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Environmental values, objectivity, and advocacy: a sociological study of academic environmental scientists

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Professional environmental scientists are increasingly under pressure to inform and even shape policy. Scientists engage policy effectively when they act within the bounds of objectivity, credibility, and authority, yet significant

Professional environmental scientists are increasingly under pressure to inform and even shape policy. Scientists engage policy effectively when they act within the bounds of objectivity, credibility, and authority, yet significant portions of the scientific community condemn such acts as advocacy. They argue that it is nonobjective, that it risks damaging the credibility of science, and that it is an abuse of authority. This means objectivity, credibility, and authority deserve direct attention before the policy advocacy quagmire can be reasonably understood. I investigate the meaning of objectivity in science and that necessarily brings the roles of values in science into question. This thesis is a sociological study of the roles environmental values play in the decisions of environmental scientists working in the institution of academia. I argue that the gridlocked nature of the environmental policy advocacy debates can be traced to what seems to be a deep tension and perhaps confusion among these scientists. I provide empirical evidence of this tension and confusion through the use of in depth semi-structured interviews among a sampling of academic environmental scientists (AES). I show that there is a struggle for these AES to reconcile their support for environmentalist values and goals with their commitment to scientific objectivity and their concerns about being credible scientists in the academy. Additionally, I supplemented my data collection with environmental sociology and history, plus philosophy and sociology of science literatures. With this, I developed a system for understanding values in science (of which environmental values are a subset) with respect to the limits of my sample and study. This examination of respondent behavior provides support that it is possible for AES to act on their environmental values without compromising their objectivity, credibility, and authority. These scientists were not likely to practice this in conversations with colleagues and policy-makers, but were likely to behave this way with students. The legitimate extension of this behavior is a viable route for continuing to integrate the human and social dimensions of environmental science into its practice, its training, and its relationship with policy.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Identifying key attributes in decisions about protein consumption

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Food production and consumption directly impacts the environment and human health. Protein in particular has significant cultural and health implications, and how people make decisions about what type of protein

Food production and consumption directly impacts the environment and human health. Protein in particular has significant cultural and health implications, and how people make decisions about what type of protein they eat has not been studied directly. Many decision tools exist to offer recommendations for seafood, but neglect livestock or plant protein. This study attempts to address these shortcomings in food decision science and tools by asking the questions: 1) What qualities of a dietary protein-based decision tool make it effective? 2) What do people consider when making decisions about what type of protein to consume? Using literature review, meta-analysis, and surveys, this study attempts to determine how the knowledge gained from answering these questions can be used to develop an electronic tool to engage consumers in making sustainable and healthy decisions about protein consumption. The data show that, given environmental and health information about the protein types, people in the sample of farmers market shoppers are more likely to purchase wild salmon and organically grown soybeans, and less likely to purchase grain-fed beef. However, the order of preference among the six types of protein did not change. Additional results suggest that there is a disconnect between consumers and sources of dietary protein, indicating a need for improved education. Inconsistency in labeling and information regarding protein types is a large source of confusion for consumers who participated in the survey, highlighting the need for transparency. Results of this study suggest that decisions tools may help improve decision making, but new ways of using them need to be considered to achieve this.

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  • 2015

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Science, practice, and policy: : the Committee on Rare and Endangered Wildlife Species and the development of U.S. federal endangered species policy, 1956-1973

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The Committee on Rare and Endangered Wildlife Species (CREWS) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made important and lasting contributions to one of the most significant pieces of

The Committee on Rare and Endangered Wildlife Species (CREWS) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made important and lasting contributions to one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation in U.S. history: the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). CREWS was a prominent science-advisory body within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) in the 1960s and 1970s, responsible for advising on the development of federal endangered-wildlife policy. The Committee took full advantage of its scientific and political authority by identifying a particular object of conservation--used in the development of the first U.S. list of endangered species--and establishing captive breeding as a primary conservation practice, both of which were written into the ESA and are employed in endangered-species listing and recovery to this day. Despite these important contributions to federal endangered-species practice and policy, CREWS has received little attention from historians of science or policy scholars. This dissertation is an empirical history of CREWS that draws on primary sources from the Smithsonian Institution (SI) Archives and a detailed analysis of the U.S. congressional record. The SI sources (including the records of the Bird and Mammal Laboratory, an FWS staffed research group stationed at the Smithsonian Institution) reveal the technical and political details of CREWS's advisory work. The congressional record provides evidence showing significant contributions of CREWS and its advisors and supervisors to the legislative process that resulted in the inclusion of key CREWS-inspired concepts and practices in the ESA. The foundational concepts and practices of the CREWS's research program drew from a number of areas currently of interest to several sub-disciplines that investigate the complex relationship between science and society. Among them are migratory bird conservation, systematics inspired by the Evolutionary Synthesis, species-focused ecology, captive breeding, reintroduction, and species transplantation. The following pages describe the role played by CREWS in drawing these various threads together and codifying them as endangered-species policy in the ESA.

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  • 2011