Science for science, for environment, or society?: The role of science in environmental managementAlterra Sanchez, Stephanie Barletta ·
Alterra Sanchez and Stephanie Barletta
Environmental management is much more than using science to solve a problem, if only it were that easy! If a lake is becoming eutrophic because of nutrient input due to nearby farming, the answer would be to not allow the farmers to use as much fertilizer; easy, problem solved, right? Unfortunately, no. The farmers might already be using the minimum amount of fertilizer, or they might not care (or understand) and as an environmental manager you cannot order the farmers to change.
Environmental management is a complex conglomeration of science, politics, economics, sociology, and psychology. This is because by managing the environment, you are attempting to manage what people do in the environment. Then, environmental management is not exclusively a science, science is just one of the main tools used by managers. So, what is the role of science in environmental management? Are scientists merely the supplier of data or should they take part in the actual “managing?”
Before we can answer that question, I think we have to define what science is, or rather the point of science. Most people would agree that science can be useful (like helping to restore a lake), but whether the point of science is to be useful is a more contentious topic. According to Donald Stokes there are three types of research, which can be visualized by Pasteur’s Quadrant1. Research that is about discovery (or “a quest for fundamental understanding” about the universe) with little application is in Bohr’s Quadrant; named after the famous physicist Neils Bohr who studied quantum theory. Bohr's Quadrant research is also called ‘basic research’ or ‘pure science.’ Basic research that has some use or can eventually be applied for a use is in Pasteur’s Quadrant; named after Louis Pasteur who demonstrated that fermentation was caused by bacteria, which led to discoveries about vaccination. Finally, research that is not at all about unraveling the mysteries of the universe, but about using the information for a specific application is in Edison’s Quadrant; named after Thomas Edison who invented the electric light bulb and was more of a businessman-inventor than a scientist.
If science is done just for the sake of science (Bohr), then scientists have no place in management and are simply data-creators. If the research is designed, for example, to figure out how lake trout respond to eutrophication (Edison), than the scientists would need a place among management. They alone would have the knowledge/understanding of the system to adequately explain to farmers how and why the trout are being effected by nutrient runoff, and help decision-makers make new policies. However, it’s not always that simple, like with Pasteur, sometimes research creates unintended ‘useful’ information. Are researchers obligated to share these results with politicians and the public? Or is depositing this information into scholarly journals, where decision-makers could find the information if they needed, enough?
In everyday-practice, environmental management is not really about the science: it’s about being able to continue using a resource (that has value to someone), while also not interfering with anyone’s life/business/religious practices by managing this resource. The science, then, might not agree with a politician’s world view, or a community’s cultural practices, or they simply might not care. Should scientists try to explain why science is instrumental in helping the environment? Well, there are four ways of responding, and in everyday-practice they are not always distinct, but they are the Four Idealized Modes of Engagement.
Pure scientists are like Bohr, have no interest in the utility of their research and have no connection to politics2. A science arbiter is also not connected to policy and does not wish to become involved in creating policy, but understands that decision-makers might need clarification from experts2. The issue advocate, however, has an agenda and is trying to effect policy change through science; they are engaged in policy making2. Finally, there is the honest broker. Like the issue advocate they are active in the decision making process, however they are not trying to advance a particular stand on an issue2. The goal of the honest broker, instead, is to expand the number of options the decision-maker has of the science. An important distinction here is that though the honest broker does not have a specific agenda, they do want the decision-maker to have as much knowledge as possible, and to use scientific knowledge to create policy, regardless of the action taken.
It might seem to some that an honest broker, and especially an issue advocate, isn’t doing science at that point, but playing politics. Even the honest broker, though they are offering “all of the facts,” still has to try to get the decision-maker (or the public) to care about science in general before they will listen. How do you get them to care? Usually through things that they are interested in, they care about, or will make them money. If you are trying to get someone to listen through their emotions or monetarily, is being an honest broker possible? Through the process of getting them to “care” about science, can you objectively present “all of the facts?” This where the concept of stealth issue advocacy comes in. A stealth issue advocate claims to be “only about the science,” but really has an agenda2. Sometimes, however, they might not even be aware that they are a stealth issue advocate as they seek to try and get decision-makers and the public to understand, and care, about the science involved with their issue.
Environmental management is a socio-economic problem, not just a scientific one. That, however, is the point: in reality science plays but one role in the management of natural systems, but it is vital. Science provides the data to make informed decisions. How and if the uninformed become informed, is, unfortunately, a question for the decision-maker and the scientist.
1. Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteur's quadrant: Basic science and technological innovation. Brookings Institution Press.
2. Pielke Jr, R. A. (2007). The honest broker: making sense of science in policy and politics. Cambridge University Press.