Stepping up to the plate: How “science experts” must provide guidance on conservation

In the wake of the recent uproar over Peter Gleick’s leak of the Heartland’s documents, trust is re-emerging as a topic of discussion in the climate change debate. Gleick had previously co-authoreda paper on the importance of having the trust of the public and policy makers in achieving a sustainable future: “That trust is earned by maintaining the highest standards of scientific integrity in all that we do.”
The way to maintaining “scientific integrity” is often seen as ‘presenting the facts and letting people decide what to do’. Consequently, many conservation institutions shy away from telling people what to do, wishing to leave “advocacy” to the “activists”.
However, the findings are clear. The Ocean Project’s marketresearch as well as Chicago Zoological Society’s CLiZEN research repeatedly point to the fact that visitors to zoos, aquariums, and museums (ZAMs) expect the institutions to provide guidance on how to be part of the conservation solution.
In fact, the findings also suggest that the credibility of the conservation institution is compromisedif they do not provide guidance on conservation action. Visitors look to experts to help them understand the amount and complexities of the information, and the implications in their daily lives. They want to help, but want solutions in easily digestible chunks because the environment does not rank as a top-of-mind issue.
When we are seeking help from legal experts (e.g. lawyers) or financial experts (e.g financial planners), we are looking for guidance on what to do, so why are “scientific experts” so wary of offering guidance? Maybe it is time to shift away from thinking about these things as “advocacy” but really “expert recommendations” or “expert guidance”.

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