Scientists Need To Be Less Objective, Says Ecologist, And More Political


Scientists Need To Be Less Objective, Says Ecologist, And More Political


Posted 11 August 2011, by News Staff, Science 2.0 (ION Publications, LLC),


If you look at the most politicized aspects of science, it is areas where scientists and science journalists became advocates and stopped being trusted guides for the public. Result: the collapse of science journalism and increased distrust of scientists in those fields.

Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford, says scientists need to be more political and not less. He summed it up this way: “You often hear people say scientists should not be advocates. I think that is bull.”

In an interview a few days before the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Austin, Texas, his take was sometimes moderate. He talked about the urgent need for scientists to take publicize research results beyond journals, which makes sense to the Science 2.0 community. But then he says scientists should also do the framing for the public.

“With society moving toward a collapse, the idea that scientists, especially ecologists, should just do their work, present their data and not do any interpretation leads to the kind of imbecility we have in Washington today, where you have an entire Congress that is utterly clueless about how the natural world works,” Ehrlich said.

Well, it may be that Congress doesn’t know how the natural world works, and the public also, despite adult science literacy being tripled in the last 30 years, or it may be that an Ivory Tower mentality and demanding obedience in the face of expertise is also less than 30 years ago, when scientists were more impartial, scientifically and more balanced politically.

In what will not resonate well with scientists otherwise likely to be on his side in his ‘people are stupid and Congress is worse’ tone, he also says curiosity-driven research is outmoded.

“How you judge a good scientist, in part, is by what they choose to be curious about,” he says. It is also critical, he said, that the work ecologists do be of the highest quality and of general scientific interest. Prominent peer-reviewed journals should instead highlight ecology research with clear connections to the human condition, calling ecology the most important science today.

“The idea that ecologists in particular shouldn’t be advocates, that they shouldn’t be telling the public that what ecologists study is basically disappearing, is just nuts,” he said.

He has joined with hundreds of other ecologists, social scientists and scholars in the humanities to an ecology advocacy group called the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. “We are trying to recruit the social sciences and the humanities into an attempt to make academia relevant in the world and help change the course of society,” Ehrlich said. “If you are tired of living in a world where leaders think debt ceilings are more important than climate disruption and the degrading of ecosystem services, then do something about it: Join the MAHB and get active.”

Should scientists become more political and not less? How can some scientists who want to get untethered from the political world do so if they become advocates?

(Ed Note: Please visit the original site to engage in the comment discussion)

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