So much of what the scientists do is less relevant than it could be. This was the motivation behind the theme at the 2010 AAAS annual meeting, Bridging Science and Society.
Our panel discussed non-regulatory means of enhancing cooperation – namely through reputation and shame. Ralf Sommerfeld, a recent graduate who worked with the Max Planck Institute, presented several of his new game theoretical studies showing that gossip and reputation can lead to increases in overall cooperation [1, 2]. This is the theory that underpinned my presentation proposing that we migrate away from guilt-based efforts in conservation (e.g. eco-labels) and toward shame-based strategies, which we can use to motivate large-scale resource users — a more effective conservation strategy. To show evidence of this in the real world, John Hocevar, head of oceans campaigns for Greenpeace USA, presented their work on affecting retailer reputation (e.g. the campaign) to encourage greater cooperation. In particular, he focused on the seafood scorecard, which has been released in 15 countries around the world and ranks major supermarkets according to their seafood procurement policies. As a result, many large retailers have stopped selling certain fish, like Orange roughy and sharks, and have engaged with discussions with the ‘good cops’ of conservation, like WWF.
The AAAS theme of bridging science and society was commendable, but there is still hesitation from scientists who try to avoid being perceived as advocates. For instance, Chris Clark, head of the Bioacoustics lab at Cornell University and an expert on sound in the ocean, showed that the oceans are three times louder than they were in the 1960s – much of it on account of shipping. For acoustic feeders like right whales, this means greater difficulty locating food and each other, as noise disturbance causes “frequent tears in their social fabric”. The evening before, Clark mentioned to me that a potential solution was to slow boat speeds, which was also more fuel efficient and cheaper for shipping. A Norwegian firm had, in fact, already committed to slowing their ship speeds. Clark has also made progress in installing smart buoys that alert ship captains to the presence of right whales to help them avoid collisions. The following day, Clark made a very compelling presentation of the problem of acoustic disturbances, but oddly he did not mention any solutions in his presentation.
This is why scientists need to build bridges and they need to make maps. I am not necessarily referring to a literal “map making”, which is what a colleague dubbed the spatial planning session at AAAS. I refer to an action map to guide the audience where they might go if they want to know more or do something with the science they just learned.
Since the 1960s, studies have shown that behavior does not change merely as a result of information, even if it is fear inducing. Behavior can change if information is combined with an action plan. In a 1965 study on tetanus inoculation, researchers showed students the somewhat terrifying results of contracting tetanus, which resulted in 3 percent of the students getting a tetanus shot. Other subjects were given the same lecture but were also given a copy of a campus map with the location of the health center circled. They were then asked to make a plan for when they get the shot and look at a map to decide what route they would take to get there. In this case, 28 percent of the students managed to show up and get their tetanus shot. The medical message seemed to influence attitudes but a specific plan influenced action .
In bridging science and society, scientists need to consider avenues to give their audience an action map. One obvious solution could be for scientists to incorporate policies and actions that would deal with the issues they study, like Chris Clark’s recommendation to slow shipping speeds to reduce ocean noise. In some cases, scientists can take action, as happened in 1974 after two chemists at the University of California Irvine proposed a hypothesis that related CFC use to the depletion of the atmosphere. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina did not stop there but advocated for the ban of CFCs, which occurred regionally just three years later and, globally, with the 1987 Montreal Protocol .
However, many scientists feel uncomfortable with action plans or, what many call ‘advocacy’. In this case, scientists can team up with people who already have action plans, which is why AAAS supported a panel that included a main player at Greenpeace. It is why coral reef ecologist Terry Hughes, who presented about the fish biomass improvements within no-take zones, presented alongside Jay Nelson from Pew, who is working to establish large marine reserves in an ocean where less than 0.08 percent of the area is no-take. Hughes also nicely exhibits the benefit of having scientists to examine the effects of action plans themselves. Like the scientists who examined the effects of a map on tetanus shots, Hughes has studied the biomass improvements in certain fish, like the coral trout, afforded by society’s decision to re-zone and protect a greater area of the Great Barrier Reef . His research was a nice reminder that the bridge between science and society is a two-way street.
1. Sommerfeld, R. H. Krambeck, D. Semmann, and M. Milinski. 2007. Gossip as an alternative for direct observation in games of indirect reciprocity. PNAS 104:17435-17440.
2. Sommerfeld, R. H. Krambeck, and M. Milinski. 2008. Multiple gossip statements and their effect on reputation and trustworthiness. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275(1650): 2529-36.
3. Leventhal, H., R. Singer, R. and S. Jones. 1965. Effects of fear and specificity of recommendation upon attitudes and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2, 20-29.
4. Haas, P.M. 1990. Obtaining International Environmental Protection through Epistemic Consensus. Millennium – Journal of International Studies 19: 347-364.
6. McCook et al. 2010. Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef: A globally signiﬁcant demonstration of the beneﬁts of networks of marine reserves. PNAS.