Relevant to: Research
Type: Debate and Resource
In this discussion paper, Fernandez argues that there is confusion among environmental scientists about the role of expert knowledge in decision making, focusing on four widespread assumptions:
-That better information is all that it takes for individuals and societies to change their behaviour in favour of the environment
-That such information mostly involves hard data (ie peer reviewed), properly communicated
-That scientific consensus – even certainty – is indispensible for managerial and political action
-That scientists are in a privileged position to provide an unbiased view and to propose the ‘best’ solutions on issues close to the field of their expertise
The author analyses these assumptions and their consequences, pleading for a more realistic attitude towards ecological research. He argues that not only are these assumptions wrong, but that they are detrimental because they act to limit environmental scientists influence and impact in the decision-making process. The author argues that tacit knowledge (ie non-codified knowledge) can have a large influence on how issues are perceived, prioritised and addressed.
The author includes a ‘cheat sheet’ for environmental scientists to guide their interactions with decision-makers and other non-scientists, aimed at avoiding counter-productive arguments or assumptions. The sheet includes 12 common complaints that may arise from oversimplification of the decision making process to address complex, context dependent and value-laden environmental issues and offers advice on why each of these complaints could be counterproductive.
At the very least, this paper may encourage its readers to be more open and reflexive to the views of others and accept that addressing complex issues involves a range of actors, choices and values. This is an argument favouring the need to engage more, not less, but to be mindful of how you engage.
This annotated bibliography was developed from the following article:
Fernandez, R.J (2016) How to be a more effective environmental scientist in management and policy contexts. Environmental Science and Policy 64:171-176.