[Coral-List] Science and advocacy

RainbowWarriorsInternational southern_caribbean at yahoo.com
Sat Aug 4 13:43:43 EDT 2012

The difference between agenda driven and applied science is really very simple.

Agenda driven science presupposes establishing a scientific base for a viewpoint, while applied science does not.

The tricky part is how to tell one from the other when the problem at hand is prone to elicit convenient or inconvenient viewpoints e.g. in casu climate change or coral reef decline causes.

And additional problem is created where there are no hard theories to be found only models which at best can yield approximate interpretations through modeling and simulation.

And by the way there is no universal category of science, e.g. physics, chemistry, geology and astronomy are in a different realm than biology, ecology and pharmacy, which are again very different from social sciences and humanities.

When we deal with very large ecosystem science all of these different categories will come into play, which compounds the problem.

As a mathematician I can assert that only science in which the axiom of choice is excluded for the observer can true science be achieved.

In practice this means that we cannot choose between all possible choices a range of values which will be in accordance with our viewpoint.. This may occasionally be actually very hard to achieve when we do not have a clear grasp of all relevant and significant variables in the model we are using.

Advocacy presupposes a worldview dictated by some ideological set of models, e.g. sustainable development as established in Agenda 21. If we have no clearly defined variable sets and metrics we cannot arrive at any unambiguous science.

And since politicians use statistics and economists modeling based on metrics it is no wonder that the scientific theories arrived at will clash.

Milton Ponson, President
Rainbow Warriors Core Foundation
(Rainbow Warriors International)
Tel. +297 568 5908
PO Box 1154, Oranjestad 
Aruba, Dutch Caribbean 
Email: southern_caribbean at yahoo.com

To unite humanity in a global society dedicated to a sustainable way of life

 From: Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov 
Sent: Thursday, August 2, 2012 4:07 PM
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 
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