‘It is dangerous to think that science has all the answers’


Debating the science-policy divide at the Biodiversity Asia 2012

Bangalore, 9 August: The Biodiversity Asia 2012 conference organised a public panel discussion on ‘Science is from Venus, policy is from Mars – a discussion on conservation issues in Asia’. It was focused on two contentions: one, that policy is not based on science; and, two, that scientists have a disproportionate influence on policy.

“It is dangerous to think that science has all the answers,” cautioned Dr. Damayanti Buchori of Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia. She pointed out that the issues of whether science is being heard or not is often a political decision, and scientists must reflect on how far science should push to influence policies, especially given that science has limitations. Earlier, Dr. Vidya Athreya, recipient of this year’s TN Khoshoo Award, and Wildlife Scientist, Kaati Trust Pune, pointed out how scientists often work on their assumptions and how this can have serious implications. She was referring to relocation of leopards and its implications for human wildlife conflict. “Is our science sound?” she questioned.

Dr. Sharad Lele, Convenor of the Centre for Environment and Development at ATREE, felt that the dialogue between policy and science was often hampered by the fact that policy makers and scientists did not have a forum to create need-based knowledge. ‘Do we have forums where policy makers can table what might be relevant to them?’ he asked. He pointed out that while scientists claim to be doing objective science, their work could be based on values pertinent only to them, and not inclusive of values important to other stakeholders of a policy.

Dr. Thomas Brooks, VP for Science and Chief Scientist at Nature Serve, USA said that said that conservationists need to build on existing institutions and engage with practitioners at the very outset to tackle actual conservation challenges. “Conservation desperately needs people on the ground,” he said. Dr. Eleanor Sterling, Director, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, AMNH, New York USA also advised interaction with practitioners to see how the science is played out. She said that scientists need to reflect on how they frame their work and the questions they ask. She pointed out the practical constraints of scientists often having to work in a limited time frame and the meagre support for building social capital as part of their research projects.

David Quammen, noted science writer, put the perspective again on multiple stakeholders and multiple values. “We have to remember that science is only an ingredient of policy,’ he said, ‘like tamarind is to sambhar.” He suggested that scientists and communicators should work together to explain their findings. “The public can the best conduit for science to influence policy.”

The panel was moderated by Dr. Kartik Shanker, Scientist at the Centre for Ecological Sciences.

Biodiversity Asia 2012, the 2nd Asia Region Conference of the Society for Conservation Biology, is being organized by ATREE, with support from IISc and other organisations.

For more information

Contact Meetu Desai +919902962935, meetu.desai@atree.org or Samuel Thomas +919434045123, samuel@atree.org for interview opportunities and other help.

Please check www.atree.org/ Announcements, or http://atree.org/press/ Media kit, or http://scbasia2012.com/ Updates and Announcements on the home page for daily updates and images.

Dr TN Khoshoo, TN Khoshoo Memorial Award and Lecture, past winners on http://atree.org/khoshoo

Dr. Triloki Nath Khoshoo (27 April 1927 – 10 June 2002)

Dr TN Khoshoo was co-founder of the Department of Botany at Punjab University, Lahore, in pre partition India, from where he moved to Khalsa College, Amritsar, in 1947. After serving as Chairman of the Botany Department at Jammu and Kashmir University, he joined the National Botanical Gardens, Lucknow, in 1964. By 1978, this institution had developed to become the National Botanical Research Institute under his leadership.

Dr Khoshoo became the author of India’s draft environmental policy, in his role as Secretary of the newly formed Department of Environment, Government of India, in 1982. Later, he joined the Tata Energy Research Institute as a Distinguished Fellow.

Dr Khoshoo authored more than 250 research papers on plant genetics and evolution, biomass, energy, forestry, conservation, and the utilisation and management of natural resources. He wrote seven books and edited eleven others. His book ‘Mahatma Gandhi: An Apostle of Applied Human Ecology’, published in 1996, was widely applauded for its interpretation of the practical relevance of Gandhian views. In 1992 DrKhoshoo was decorated with one of India's highest civilian awards, the Padma Bhushan. He was awarded the Sasakawa Environmental Prize by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1996.

About ATREE www.atree.org
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) is a research organisation in the areas of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. It was ranked 19th among the top environmental think tanks in the world, as per the 2011 Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program survey carried out by the University of Pennsylvania, USA.

ATREE was established in 1996 by three academics who felt the need of an institution that used science to address the environmental, social and economic consequences of the decline of India’s natural resources.ATREE’s mission is to promote socially just environmental conservation and sustainable development by generating rigorous interdisciplinary knowledge that engages actively with academia, policy makers, practitioners, activists, students and wider public audiences.

ATREE is recognised as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.