Testing for policy advocacy behaviors amongst scientists

Making public policy

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). 

What is 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 or implicit.  Wilhere (2012) adds that policy advocacy can be inadvertent or unintentional.  For the purposes of this posting, the boundary of advocacy will be defined to policy referring to product bans or restrictions. 


Testing for policy advocacy

Test one: Test for the presence of policy advocacy

-Use of value-laden or normative language;

-Stipulation for a preferred policy or management preference.

Test two:  Test for recommended practices to protect scientist credibility

-Accurately characterize the best available policy-relevant science;

-Clearly and thoroughly present the argument;

-Transparently represent the scientific basis for policy recommendations and explicitly acknowledge the values that also inform them;

-Be open to revising policy recommendations in light of new information;

-Avoid hyperbole;

-Clearly acknowledge when expressing a personal opinion or making policy recommendations on issues that lie beyond the bounds of one’s technical expertise.

Note:  Test one is derived from Lackey (2007) and Scott et al. (2007).  Test two is from Meyer, Frumhoff, Hamburg, and de la Rosa (2010), derived from Blockstein (2002), Nelson and Vucetich (2009) and Pace et al. (2010).




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

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

Meyer, J. L., Frumhoff, P. C., Hamburg, S. P., & de la Rosa, C. (2010). Above the din but in the fray: environmental scientists as effective advocates. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 8(6), 299-305. doi: 10.1890/090143

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

Nelson, M. P., & Vucetich, J. A. (2009). On advocacy by environmental scientists:  What, whether, why, and how. Conservation Biology, 23(5), 1090-1101. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01250.x

Pace, M. L., Hampton, S. E., Limburg, K. E., Bennett, E. M., Cook, E. M., Davis, A. E., . . . Strayer, D. L. (2010). Communicating with the public: opportunities and rewards for individual ecologists. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 8(6), 292-298. doi: 10.1890/090168

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.

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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