The main role for researchers in applied science is to provide papers and other information that people can use. In my analogy, they produce information to be used by someone- they blow out information and can’t necessarily control where it lands or how, or if it is used.
The main role for what we might call Extension-like activities, Forest Service folks in State and Private (nurseries, pathology and entomology), and experts in the National Forests (from fish and wildlife bios to social scientists) is to sift through piles of research provided by researchers and use that to advice landowners or others making decisions about forests. They search out information and try to make sense of all the different studies and approaches, in light of the needs of the people they work for. For the lack of a better term, I’ll put them all into one category- SSME’s or science subject matter experts. They vacuum up information from a variety of sources, as opposed to producing it.
Their roles are equally important, and complementary. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in psychology to figure out, though, that there might be disagreements and tensions (turf battles) between people in these somewhat overlapping roles. In some federal organizations, it has led to frustration as practitioners sometimes want to find out things, but they are not allowed to do research (based on their funding) and whatever they want to test looks like research to someone, so they are told they can’t do it. Basically they are told that their questions are not important enough to be funded as research, but are too “researchy” for the practitioners to do. Like any other field of activity, overlapping roles works well when people see eye to eye- not so much when they don’t.
Both groups are trained in their field. Many in the SSME world have Ph.D.’s and most have master’s. Many researchers also, through their own personalities, or with some encouragement from their institutions, also do this kind of extension-like work. In the past, there has been a tendency for people funded to do research to look down on people doing extension-like activities. In fact, some folks don’t even seem to know that they exist.
Here’s one story- in the mid 90’s I worked in Forest Service Research and Development and I was one of a team working on improving the linkages between science and management. Here’s a link to a copy of the report from 1995- “Navigating into the Future: Rensselaerville Roundtable: Integrating Science and Policymaking.”
As hard as I tried – my experience showing that SSME’s were the critical people to getting the best science into management- SSME’s were basically invisible in this document (I did get two paragraphs, titled Technical Specialists, on page 9. It was all about how researchers and decision-makers needed to work together- guidelines for improving the institutional coordination. you will understand how perhaps the emphasis on researchers doing SSME work left a gaping hole in acknowledging support for “real” SSME’s.
I don’t know that this is general or my own experience. When I started with the Forest Service in the late 70’s, my expertise was supported to the tune of financial support for a post-doc at North Carolina State. By the end of my career (when I was Planning Director) I was told that I could not be on government time, nor give a government affiliation in the program, to give a talk at an SAF meeting when the invitation came with travel. I don’t think it was all intentionally against the Forest Services being better at science, there was just a “shouldn’t travel” factor that rose and fell in importance randomly. Of all the Chiefs, Jack Ward Thomas was the one who really cared about promoting that kind of expertise. I couldn’t find a link to his idea of promoting professionalism by leaving experts in place and able to increase their pay.
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