[Coral-List] Don't be Such a scientist

Michael Risk riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Tue Jan 3 15:16:18 EST 2012

Hi Bill.

I do not know whether to be delighted or depressed at this bit of Canadian content…I guess I am depressed by the politicians' point of view that science is "an interest group like any other." Because we all know this is not true, or should not be. We are, or should be, the "interest group" whose opinions have been forged in the crucibles of repeatable experimentation and falsifiable hypotheses. And we are the only such group-if we ARE a group…

Again, some Cancon.

Many years ago, I became upset with the absolutely dismal, rotten, lousy performance of our federal development agency, CIDA (Canadian Int. Dev't. Agency). (Their performance has not improved, but I have stopped caring.)

I surveyed the personnel records, and discovered that, of maybe 1300 employees in the main office in Ottawa, they had NOT ONE SINGLE scientist or engineer. I then sat down with one of the senior CIDA bureaucrats, and asked him to explain. His answer was unforgettable, and a lesson for us all: he said "We used to have two, and they could never agree. So we let them both go."


On 2012-01-03, at 8:35 AM, Bill Allison wrote:

> For another "don't be such a scientist" diagnosis and Rx for
> influencing policy, have a look at this article:
> Kassen, R. (2011). "If you want to win the game, you must join in."
> Nature 480(7376): 151.
> 	When governments ignore scientific advice, it is often because
> researchers do not engage with the political process, says Rees
> Kassen.
> Scientists tend to blame poor policy decisions on a scientifically
> illiterate or uninterested political class and a media that
> oversimplifies ideas or sensationalizes controversy. There is no doubt
> a nugget of truth here. In the current Canadian parliament, just 17 of
> 308 MPs hold a first degree in the natural sciences, engineering or
> health sciences. If parliament reflected national university
> graduation rates in these fields, there would be 98.
> Still, researchers must recognize that poor scientific decisions in
> politics do not necessarily result from a lack of understanding. They
> are, rather, a failure of scientists to communicate their message
> effectively in what is ultimately a political, not a scientific,
> arena.
> .....
> A former top bureaucrat in the Canadian civil service once gave me the
> political perspective on this divide: scientists, he said, think too
> highly of their own view of the world and fail to appreciate the
> complex, multifarious nature of decision making. Our mistake is to
> think that science will be given a privileged voice on an issue. This
> is almost always wrong. From a politician's point of view, science is
> an interest group like any other.
> http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/480153a
> On Wed, Dec 28, 2011 at 8:05 PM, Gregor Hodgson <gregorh at reefcheck.org> wrote:
>> David Guggenheim is to be congratulated for getting a major TV program like
>> 60 minutes to focus on coral reefs with an initial viewership of over 18
>> million Americans that can now be viewed online throughout the world.
>> Helping to create a TV program like this takes a huge amount of time and
>> effort and resources. Getting a celebrity like Anderson Cooper underwater is
>> a major accomplishment because he will be talking about this experience for
>> many years.
>> The biggest problem facing coral reefs today continues to be the lack of
>> awareness among the general public regarding how messed up coral reefs are
>> and that the causes are anthropogenic I.e. fixable. David did a nice job of
>> simplifying this message and this will help generate more support for coral
>> reef science/ conservation efforts that are so desperately needed and
>> continue to be so poorly funded.
>> The underfunding of coral reef science and conservation is a reflection of
>> the lack of support among the general public and politicians regarding the
>> importance of this issue. The total annual funding for coral reef work
>> globally wouldn¹t even pay for one beach resort in Cuba, one cruise ship or
>> one high-rise office building in a major city.
>> For those scientists who continue to want to nitpick ‹ I strongly suggest
>> that you read the excellent book by our colleague Randy Olson on why
>> scientists are such poor communicators and how we can learn to do better.
>> http://www.dontbesuchascientist.com/
>> We no longer have Jacques Yves Cousteau who was a magician at bringing the
>> ocean and coral reefs into the living rooms of the average family at a time
>> when there were three major TV stations. In an age of hundreds of
>> TV/internet channels,  we all need to try our best to better communicate the
>> importance and urgency of the global decline of coral reefs and that we need
>> more help to reverse this. We are winning some battles but losing the war..
>> Gregor Hodgson, PhD
>> Executive Director
>> Reef Check Foundation
>> PO Box 1057 (mail)
>> 17575 Pacific Coast Highway (Fedex)
>> Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 USA
>> T: +1 310-230-2371 or 2360
>> Gregorh at reefcheck.org
>> Skype: gregorh001
>> _______________________________________________
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> -- 
> ________________________________
> Is this how science illuminates "reality"? - "the meaning of an
> episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the talk
> which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze."
> - narrator's comment about Marlow's tale-telling, in Heart of Darkness (Conrad)
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Michael Risk
riskmj at mcmaster.ca

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