This paper from Lackey’s plenary session at the recent SAF 2018 Convention in Portland is well worth reading in its entirety. Lackey has a variety of real world experience in environmental science and policy, forests and fish in Oregon, for those who are not familiar with his work.
Lackey raises many points worth examining. Many people don’t trust scientists generally as voices of authority. Based on the ideological proclivities of university folks (seen in studies), could we expect them to design and carry out unbiased studies? Can choices of research priorities be carried out in an unbiased way by biased people? What about ways to mediate these impacts like co-production, co-design and extended peer review (as noted by Sir Peter Gluckman here).
Do these biases lead to an imbedded assumption in research studies that “natural is better”? If it is, shouldn’t we be discussing that openly in a forum of all disciplines and people that may be involved or impacted? If we really believe that, what does it say about human beings.. we are pretty much cockroaches in the kitchen of the planet? Ultimately those are not scientific beliefs, those are about what humankind is about- philosophical or metaphysical, depending on your worldview.
I’m not saying “natural” isn’t better, but there are different reasons that it might be better or not and those reasons could be important to policy. Further, with the climate changing, if we impute greater than 50% of the reason for climate change to human forces (at the risk of not, and seeming to be Zinkean or Pruittesque), then nothing will really be “natural” in the original sense. Where does that leave us policy-wise (we can already see this playing out in some ESA discussions)?
Here’s a quote related to that point:
Is Our Science Biased Toward Natural?”
A simple question, but I’m working in academia these days, so a straightforward yes or no will not suffice.
To start, put on your science hat, and be honest here, imagine that the public owns a 5,000 acre stand of old growth fir. Is preserving this stand of old growth preferable to removing the trees and building a destination resort and golf course on the same 5,000 acres?
It is not! At least not without assuming, perhaps unwittingly, a policy preference, a value choice. The result? A classic example of normative science.
It may look like a scientific statement. It may sound like a scientific statement. It is often presented by people who we assume to be operating as scientists. But such statements in science are nothing more than policy advocacy masquerading as science.
Anyway, there’s plenty of discussion fodder in this paper, so have at it!