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Viewpoint Society Is Ready for a New Kind of Science— Is Academia? BONNIE L. KEELER, REBECCA CHAPLIN-KRAMER, ANNE D. GUERRY, PRUE F. E. ADDISON, CHARLES BETTIGOLE, INGRID C. BURKE, BRAD GENTRY, LAUREN CHAMBLISS, CARRIE YOUNG, ALEXANDER J. TRAVIS, CHRIS T. DARIMONT, DORIA R. GORDON, JESSICA HELLMANN, PETER KAREIVA, STEVE MONFORT, LYDIA OLANDER, TIM PROFETA, HUGH P . POSSINGHAM, CARISSA SLOTTERBACK, ELEANOR STERLING, TAMARA TICKTIN, AND BHASKAR VIRA n her 1998 essay in Science 1. Produce not only professors but needed to understand the needs of I (http://io.aibs.org/sci1), Jane also future environmental leaders end users, then universities must Lubchenco boldly called for a new Few faculty members can serve as incentivize this work by removing “Social Contract for Science,” one mentors for students interested in barriers and rewarding those who that would acknowledge the scope real-world problem solving, because deliver real-world impacts in promo- and scale of environmental prob- most do not engage in use-inspired tion and retention decisions. The lems and have “all scientists devote science or actively cultivate relation- bias against applied science needs to their energies and talents to the most ships with external practitioners. go extinct. pressing problems of the day in pro- Employers are increasingly demand- portion to their importance.” We ing hybrid skill sets (http://io.aibs.org/ 3. Move ideas into action faster were entering a new millennium, ec1), but most graduate programs pro- The “price we pay for precision,” and Lubchenco was worried that the duce individuals with highly specific wrote Nobel Prize–winning economist scientific enterprise was unprepared training and uncertain job prospects Douglass North, “is an inability to deal to address the challenges related to (http://io.aibs.org/he1). More faculty with real-world problems.” If we have climate change, pollution, health, conducting applied work will help, learned anything from the climate- and technology. but institutions can do their part by change debate, it is that a small degree Here we are, 20 years later, and our incentivizing partnerships between of uncertainty is not an excuse for global challenges have only grown in scientists and “boots-on-the-ground” inaction. Academics should emulate complexity and urgency. Never before practitioners and providing training the tech sector and employ tools from have we had such a clear understand- and career paths for scientists whose design thinking to rapidly prototype ing of our environmental crises and focus is communication and engage- ideas and iterate solutions with end yet also been so far from delivering the ment with business, government, and users. Decision-makers and risk ana- investment in actionable research that communities. lysts can help researchers determine Lubchenco called for. If the March for when we know enough to take action Science is any indication, researchers 2. Cultivate a culture that values use- and what the risks are for inaction. are ready to engage. But will univer- inspired research When science is paralyzed by preci- sities—both leaders and the faculty In many basic-science departments, sion, society misses out on potential who govern—acknowledge the need research with immediate relevance solutions. for reform? to societal issues is seen as second- Academic institutions are increas- class work. But the problems of the 4. Put people at the center of envi- ingly seen as elite enclaves, out of real world are wondrously complex. ronmental science touch with real-world problems, con- They entail conflict, trade-offs, insti- People make decisions, people shape ducting research in isolated bubbles. tutions, and relationships. Instead policies, and people face the conse- We cannot afford to wait decades more of being mundane, they require a quences of environmental change. for universities to provide the infra- level of creativity that matches the However, individuals and communi- structure and foster the culture needed most abstruse theoretical physics. ties are largely sidelined in environ- to turn ideas into action. If we want Scientists need mentoring on how mental research, too often seen as science to serve society and the planet, to codevelop research with external passive recipients of knowledge or as as Lubchenco argued it must, then we partners and a greater appreciation objects of study rather than as true all must take responsibility for institutional for the time and resources required research partners. Recent calls for sci- innovation in five key areas. We must do to effectively engage. And if scien- entists to “establish dialogues” (http:// the following: tists invest the time and resources io.aibs.org/ensia) with the wider world https://academic.oup.com/bioscience July 2017 / Vol. 67 No. 7 • BioScience 591 Viewpoint are valid, but they fail to acknowledge and leaders of all sorts (https://woods. and reward societal impact as a core decades of applied work at land-grant s t a n f o r d.e d u/e d u c a t i n g-l e a d er s/ responsibility of academia. We are liv- institutions and by social science on leadership-programs) are expanding ing in times of revolution on many the human dimensions of natural- in response to demand for applied fronts. Perhaps one of them can be to resource issues. Putting people front skills. University and nongovernmen- reinvent our centers of learning—to and center in environmental science tal-organization partnerships and ensure their relevance and to har- requires natural scientists to priori- industry–university links have led to ness their power to address the critical tize equal partnership with the social a number of innovations, including challenges of our time. sciences, arts, and humanities and the development of technologies that with researchers from diverse back- detect and mitigate methane leakage Bonnie L. Keeler (email@example.com) is with the grounds. Authentic partnership with (www.edf.org/climate/methane-stud- Natural Capital Project at the Institute on the individuals and communities can also ies); new approaches and open-source Environment at the University of Minnesota, in St. Paul. Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer and Anne D. expand the frontiers of traditional dis- software tools that enable leaders to Guerry are with the Natural Capital Project at ciplines, leading to new insights. At the account for nature’s contributions to the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment same time, reframing environmental society (www.naturalcapitalproject. in Stanford, California. ADG is also affiliated problems in terms of their impact org); and the adoption of new finan- with the Natural Capital Project at the School on people will broaden the uptake of cial models designed to fight pov- of Environment and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Prue F. E. research, attract new partners, and erty (http://io.aibs.org/vet) and expand Addison is with the Interdisciplinary Centre for increase media coverage. access to clean energy (https://energy. Conservation Science, Department of Zoology, duke.edu/global-energy-access). In all of at the University of Oxford, in the United 5. Reimagine academic structures to these cases, the ingredients for success Kingdom. Charles Bettigole, Ingrid C. Burke, encourage innovation were the cultivation of partnerships, and Brad Gentry are with the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, Many environmental scientists are buy-in from university leadership, and in New Haven, Connecticut. Lauren Chambliss housed in discipline-specific depart- researchers with the expertise and per- and Carrie Young are with the Department of ments with few incentives to collabo- sistence to codevelop solutions with Communication and Alexander J. Travis is with rate; even fewer engage meaningfully end users. Other bright spots include the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at in the broader world. Faculty tenure action-oriented policy institutes Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York. Chris T. Darimont is with the Department of Geography standards and academic administra- (https://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/ at the University of Victoria, and with the tion, finance, and legal departments el) that link academics with decision- Raincoast Conservation Foundation, in British move slowly, whereas external deci- makers, the adoption of new impact- Columbia, Canada. Doria R. Gordon is with the sion-makers need fast-paced, time-sen- oriented metrics to evaluate the quality Environmental Defense Fund, in Washington, sitive solutions. Even within land-grant of academic research (http://www.ref. DC, and the Department of Biology at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, Florida. institutions, applied departments (agri- ac.uk), and university-sponsored Jessica Hellmann is with the Institute on the culture, natural resources, and agri- grants employing evaluation criteria Environment at the University of Minnesota, in cultural economics) are separate from that prioritize societal impact over St. Paul. Peter Kareiva is with the Institute on basic departments (biology, ecology, publications (http://io.aibs.org/spln). Environment and Sustainability at the University and economics). Progress will come Isolated initiatives, however, will of California, Los Angeles. Steve Monfort is with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology in the form of outward-facing units not deliver solutions at the scale Institute, in Washington, DC. Lydia Olander such as those represented by many of needed to address the most formi- and Tim Profeta are with the Nicholas Institute the coauthors, university infrastruc- dable challenges of our time. We need for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke ture dedicated to bridging science to systemic change spanning incentives, University, in Durham, North Carolina. Hugh practice, and new positions that reward culture, and research design in order P. Possingham is with The Nature Conservancy, in Arlington, Virginia, and with the Center of impact and engagement. When institu- to cultivate a generation of schol- Excellence for Enviromental Decisions at the tions support and incentivize work of ars who will increase the reputation University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia. societal relevance, researchers will not and influence of academia. It is time Carissa Slotterback is with the Humphrey School have to wait until tenure to explore for university presidents, provosts, of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, controversial topics and to develop the faculty-governance officials, and phi- in Minneapolis. Eleanor Sterling is with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at partnerships that lead to long-term lanthropists to double down on the the American Museum of Natural History, in engagement and discovery. interdisciplinary, solution-oriented New York, New York. Tamara Ticktin is with There are signs of progress—seeds work that this complex, problem- the Department of Botany at the University of change taking root in universities filled world needs. of Hawai’i at Mānoa, in Honolulu, Hawaii. around the world (www.youtube.com/ Last month, Jane Lubchenco reit- Bhaskar Vira is with the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and the watch?v=55lFQJXAiq0). For example, erated her call (http://io.aibs.org/lub) Department of Geography, at the University of impact-oriented training programs for for a “quantum leap into relevance” Cambridge, in the United Kingdom. students (http://smconservation.gmu. driven by greater engagement and edu), faculty (http://ncep.amnh.org), institutional reforms that recognize doi:10.1093/biosci/bix051 592 BioScience • July 2017 / Vol. 67 No. 7 https://academic.oup.com/bioscience
Bioscience – Pubmed Central
Published: May 24, 2017
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