[Coral-List] Science and advocacy

Steve Mussman sealab at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 3 13:31:05 EDT 2012

Here is an insightful article that among
other things reveals the fact that issues
relating to environmental science and advocacy
are not necessarily a direct result of our current 
polarized political condition. The dynamics 
may well be familiar territory to those of you 
long involved in the scientific community. It 
certainly helped me to gain perspective as to 
why so many are hesitant to speak out.



-----Original Message-----
>From: Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
>Sent: Aug 2, 2012 4:07 PM
>To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>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 
>Coral-List mailing list
>Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

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