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Stimulating science supply and demand

In second ASC keynote, Tundi Agardy looked at the supply and demand sides of science and asked what can be done to refocus the former and increase the latter for use by decision-makers.
Published: 21 September 2017

​​​​​​​There is an assumption made by marine scientists that if they supply information it will be used. But is this the case? This was the question posed by Agardy at the outset of her talk​ – and the answer is no, not always. Suggesting that an imbalance exists between supply and demand, she described how science can be more efficiently tuned to the needs of managers and how demand can also be addressed. 

Agardy, of non-profit organization Forest Trends​​, outlined several barriers to this supply. These include the developing world’s lack of access to a steady stream of good science, peer-reviewed journals, and data collected by visiting scientists but not shared locally. Another hindrance is the modern backlash against rational thinking.

According to Agardy, these factors are already affecting uptake, with decisions being made that more reflect political and economic interests. Prioritizing key research topics is therefore important. Topics include areas of the sea critical for ecosystem functioning and productivity, ecosystem linkages, what constitutes sustainability, predicting ecosystem response to pressures like climate change, and assessing human uses and values connected to the ocean. Social and natural scientists should be collaborating to provide science to managers in an accessible way, generating interest and political will in the process.

Knowledge is also required for assessing the problems themselves. This is crucial because sometimes conservation solutions can be pushed through without a proper understanding of the problem that needs to be solved.

“I see this a lot with marine protected areas,” explained Agardy, who has experience in this field. “If there’s a degrading ecosystem, biodiversity loss, or even a decline in productivity, the solution is a no-take protective area. Sometimes this doesn’t have to be done. Creating a solution that doesn’t fit the problem is a waste of energy.”

Shaping demand

On the demand side, Agardy raised some typical management questions to which scientists should be willing to provide answers. These include those on sustainable use, limits of development, and cost versus benefit. In this way managers can be guided towards the right questions, stimulating demand and creating influence. This is significant because, while scientists are naturally conscious of uncertainty and not engaging in hyperbole, not stepping up might mean decisions are made in absence of their evidence.

“Part of the problem is that managers can’t access the science, either physically or in terms of understanding why it might be relevant,” said Agardy.

“We need to guide them, create narratives and publish in non-traditional places to demonstrate science-based decision-making to reduce risk and promote management, talking in lingo that is understood. We need to communicate why it’s good to base policy on science, and show where decisions on based science have led to good outcomes and decisions without it have led to failures or risks."

“I don’t advocate that all scientists become advocates or go and march or in any way compromise integrity, but I think it’s our duty as a community to really be helping managers ask the right questions.”

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​Tundi Agardy presenting her talk: 'Promoting uptake of marine science in management both on the supply and demand side.'​

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Stimulating science supply and demand

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