Thursday, April 5, 2012

#96 / Actionable Science

SESYNC stands for "National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center." The Center, which I gather is a relatively new effort, is supported by the National Science Foundation, through a grant provided to the University of Maryland. Additional support and funding is provided by the University of Maryland, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and Resources for the Future.

SESYNC has been established to engage in what it calls "actionable science." Dr. Margaret A. Palmer is leading the effort. She has her own "Palmer Lab," and has done work on the ecosystem impacts of mountaintop mining, and on the world water crisis. "Actionable science," as defined by SESYNC, is "scholarship with the potential to inform decisions (government, business, and household), improve the design or implementation of public policies, [and] influence public or private sector strategies, planning and behaviors that affect the environment."

Of course, any scholarship is likely to have the "potential" to inform decisions. One would hope so, anyway. I gather that what might be different here is that the scientific scholarship is to be tailored and directed to answer specific inquiries from government and business. Unfortunately, I think there is some danger there, if those who will be doing the research and writing the scholarly papers then think that their work is "objective." There is a long tradition of business-supported "science" that ends up proving whatever the sponsoring businesses want it to. You could call it "actionable science." As I say, it's dangerous to do "purpose-driven" science and then believe that the answers obtained are "the truth."

I keep thinking that my "two worlds" hypothesis might provide some appropriate cautionary advice. the "actions" that human beings always want to take, to carry out their own projects (and to create their own world), often do not pay attention to the inherent limits of our natural environment, upon which all our human creations depend. "Actionable science" isn't going to change that truth. I hope that no one involved in SESYNC thinks it can.

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