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