Scientists who play well with others

I was recently in Austin, Texas for the meeting of the Ecological Society of America.  Ecologists are very concerned about threats to ecosystems, and very aware that they need to cross disciplinary boundaries in order to address these threats. They brought me (a social psychologist), along with the executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, and the manager from Austin Energy’s Green Buildings Initiative together to talk about science and stewardship.  Another reminder that environmental problems require multiple perspectives and multiple techniques. Here’s a blog post about the event on the ESA site.

One of the things we discussed was the feeling of some scientists that their job is to discover the facts, and leave the communication to others.  Not here at Wooster, where we teach that the last part of the scientific method is communicating the results!  (Which happens so well at the I.S. showcase, and is also embodied by the Wooster Geologists blog.) But it does raise real, and complex, questions about the relationship between scientists and the public – especially regarding controversial issues like climate change.  None of us can be experts in all the relevant knowledge, so how can we create a more scientifically literate public that can at least grasp the consequences of particular behaviors and policies? And what is the responsibility of individual scientists, especially those whose research has been publicly funded, to try to communicate what it all means?

On a branch of the Colorado River, 1 mile from downtown Austin

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2 Responses to Scientists who play well with others

  1. Beth Bowles says:

    Susan – I had the opportunity to see you at the Austin conference. It is my view that an entire session should have been devoted to your perspective as a social psychologist. I hope that you will be back at the Portland conference with a larger role?

    There is a gaping hole between the lessons of psychological research on human behavior and ecologists trying to reduce anthropogenic impacts to ecosystems and biodiversity.

  2. sclayton says:

    Thanks Beth! I, of course, agree that psychologists have a lot to contribute to this conversation. Let me know if I can try to provide any specific information or resources for you. As a non-ecologist, ES probably won’t be a priority for me (unless I’m invited back…). But there are other places where people can come together across disciplinary lines. The Society for Conservation Biology, since they have a social science working group, holds one such conference.

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