[Coral-List] Science and advocacy

Steve Kolian stevekolian at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 2 16:39:34 EDT 2012

Funny...at leaste I think its funny.


Best Regards,

Steve Kolian
225-910-0304 cell
 > Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2012 16:07:19 -0400
> To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> From: eshinn at marine.usf.edu
> Subject: [Coral-List] Science and advocacy
>      There has been much discussion on the subject 
> of "agenda-driven/advocacy" science. Doug Fenner 
> pretty much led the discussion with an excellent 
> essay revealing its complexities (Vol 47, Issue 
> 18). It is indeed difficult to see clear 
> distinctions between agenda-driven and 
> non-agenda-driven science. It seems every subject 
> has an agenda and an advocate. Everyone, 
> including business or government agencies, has an 
> agenda that may be obvious or disguised. The only 
> clear distinctions are between basic unfunded 
> science (which in itself usually has its own 
> agendas) and applied science, which by its very 
> nature must have an agenda. We often hide our 
> agendas by calling them "hypothesis testing," but 
> of course the hypothesis can be considered 
> someone's personal agenda.
>       Applied science is usually aimed at solving 
> a problem for a client. It's my observation that 
> if the problem is environmental, the client 
> usually gets what he or she pays for. Interpret 
> that anyway you like. But it's usually a clean 
> bill of health. In most cases, laws and 
> regulations mandated by Federal, State, or County 
> agencies require such studies.  They are required 
> before a person, business, or agency can proceed 
> with a proposed project that is perceived to have 
> environmental impact. Examples include nourishing 
> beaches, building bridges, or drilling wells, 
> etc. Who conducts the study usually has to be 
> either a state or federally certified operator or 
> be employed by a university. The researcher 
> conducting the study may also legally do the 
> study if employed by a Federal, State, or County 
> agency. When the researcher is a government 
> employee (whether Federal or State), it is 
> usually required that he or she be employed by an 
> agency different from the one requiring the work, 
> a good way to spread the blame or praise.
>       It is generally considered a conflict of 
> interest if the researcher is an employee of the 
> same agency for which the research is being 
> conducted.  Unfortunately, such conflicts of 
> interest are not uncommon. But the situation can 
> become even more convoluted. Even if the 
> researcher is not employed by the agency 
> requiring the work, the agency can still 
> influence research results. For example, suppose 
> Agency "A" puts out a request for research (RFP). 
> The researcher at Agency "B" (or university) will 
> have a pretty good feeling for what will be 
> funded and what will not be funded. The way the 
> RFP is written usually spells out the needs. The 
> agency putting up the money further influences 
> what they get by selecting the proposals that 
> best suit their needs and rejecting those that do 
> not. A committee usually makes the 
> determinations. This is simple human nature, but 
> the results can still be considered 
> "agenda-driven" because Agency "A" still gets the 
> results it wants. The results are often used to 
> support a perceived problem and/or a resulting 
> regulation. For example, if a regulatory agency 
> wants to conserve or regulate the taking of a 
> fish or bird, it is clearly an agenda. After all, 
> regulatory agencies were created to carry out 
> such agendas, some of which have popular support 
> and some of which do not. Such agencies are 
> therefore most likely to support research that 
> coincides with their law-given agenda. Legalities 
> also come into play. Don't forget that the 
> lawyers need their share. No matter how obvious 
> it may be that corals are dying, for legal 
> reasons a scientific study to prove they are 
> dying has to be conducted because there may be a 
> lawsuit and the case goes to court. Also for 
> public-relations reasons, an agency will look 
> better if it can say they use the best science to 
> guide their regulatory decisions. The scientists 
> often have to pick and choose between being used 
> as a pawn or doing something else. Those with 
> strong feelings about a particular organism 
> (advocating or striving for research funds) may 
> willingly do the required science. Others may 
> choose to stay clear of such agenda-driven 
> science. A person's decision to avoid 
> agenda-driven science is simply expressing 
> his/her own personal agenda. It is becoming an 
> increasingly more complicated situation for 
> environmental science as more and more people 
> enter the field.
>       There is a wonderful old story about how 
> science can be manipulated that is repeated 
> below. Remember that it was Leo Szilard that 
> convinced Albert Einstein to write the letter to 
> President Franklin Roosevelt that led to creation 
> of the Manhattan Project and thus the Atomic 
> Bomb. Now here is the story:
>       In the April 8, 2002 Chemistry and 
> Engineering News (vol. 80, no. 4, p. 42), there 
> is a story titled, Politics, Culture, and 
> Science: The Golden Age Revisited, by Allen J. 
> Bard. The story is his acceptance speech for 
> receiving the Priestley Medal for chemistry. As 
> the title suggests, he devotes a lot of the 
> article to how-it-used-to-be, when kids could 
> have Gilbert Chemistry sets and other toys now 
> banned for being considered unsafe. Further in 
> his acceptance speech he says, and I quote, "The 
> situation is approaching that envisioned by Leo 
> Szilard in 1948 in his amusing story, The Mark 
> Gable Foundation, where the hero, sometime in the 
> future, is asked by a wealthy entrepreneur, who 
> believes that science has progressed too quickly, 
> "what could he do to retard this progress." The 
> hero answers:
>       "You could set up a foundation, with an 
> annual endowment of thirty million dollars. 
> Researchers in need of funds could apply for 
> grants, if they could make a convincing case. 
> Have ten committees, each composed of twelve 
> scientists, appointed to pass on these 
> applications. Take the most active scientists out 
> of the laboratory and make them members of these 
> committees. ŠFirst of all, the best scientists 
> would be removed from their laboratories and kept 
> busy on committees passing on applications for 
> funds. Secondly the scientific worker in need of 
> funds would concentrate on problems that were 
> considered promising and were pretty certain to 
> lead to publishable resultsŠ By going after the 
> obvious, pretty soon science would dry out. 
> Science would become something like a parlor 
> gameŠ There would be fashions. Those who followed 
> the fashions would get grants. Those who wouldn't 
> would not."
>       That story was written 64 years ago, just 2 
> years before creation of the National Science 
> Foundation in 1950. NSF currently receives 40,000 
> grant applications each year and has an annual 
> budget of $7.03 billion.
>       One can easily come to the conclusion that 
> all science is in some way advocating and or 
> agenda-driven. I used to think that social and 
> medical research was pure and aimed only at 
> curing human ills, but now we often read of 
> scandals involving bogus data while lurking in 
> the background is Big Pharma. Nevertheless, I 
> think we all look up to medical science as an 
> honorable profession.
>       I conclude that pure non-agenda science is 
> generally a myth. Agendas simply come in various 
> degrees of social acceptance. Gene
> -- 
> No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
> ------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
> E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
> University of South Florida
> College of Marine Science Room 221A
> 140 Seventh Avenue South
> St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
> Tel 727 
> 553-1158---------------------------------- 
> -----------------------------------
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