, the best thing a scientist can do is advocate in recommending policies they should host lectures and meetings with politicians that point out crucial implications for policies in hopes of recommendation of their interpretation.

  3. It's a little unclear what method or type of advocacy you are suggesting in relation to policymaking. Where in the process would the scientists take part?