Wednesday, February 6. 2008
Why do you care about what I have to say? Because I sign your paycheck. Well, obviously it’s not my signature on everyone’s check but under the signature you’ll see "RAS", my initials. My initials are on your check because I was smart enough, many years ago, to invest in a banking scheme as to where I get a percentage of all issued paychecks. Of course, it’s only for vested full-time employees of corporations which employ more than 25 people, so perhaps there are a few checks I’m not on- Go ahead, and don’t believe me? Go look. I’ll wait.
What do you mean you don’t see it? But I said it in a definitive statement. I substantiated what I said; therefore it must be true, right? I bet, at least someone, actually thought it might be true. Trust me, if I had set up such a sweet deal with a bank I wouldn’t be sitting in the dungeon (my basement office) writing it on a blog - perhaps I’d be blogging from my own island in the Pacific. My point being, when someone says something as fact - someone else believes it. No questions, it’s just the way it is. However, my degrees are in science - scientists are trained that nothing is absolute- absolutely nothing (and therein lies the irony). None of that seemed to be a problem until I dipped my toe(s) into the policy arena. Scientists don’t write policy, and for good reason- it would never get done because there would always be some looming question and “what if” scenarios. Policies are rules- fairly black and white- “don’t hit a whale”, “slow down to 7 knots when you’re within 500 meters”. Scientists would say “we think that 7 knots is a speed where the whale appears to have a reduced reaction to the approaching vessel but we haven’t taken acoustic considerations into account……”
Commercial industries (shipping, fishing, energy facilities, etc) aren’t scientists. Things are pretty clear to them- “building an offshore energy facility will not have an impact on the marine environment”, “We can’t slow to 10kts, it’s a safety hazard”, “we can’t fish with sinking line, it won’t work”. End of story- just the way it is. Scientists say “According to our studies, we think that the construction will display animals” or “based on the best available data, 10kts is a speed where injuries are less likely to be fatal”. Always qualified, because it’s science and science has to be qualified.
Unfortunately, the folks that make policy, i.e. the elected officials, aren’t scientists either. What they hear is “we can’t” (said definitively”) and “we think” (said with some question).Guess who wins? Ding, ding, ding- we have a winner! Yes, industry. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have science behind them (why would they?), it just matters that they say something as fact, so it is. There is no way, any credible scientist, including myslef, will ever stop qualifying data. Yet, we do need to be clearer about what that means and better at presenting more forceful arguments to policy makers, and poking more holes in the arguments made by industries. That’s much of my job now- reviewing data to support conservation policy and poking holes in counter proposals from industries. It may not sound like fun, but it can be rewarding, and it is incredibly important. I spent the better part of yesterday going through an industry proposal and the rush of instantaneous gratification I got from using science to take apart their claims and demonstrate the further need for more protective measures was……… a feeling I probably shouldn’t be blogging about. It was a good day.
And seriously, go look at your check…………………………………..