Events & Media

The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management
at the University of California, Santa Barbara



"Who Should Decide? Science and Policy in Decision Making"

David Policansky
Research Scholar
Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology
National Research Council

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
11:30 - 12:30
Bren Hall 1414

"As a research scholar on the National Research Council's Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology who has directed more than 30 NRC projects ranging from the Endangered Species Act to Everglades restoration to the cumulative effects of oil and gas activities on Alaska's North Slope, Dr. Policansky is uniquely qualified to talk about the relationship between science and national environmental policy and management."Frank Davis, Host

Debates over scientific issues seem increasingly common; they include global climate change, evolution, the effect of fishing on fish populations, and so on. The most intense debates seem to involve matters that affect people’s wallets and their values; despite those factors, the debates usually are couched in scientific terms. Often, to address policy matters, science or scientists are appealed to. While both scientists and policy makers say they expect science to inform policy decisions, communication between the two groups often is poor, and the groups’ expectations often are not met. Policy makers expect certainty and clarity from scientists, while scientists often are puzzled and dismayed when scientific matters are debated by politicians and the news media. And often, we all observe gridlock.

Here I discuss the intersection of science and politics. I discuss conditions that can affect the relationship of science and decisions, illustrated by case studies, and make some very modest recommendations for improving the relationship.

David Policansky directs studies on applied ecology and natural resource management. His interests include genetics, evolution, and ecology (including the effects of fishing on fish populations), ecological risk assessment, natural resource management, and how science is used in informing policy. He has directed more than 30 projects at the National Research Council on natural resources and ecological risk assessment, including recent reports on the Endangered Species Act; restoration progress in the Everglades; salmon in the Pacific Northwest, Maine, and Alaska (where he chairs the Advisory Council for the University of Alaska’s School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences); wetlands delineation; enhancing water supplies in the Middle East; cumulative environmental effects of oil and gas activities on Alaska’s North Slope; ecological indicators; environmental impacts of wind-energy projects, and ecosystem-based approaches to the management of marine fisheries. He has published approximately 35 papers, book chapters, and book reviews, most recently on fisheries, the role of science in decision making, and common-property resources. A native of Cape Town, South Africa, Policansky received his BA in biology from Stanford University and his MS and PhD in biology from the University of Oregon.

NOTE: Community colloquia are generally talks of broad interest geared toward a diverse, sophisticated audience. Their purpose is not only to enhance knowledge and understanding, but also to bring people together and promote interaction that will strengthen the community.


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