Ecological Research vis-à-vis Society Debated
In an article “Ecology and Social Responsibility: the Re-embodiment of
Science” (Trends in Ecology and Evolution 16(8): 460-465, 2001), G.A.
Bradshaw and Marc Bekoff describe increasing involvement of ecological
scientists in social issues that arise from environmental problems. Part of
what they say follows:
Ecologists are having an identity crisis. As concern for the environment
heightens, ecologists are increasingly being called away from the more
traditional life of academia and into policy and public consultation. Some
ecologists support active participation in a new social contract of active
engagement; others argue that such involvement is blatant advocacy and
undermines the image of neutrality underlying the credibility and
effectiveness of science. Ecology is wrestling between two models of
science: a science apart from society and a science directly engaged with
society. The twin missions of science, to pursue truth and to serve society,
appear to be at odds.
The unprecedented impact of humans on the land and water worldwide will
continue to involve ecologists in conservation, decision and policy-making.
Furthermore, the fact that most environmental problems stimulating current
research are products of science and the culture in which they developed,
means that scientists are already deeply involved.
After centuries of teasing the world apart, there is now a concerted effort
to develop integrated models that bridge disciplinary gaps and address whole
ecosystems, including humans. The state of the environment and new
socio-environmental models of reciprocity (e.g. adaptive management and civic
science) have simulated vigorous interdisciplinary research between social
and biophysical sciences and the greater public (Sustainable Biosphere
http://www.esa.sdsc.edu/sbi.htm). With the explicit
consideration of humans in ecosystems, traditional disciplinary and
organizational boundaries have lost much of their original utility.
The current move to include the human dimension in ecology implies a
necessary reconciling, or at least, a re-examination of the fundamental
assumptions that separate the two disciplinary branches. However, such
reconciliation represents a significant challenge for both biophysical and
social scientists. Integrating biophysical and social sciences means
bringing back the very concepts and attributes (e.g. subjective experience)
that, by their historic exclusion from science, defined science. By
incorporating the human dimension, ecology has perhaps wittingly opened a
Pandora’s Box but it has also opened a door for young ecologists who are
looking for ways to reconcile scientific and social integrity.
Posted 23 August 2002