What is policy advocacy?

Defining science

Science is used to help explain phenomena which is the foundation of knowledge or fact (Sullivan et al., 2006; Vallero & Lioy, 2010).  Science is supported by three elements:  experimentation, peer review and publication to allow for replication (Vallero & Lioy, 2010).   Scientific fact should not be confused with an opinion whereby opinions are not reproducible and reliability is unknown (Ruggiero, 2009).

 Defining policy-making

Policy makers use values, which are moral-based, along with scientific fact in order to make decisions that will effect society (Chan, 2008; Dietz, 2013).  Science cannot provide answers towards choosing human-based goals which are a part of public policy-making (Sullivan et al., 2006).  Public policy-making is based upon the values of society and how science impacts society (Sullivan et al., 2006).  When scientist chose to advocate a policy position, they may be expressing their opinion towards certain policy choices.  Issues with advocacy and policy-making arise when the politician depends upon the objectivity of the scientist.  Without objectivity, policy decisions would be based on biased information.  Problems associated with policy advocacy includes confusing or misleading policy-makers, being unethical, and loss of credibility for science and scientists (other scientists and themselves) (Blockstein, 2002; Lackey, 2004; Ruggiero, 2010). 

Defining policy advocacy

One must define what a policy advocate in order to examine this issue.  One commonly recognized definition of policy advocacy is the “support of a particular policy or class of policies”(Lackey, 2007; Scott et al., 2007).  Science that is associated with advocacy is considered to be normative or value-based (Lackey, 2004).  Scientists advocates tends to have dogmatic and polarized policy positions(Chan, 2008; Mills, 2000).  Lackey (2004) states that policy advocacy can be explicit, implicit or stealth.  Wilhere (2012) adds that policy advocacy can be inadvertent or unintentional. 


Figure 1-The data-to-advocacy continuum as per Blockstein (2002)



 Blockstein, D. E. (2002). How to Lose Your Political Virginity while Keeping Your Scientific Credibility. BioScience, 52(1), 91-96. doi: 10.1641/0006-3568(2002)052[0091:HTLYPV]2.0.CO;2

Chan, K. M. A. (2008). Value and Advocacy in Conservation Biology: Crisis Discipline or Discipline in Crisis? Conservation Biology, 22(1), 1-3. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2007.00869.x

Dietz, T. (2013). Bringing values and deliberation to science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(Supplement 3), 14081-14087. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212740110

Lackey, R. T. (2004). Normative Science. Fisheries, 29(7), 38-89.

Lackey, R. T. (2007). Science, Scientist and Policy Advocacy. Conservation Biology, 21(1), 12-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00639.x

Mills, T. J. (2000). Position Advocacy by Scientists Risks Science Credibility. Northwest Science, 74(2), 165-168.

Ruggiero, L. F. (2009). The Value of Opinion in Science and the Forest Service Research Organization. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 73(5), 811-813. doi: 10.2193/2008-382

Ruggiero, L. F. (2010). Scientific Independence and Credibility in Sociopolitical Processes. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 74(6), 1179-1182. doi: 10.1111/j.1937-2817.2010.tb01237.x

Scott, J. M., Rachlow, J. L., Lackey, R. T., Pidgorna, A. B., Aycrigg, J. L., Feldman, G. R., . . . Steinhorst, R. K. (2007). Policy advocacy in science: Prevalence, perspectives, and Implications for conservation biologists. Conservation Biology, 21(1), 29-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00641.x

Sullivan, P., Acheson, J., Angermeier, P., Faast, T., Flemma, J., Jones, C., . . . Wunderlich, R. (2006). Defining and implementing best available science for fisheries and environmental science, policy, and management. Fisheries, 31(9), 460-465.

Vallero, D. A., & Lioy, P. J. (2010). The Scientific Method in an Era of Advocacy. 1(4), 293-318. doi: 10.1615/EthicsBiologyEngMed.v1.i4.70

Wilhere, G. F. (2012). Inadvertent advocacy. Conservation Biology, 26(1), 39-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2011.01805.x

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