Science & policy?
An aquatic scientist’s perspective
Senior Research Fellow in Environmental Science
Ecojustice, Sept 20, 2013
Scientists typically do not get involved
with policy & legislation.
As a result, there is a real need for clear
communication of good science…
…in order for the right people to develop
good policy and effective legal structures…
… and for environmental lawyers so they
have good information for their job.
Two freshwater case studies
Mercury science in Canada
(driven by policy makers)
Phosphorus & eutrophication in lakes
(driven by scientists)
Mercury: a known toxic
chemical for 1000’s of years
W. Eugene Smith
Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath
Environment Canada CARA
Mercury Science Program
• Actions to reduce
emissions of key air
• Driven by Env. Can.
• Funding of science to
Ecological risk using fish as
Modelled mercury concentrations
in yellow perch
Modelled mercury concentrations
Depew DC Burgess NM & Campbell LM. Environmental Pollution (accepted)
Jan 23 2013:
Canada agrees to UN Mercury Treaty
Mr Lovenstein; http://www.mrlovenstein.com/comic/354#comic
This is why good policy developers and lawyers are needed….
Lake Erie is “dead”?
Case study 2: Experimental Lakes Area
(From Science, 2008)
How was phosphorus
identified as the culprit
What did the
• Communicate again!
• Became advocates.
• Testified at state,
provincial & federal
• Testified at US court
• (Many of them became so good at this, they are
still advocating 40 + years later)
What did the governments do?
• International Joint Commission: Great Lakes
Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), 1972,
renewed & amended regularly.
• Canada‐Ontario Agreement regarding the
• Lakewide Management Plans by all involved
US and Canada agencies (federal, state &
• Municipality regulations on sewage and runoff
Did phosphorus reductions work?
• Invasive mussels
• Changes in form of
• Increased agriculture
• Climate change
2011 Algal bloom
Science & environmental policy
• Good policy demands good
• Communication is key.
• Legislation often driven by
• Environmental law often
difficult due to contradictory
interpretations of science &
• Need objective science
Can be challenging for
scientists to reach out
• Incentives limited.
• A lot of work!
• Must find science‐policy nexus, rounding up the
right people at the right time, and follow up.
(good summary by COMPASS linked below).
• Can be very unrewarding especially if scientist
regarded as pushy and intrusive
– (as what happened to the ELA scientists)
– Need the right framework & supportive network.
Smith B. (2013) COMPASS: Navigating the Rules of Scientific Engagement. PLoS Biol 11(4): e1001552. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001552
Should scientists get involved?
• Depends on who you ask.
• But research stations closed,
libraries closed, funding shifted
to industrial & business foci.
• So scientists are learning…
• Sept 16 #StandUp4Sci rallies
organized by Evidence for
Democracy in 17 cities across
• BUT is protesting an effective
means of influencing policy?
Evidence for Democracy: https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/
Lessons learned by scientists
involved in @SaveELA
1. “Not only our role but our responsibility as scientists
to advocate for science in the public domain”
2. “some necessary tools were missing from our toolkit.
For example we had to research the democratic
options” for lobbying and media communication.
3. “Effective communication is key to getting a message
to resonate with the public”, including distilling
complex scientific concepts.
4. “We realized that professional connections within the
scientific community was not, by themselves,
adequate for this work.”
5. “We learned to take ownership of past mistakes”
Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin 22(3):76‐78. (I can send a PDF copy by email)
Some useful resources:
• Canadian Science Policy Centre:
• Science Media Centre of Canada:
• Banff Science Communication Workshop (2
week immersive program):