International Journal of Inactivism — Mindless Link Propagation section

  • 05:07:18 pm on September 18, 2009 | 0

    James Hrynyshyn says,

    On one side we have a long list of scientists who are known, and respected, by the wider public primarily because they have chosen to venture beyond the confines of the laboratory or the classroom into the realm of policy advocacy. Think Carl Sagan (nuclear winter), Sylvia Earle (marine conservation) or Albert Einstein (atomic warfare). On the other are a comparable list of lesser-known but accomplished academics who insist scientists should keep to the facts for fear of tarnishing the reputation of science itself as a neutral arbiter.

    An almost-recent paper in Conservation Biology (Conservation Biology, Volume 23, No. 5, 1090-1101 doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01250.x) that I’ve only now read examines the arguments for and against and finds almost all of them come up short. More recent events involving NASA’s James Hansen, who has clearly decided that advocacy is at least as important as his science, and drawn a fair amount of criticism for his participation in rallies against coal mining, getting arrested and wading into energy tax policy debates, makes the paper more relevant than ever.

    In “On Advocacy by Environmental Scientists: What, Whether, Why, and How,” Michael Nelson and John Vucetich of Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University, respectively, find a long list of what they conclude are specious arguments against the scientist-as-advocate. […]

    … sociological surveys indicate (Lach et al. 2003) that most of the attentive public either agree or strongly agree that scientists should “work closely with managers to integrate scientific results into management decisions,” and many representatives of special interests and the interested public are neutral or favorable about the idea. There is some reason to think that the reputation of scientists among the public is enhanced (or at least not harmed) when scientists advocate (Steel et al. 2004).


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