The role of science in informing the development of environmental policy and the importance of science communication for engaging with people about widespread environmental concerns are two subjects of continuing research interest and discussion of members of the EIUI team. Contributions by members of the team to the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science (PNSIS) highlight these interests.
In the editorial, “Addressing the crisis in biodiversity – our role,” EIUI team member Peter Wells, along with David Richardson, draw attention to both global and local initiatives to address serious declines in biological diversity (Wells & Richardson, 2021). They note: “As with climate change, a large informed and concerned public will convince politicians and policy makers to heed the importance of biodiversity and turn the situation around. Science has a key role here to provide reliable information and advice” (p. 2).
On the subject of science’s role in providing such information and advice, Curtis Martin considered the question: “Humans are interpersonal – why isn’t science communication interpersonal?” (Martin, 2021). He notes that “science communicators should make themselves more personally known to their audiences.” Why? Because “human communication is inherently interpersonal.” In addition, “weak science communication coupled with misinformation and disinformation has resulted in major challenges for environmental decision makers, particularly in areas of climate change and marine renewable energy” (p. 185). Curtis argues that “if science communication is to be more effective, scientific institutions must change the way in which they communicate with citizens. Only then will we create opportunities to bring about the environmental policy changes at a scale necessary to address issues as climate change and maintain our well-being” (p. 189-190). This essay relates to Curtis’s research about science communication (see Martin and MacDonald, 2020).
In a review of Discerning Experts: The Practices of Scientific Assessment for Environmental Policy, Ian Stewart focuses particular attention on the place of science in policy development (Stewart, 2021). “Anyone interested in the role that science plays in ‘evidence-based decision making’, when it comes to environmental issues and what the last few decades have to teach us about this, will be interested in this book,” he wrote (p. 203). Discerning Experts is part of the growing literature about science and policy and specifically about international environmental assessments. The question of whether science can be separated from policy “is what makes the field of assessment science so interesting to those concerned with the science-policy border,” in Ian’s view (p. 205). He points out that “the authors wish to replace the idealized hard border between science and policy, and instead to recognize not so much a border but a continuum between science and policy, between fact and value.” Scientists engaged in research on policy relevant questions, such as whether and how much to reduce emissions of ozone depleting substances to prevent deleterious effects on plant and animal health, cannot, Discerning Experts argues, “be asked to refrain from drawing policy conclusions that are proximate to their scientific knowledge” (p. 208). Just how “proximate” one’s scientific expertise needs to be in order to venture into policy domains is of course a tricky judgement call.
Science communication receives further attention in Bertrum MacDonald’s review essay “Science Communication: Understanding Its Challenges and Opportunities: Review of Three Books” (MacDonald, 2021). This review encompasses The Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication (2017), Communicating Climate Change Information for Decision-Making (2018), and Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy, and Society(2019). In a world overflowing with information, he questioned whether books about science communication are needed, but quickly noted that science generates information that can and should be applied in addressing challenges facing society; thus, accounts of efforts to strengthen science communication, as these three books emphasize, merit reading and application. Moreover, “the science of science communication has come of age but understanding communication activities is by no means complete. Thus, we should not be perplexed by a continuing stream of books on this subject” (p. 219).
Science communication is also highlighted in Mammals of Prince Edward Island and Adjacent Marine Waters reviewed by Peter Wells (Wells, 2021). Designed for wide readership, Peter states that this book “is bound to become a classic reference” (p. 221). He notes that the book “should be of interest to every biologist engaged with the fauna of the Maritime Provinces, as well as to biology teachers in local schools and universities, and the outdoor-oriented public” (p. 221). Writing for an audience of this breadth is definitely a science communication skill.
The Nova Scotian Institute of Science has a lengthy history of fostering public understanding of science and its environmental context for the province and region. The PNSIS is a primary venue for pursuing this objective. Members of the Environmental Information: Use and Influence research team support the Society’s initiatives to enhance a better understanding of the science-policy interface. We acknowledge the permission of the PNSIS to make copies of these contributions outlined above accessible via our website.
MacDonald, B. H. (2021). Science communication: Understanding its challenges and opportunities—Review of three books. Proceedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, 51(1), 211–219.
Martin, C. (2021). Humans are interpersonal beings – Why isn’t science communication interpersonal? Proceedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, 51(1), 185–194.
Martin, C., & MacDonald, B. H. (2020). Using interpersonal communication strategies to encourage science conversations on social media. PLOS ONE, 15(11), e0241972. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241972
Stewart, I. (2021). Book review: Discerning experts. The practices of scientific assessment for environmental policy. M. Oppenheimer, N. Oreskes, D. Jamieson, K. Brysse, J. O’Reilly, M. Shindell, & M. Wazeck. 2019. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 304 pp. Proceedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, 51(1), 203–209.
Wells, P. G. (2021). Book review: Mammals of Prince Edward Island and adjacent marine waters. R. Curley, P-Y. Daoust, D.F. McAlpine, K. Riehl, & J.D. McAskill. 2019. Island Studies Press at UPEI (University of Prince Edward Island), Charlottetown, PEI. 300 pp. Proceedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, 51(1), 221.
Wells, P. G., & Richardson, D. H. S. (2021). Addressing the crisis in biodiversity—Our role. Proceedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, 51(1), 1–7.