Scientists Can Make a Difference
by Linda M. B. Paul
This is an excerpt from Paul, Linda. 1997. A Policy Role for
PACON in Sustainable Marine Resource Development. In Recent Advances in
Marine Science and Technology. Proceedings of the 1996 PACON
International Conference, Honolulu.
- It is important that scientists, engineers and technical people provide their
expertise to policy makers. In doing so, remember to speak and write in plain language
when explaining technical and scientific concepts to policy makers. It also helps to
explain the short and long term implications of what you are saying and to check to
make sure you are being understood. Laws must be drafted into language that will
convey the same meaning to everyone and do what they are intended to do. Joan
Bondareff, counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Merchant
Marine and Fisheries in 1991, once remarked that "policymakers are not good listeners
and the scientists are not good speakers to the policy issues" and recommended
promoting a dialogue between the two.
- To create an opportunity to educate and inform, offer to translate technical and
scientific issues for policy makers. A particularly needy area is the lack of volunteer
panels of experts available to review environmental impact statements and assessments
for both governmental agencies and non governmental organizations. Policy makers
need and rely on experts, yet all too frequently rely on people who merely pass
themselves off as experts. It is also important to clarify for policy makers how you can
be most effective as experts, i.e. the need for regulatory and monetary support for
research, and assurances that you will not be exploited in the policy-making process.
- If you feel strongly about the need for a particular law or regulation, draft the
law or regulation yourself and find a legislator or agency head who will introduce it.
Many laws and regulations are initially drafted by or at the request of special interest
groups. Better the experts do it than the non experts. It is not necessary to draft it in
legalese; it will almost always be redrafted as it goes through the hearing process
anyway. As a rule of thumb non-binding resolutions and laws and regulations that
don't cost much have better chances of being enacted.
- If a certain issue is not important it is generally better strategy to compromise.
It is also a good idea to present needed changes in small increments if there is
significant opposition. Sometimes it just takes time and education for someone to get
used to an idea, and new policy implementation in the face of emotional or uninformed
resistance is easier to accomplish if it is done in small steps.
- If long-term coastal zone planning is ever going to happen, it is important that
the scientific community make the effort to do some lobbying. Compile and make
available studies and draft reports that project where unplanned coastal zone
development is headed and what it means in terms of degradation of coastal resources
and the long-term costs to the public. Write legislative testimony and op-ed pieces;
call, write, fax and e-mail policy makers; make appointments and meet with them and
their staff; and don't forget that briefing the media can help educate voters.
- The formation of public/private task forces will often help solve specific
problems by helping groups with a stake in the outcome feel an ownership in the
solution and an interest in enforcing it. Meetings facilitated by experts in
communication, collaboration, and process-building can also assist participants to
effectively communicate and coordinate their efforts toward mutually-understood
- It is a good idea to include experts from other disciplines as members of your
professional organizations. They can be very helpful in the development of practical
methodologies that policy makers can use to incorporate scientific input into their
decision-making processes at all levels.
- Seminars, workshops, public forums, and field trips are particularly good ways
to inform and educate the policy-making and user communities. Policy-making bodies
should also be provided with reference sources that indicate where information can be
found on particular subjects, what information is not available, but needs to be, and the
means by which the missing information can be obtained, including needed legislation,
cooperative agreements, and research and data base funding. Impress upon policy
makers that good scientific and technical information can make tough decisions easier
and will improve the substantive decision-making process. Suggest that scientific and
technically trained people be included on the legislative staff.