Conclusion

Sound science is an essential element in sound decision making, but science alone cannot solve problems. Lack of knowledge about the natural world is not the principal limiting factor in dealing with the problems that confront us [30]. There certainly are significant gaps in our scientific knowledge, but we do not seem to be doing a good job of translating the considerable amount of basic knowledge that we do have into policy and action; as Sarewitz had argued, "the capacity of science to provide predictive information that serves the needs of policy makers has yet to be demonstrated" [12]. Science, commonly in the form of a quantitative model, may point to a particular set of management actions as appropriate. However, the science provides little insight into the implement-ability of those actions. Sarewitz identifies the two principal roles for science in environmental controversies as being diagnosis and assessment rather than choice of actions.

It is not facts that convince people who are not experts in a given area; instead, they accept or reject information based on their evaluation of the people who deliver that information. For trust to develop, there needs to be an ongoing dialogue between the information providers (scientific researchers and other technical experts) and the other participants (decision makers, managers, stakeholders, citizens). A dialogue is a two-way exchange, a give-and-take in which both sides learn from each other. Typically, however, information flows in only one direction, from the scientists and technical experts towards the decision makers and managers. As a result, the information all too often does not answer the most pressing questions, is in a form that does not convey meaning to the participants, and does not get to the people who need it in time to be of use. Cash and colleagues point out that scientific information is only likely to influence public perceptions and policy development to the extent that the information is perceived to be not only credible, but also salient and legitimate [70]. The common failure of technical experts to address one or more of these three criteria results in production of information and recommendations that gather dust on shelves and that are not followed up on—a waste of resources that is frustrating to experts, decision makers and citizens alike.

Scientists are also citizens, and thus have just as much (but no more) of a say as other citizens regarding value judgments that must be made. What scientists are in a unique position to provide is insights into the strengths and limitations of scientific knowledge, and training in recognizing when science is being misused or misinterpreted. Cortner argues that a new approach to the practice of science requires a rethinking of the traditional debate about advocacy and its relationship to public policy [22]. I believe that scientists can and should be advocates for the process of integrating sound science into policy making, without endorsing one particular opinion over another.

Negotiating Essentials

Negotiating Essentials

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