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News Release – Oregon State University – Science on a Path to Irrelevance?

Oregon State University Professor Robert Lackey presented a plenary address at the 2018 Annual Convention of the Society of American Foresters held in Portland, Oregon.   Lackey challenged the audience of natural resource professionals to eliminate the increasingly common occurrence of “advocacy masquerading as science” in scientific publications and presentations.  He pointed out that people expect that scientific information provided by interest and advocacy groups is infused with policy preferences.   And, for many people these days, he noted, the same skepticism exists for media-provided science.  Increasingly, however, public skepticism has extended to scientists themselves.  Such skepticism creates the unhealthy situation where many people view scientists themselves as just another policy advocacy group.

Lackey went on to argue that presenting policy-biased on policy issues is not only a misuse of science, but it is insidious because the reader or listener is often unaware of the hidden policy slant.  Public confidence that scientific information is technically accurate, policy relevant, and politically unbiased is central to informed resolution of natural resource policy and management issues.

Lackey concluded by recognizing that science should remain a cornerstone of public policy decisions about natural resource issues.  He encouraged scientists to become involved with policy issues, but stick to the proper role of science

A transcript of the Dr. Lackey’s plenary lecture is available by clicking here.

Is Science on a Path to Irrelevance in Policy and Management?

Robert T. Lackey
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon 97331
[email protected]

Abstract

            People typically expect that scientific information provided by interest and advocacy groups is infused with policy preferences, and for many people, the same skepticism exists for media-provided science.  Increasingly, however, public skepticism has extended to scientists themselves (i.e., the prevalence of “advocacy masquerading as science”).  Even some experienced managers and policy makers (i.e., knowledgeable “consumers of science”) fail to recognize policy bias when it is presented under the guise of scientific information.  For example, a policy bias toward “natural” or “pristine” ecosystems (i.e., those ecosystems unaffected by humans) is a common misuse of science in natural resource management.  Using such “science” (i.e., normative science) in policy deliberations is not only a misuse of science, it is insidious because the consumer of the information is often unaware of the hidden policy slant.  Public confidence that scientific information is technically accurate, policy relevant, and politically unbiased is central to informed resolution of natural resource policy and management issues that are often contentious, divisive, and litigious.  Science must remain a cornerstone of public policy decisions about natural resource issues, but I offer cautionary guidance to scientists:  become involved with policy issues, but play the proper role.