Looking back at this section of the paper through today’s eyes.. I notice that both the Janzen and Soule’ quotes below were published in scientific journals, even though they are their own ideas pretty much about what’s wrong with humanity. Of course, Soule’ doesn’t like the idea that some people know that science is a sociological construct.. it interferes with the idea that they know more and should rule. Let me make this clear, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but when someone says “it’s in the peer-reviewed literature”, this is evidence that all kinds of questionable stuff makes it into the peer-reviewed literature. This is in a review journal, which is kind of like a scientist op-ed, which need not contain much “science”, as we shall see.
I was fairly surprised when I read this, though. Again, back when I learned how to be a scientist, (just past the dinosaur period), this would have been inappropriate for a “scientific” paper. If you’re interested in the cites, I will link to the whole paper after posting each section.
Selection in an academic environment has traditionally been focused on individual scientific achievements and less on work in teams where power is shared. Coupled with a lack of education of many biologists in policy studies, or any social science, for that matter, this can lead to a lack of appreciation for the policy process. Even conservation biology, which considers itself an interdisciplinary policy oriented field, has lacked social science in its curriculum (Noss, 1999). Perhaps this is the source of a lack of respect for the roles of social scientists, citizens and others who participate in the policy process.
For example: “Biologists are in charge of the future of tropical ecology. If the tropics of the world go under, biologists will have no one but themselves to blame. We can see very clearly what is happening, what will be the irreversible consequences for biology and humanity, and how the solutions must be constructed.”(Janzen, 1986). He goes on to say that “the driving force for the reduction of the tropical world is human selfishness, human numbers, human ignorance of its own needs, and the acquisitive nature of life itself applied at all levels.” Despite defining the problem as a basically social and cultural one, he goes on to add that “the true battle is to reprogram humanity to a different goal. The battle is being fought by many more kinds of professionals than just ecologists; however it is a battle over the control of interactions, and by definition, the person competent at recognizing, understanding and manipulating interactions is an ecologist.” The tendency to claim science as a foundation for the legitimacy of one’s perspective and then making statements about an area beyond the expertise of that science, that in fact is the area of a social science, seems rather contradictory, albeit common among some biologists. It is interesting and worthy of comment that the above statements were printed in the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, a scientific publication.
This claim for superior legitimacy of biologists in policy is echoed by Soule’ (1993) who critiques the “bureaucrats, technocrats, planners, development specialists, lawyers and economists, whose views often determine how governments decide to manage wildlands and biodiversity, or if they should be managed at all.” He goes on to describe some of their good points, but criticizes their lack of biological knowledge, their comfort with the idea that science is a social construct, and their urban backgrounds. Certainly science is a social construct, as is nature. There is a paradox in that scientific information is useful but it is not reality, and science is a social enterprise conducted by humans with all the comedy and tragedy that that entails. Several paragraphs before, Soule acknowledges that the best policy is a mix of science, economics, anthropology, sociology, and local native knowledge, if it still exists. While some would say that social sciences are also sciences (and that makes one wonder exactly what Soule’s definition of a science is), in fact, there are fields such as policy analysis and decision science which are specifically about policy and decisions. Why do some of our most prominent biologists appear to be unwilling to grant scientific legitimacy to social scientists? Why are they unwilling to allow that good policy comes from teamwork from people with different backgrounds? There are too many of these to cite, but particularly egregious are statements such as “the Endangered Species Act is scientifically sound” after a description of incentives, tax code and other issues traditionally the realm of social scientists (Eisner et al. 1995).
Sheila Jasanoff (1994) cites several cases of scientists who “Given a choice, tend to define problems in ecological terms, although other possible framings may coexist in the social domain. To the extent that their shared values promote boundary shifting (by allowing issues to be moved across the society-nature boundary from “politics” to “science”) it is tempting to interpret the values in question as nothing more than the overriding interest of scientists in enlarging the influence of science.” The recent Committee of Scientists report (1999), which predictably focuses the need for science to help make better decisions on public land management and planning. No one would argue that a basis of science is good. However, since scientific information is a product of funding, one must ask the question “does science as used in the process inform citizens in the democratic process or establish a system of experts that (necessarily or not) does an end run around democracy?” Probably due to the lack of social scientists in natural resource departments, these questions remain mostly unexamined. Lee (1994) addresses this question and Profeta (1996) discusses the role of laypeople compared to experts in determining risk. Once again, there is a paradox, by trying to dominate and advocate in the name of science, trust and credibility, the long run chips at the policy table, may be lost long before the stakes get high.