[Coral-List] Rau, McLeod and Hoegh-Guldberg and ensuing discussion

Christopher Hawkins chwkins at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 4 20:16:58 EDT 2012


The recent posts by Doug Fenner, Peter Sale, Rom Lipcius, and Alina Syzmant interrelate, though perhaps not obviously. 

Several weeks ago I posted about an article in which the author (Bob Lackey) cautions 
against scientists advocating for their personal policy preferences.  
Note his specificity: I do not believe has has an issue with science advocacy in general, provided it meets certain requirements.  
Indeed, recommending actions that would get the job done is a logical and desired outgrowth of the research process.  But before doing that the science community must come to better appreciate two things: 1) coral reefs and other coastal marine resources are typically managed on behalf of society, and 2) society therefore should have significant input into how and why they are managed.  

Coming to grips with these two points is something we in resource/environmental science struggle with, in part because of our disciplinary, Progressive Era training that continues to reinforce a theme: "we are the experts," with all of its positive and negative connotations. 

As Rom alluded to, there are usually various courses of action that will accomplish societal objectives (again, once we appreciate the importance of understanding them and then endeavor to do so). Each course of action that has a chance of achieving the desired management goal comes with its own social, economic, and environmental tradeoffs. And each may be viewed more or less favorably by individual scientists (hence the caution against personal advocacy for one solution).  A few years ago, folks in the U.S. Pacific Northwest came together to argue that the current approach to restoring wild salmon had little chance of success and suggested about 20 approaches that did - each with tradeoffs. Cribbing from their literature: the Salmon 2100 project neither rejects nor advocates any particular policy or class ofpolicies, but does advocate a serious and informed dialog about the current state of wild salmon, their likely future, and the choices society has
 to alter that future. Nearly all of the prescriptions offered conclude that major, sometimes wholesale modification of core societal values and preferences will have to occur if significant, sustainable populations of wild salmon are to be present in the region by 2100. http://oregonstate.edu/dept/fw/lackey/Salmon2100.htm   

When Rom states that we need to present a range of objective alternatives, I agree.  

When Peter asks about advocating, I respond that advocating those alternatives that society has directly or indirectly deemed acceptable is what we are expected to do.

When Doug writes about "avoiding effects we don't want," I ask, who is the "we"? Society?  He and reef scientist who share his values?

When Alina states that "the problem with trying to bridge the science vs advocacy bridge is that
 we are living within a human society that puts human wants and needs first over any consideration of the natural 
system" I respond that society has consistently informed its elected leaders that it it does in fact consider and value natural systems (cf. the various environmental, resource management, and wildlife laws). If those laws doesn't offer the best tools to get what society needs and wants done, given new scientific information, then scientists must advocate for more/better. Society counts on us for that.   

We don't spend enough time appreciating the need to ask these and related questions.  Rather we gnash our teeth and say "the public doesn't get it" or "the public doesn't appreciate the natural environment or the problem."  

Managing resources on behalf of society is difficult and requires a deep understanding and appreciation for society's values, the role those values should play in the process, how science should respond to them, how we can address gaps in what society wants to have done and agencies are able to do legally, and how we can work together and through others to advocate for science-based solutions. One more stock assessment, one more belt transect, one more water quality study, one more coral genetic study will not get us appreciably closer to that understanding and appreciation.  But those are things the coral science community does best. 

The implications of that are pretty obvious to me...    


 From: Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com>
To: Peter Sale <sale at uwindsor.ca> 
Cc: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov 
Sent: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 9:52 AM
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Rau, McLeod and Hoegh-Guldberg and ensuing discussion
I completely agree, and really appreciate your clear presentation of this
problem.  We have to keep the two separate, to keep from having our
enthusiasm for protecting the environment come to bias our presentation of
the scientific facts.  On the other hand, if no one connects the dots that
lead from the scientific facts to what the effects will be or how to avoid
effects we don't want, then the science has done society no good.

Cheers,  Doug

On Tue, Sep 4, 2012 at 3:29 AM, Peter Sale <sale at uwindsor.ca> wrote:

> Hi,
> I just finished reading Denny Hubbard's reflections on how he, as a reef
> scientist, is dealing with the likely CC and OA impacts on reefs
> worldwide.  I had got to Coral-List right after reading Rau, McLeod and
> Hoegh-Guldberg, and an editorial, "Clarion Call", in the same issue of
> Nature Climate Change that suggested it might now be time for the science
> community to become less reticent about articulating the risks of not
> making intelligent decisions re Climate Change.  In fact, the editorial
> stated, quite clearly, that the science community should advocate for
> radical action on climate change.  Rau et al, in a 'perspective' article,
> do take a clear position on the need to investigate novel ways of dealing
> with the effects of climate change on marine systems.
> I've done this reading in the middle of a discussion with several
> co-authors on the degree to which we should advocate in the paper we are
> now writing on the general issue of global change impacts on tropical
> marine ecosystems and their provision of goods and services to coastal
> human communities.  The opinions within our group range from 'science must
> be dispassionate and objectively report the data' to 'it is way past time
> to tell it like it is'.
> My gut tells me the latter view is correct, but I also worry that we not
> reduce expert science evidence to the level of 'just another opinion'.  (I
> also want to see our manuscript published!) More generally, I think the
> big question for the coral reef science community has to be, "How do we
> report our science objectively and dispassionately while still being able
> to express our considered opinions carefully yet explicitly?"  This is a
> large part of the issue that Denny Hubbard is struggling with, and its one
> many of us struggle with.  My own belief is that it should be possible to
> structure manuscripts, presentations and formal testimony with clearly
> separated sections: 1) Here is the science, and my objective evaluation of
> the data, including conclusions logically drawn, 2) Here is my informed
> opinion/recommendation based on my analysis, and my broader knowledge of
> the topic.  So long as these two sections are kept separate, we should be
> able to maintain our integrity as scientists, while still conveying our
> opinions/recommendations to policy-makers and the public.
> I'd be interested in what others think.  Given the increasingly dim
> prospects for coral reefs surviving the Anthropocene, those of us who are
> not automatons (nearly all, I hope) have a pressing need to help find an
> effective way forward..
> Peter Sale
> Peter F. Sale
> Assistant Director
> United Nations University
> Institute for Water, Environment and Health
> www.uwindsor.ca/sale          www.petersalebooks.com
> UNU-INWEH  The United Nations Think Tank on Water
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> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
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