James Hazelton



Advocacy and Its Role in Science

          Science, in its purest form, is a beautiful thing. Discovering facts previously unknown and sharing this knowledge with others are two duties which all of the sciences have in common. Scientific journals and other publications have long been the media though which pure scientific knowledge could flow, but an issue concerning these media has caused a controversy which has not yet been firmly decided upon: the scientist’s role in advocating political or social change based on the outcome of scientific research. This particular ethical gray area, whether or not it is justified for a scientist or researcher to include his or her opinions or suggestions into their scientific paper, has room for abuse on both sides, but it seems that the best solution to the problem is to keep science and advocacy as separate as possible.

           Advocacy certainly has its place. In fact, scientists are among the most qualified to propose certain changes in government or society, especially when the researcher happens to be an expert in the subject of the proposed change. However, when too much weight is placed on the point-proving or policy-changing power of a particular paper, the pure scientific aspect can suffer. If a researcher were to write a paper titled “Global Warming and the Death of the Human Race”, it would be instantly obvious that the paper is biased and out to prove a point, and even though the data might be one hundred percent accurate, the paper and the data would be tarnished if the human-race-killing assumptions were proven wrong. Also, on the other side of the issue lies the scientist who advocates nothing, even when his opinions, based on first-hand knowledge of the issues, would be crucial to the greater good of society. So there must be a compromise between the policy-makers and the purely scientific.

          As mentioned above, the simplest solution is not to absolutely ban or absolutely allow advocacy in science, just to keep advocacy and facts separated in scientific publications. For example, a researcher could collect data on climate change, analyze and publish the data in a journal, and then if the researcher wishes to write another paper or proposal which advocates change, he or she would be free to do so. No one’s feelings are hurt this way, those who wish to look at the unbiased and unframed data can do so, and those curious about suggestions from the scientist about changes in policy can have their intellectual needs fulfilled as well. At the very least, another compromise could be the inclusion of a new section into, for example, a paper giving results of a global temperature survey, which would be explicitly defined as opinion and advocacy. Science and advocacy are not two sides of the same coin, instead they are different forms of currency, which are best left separated until one or the other can be used. This approach would reduce the formerly gray area to a clear line, which also leads to much less abuse on both sides of the issue.

[Note this paper as an example of pure advocacy. 100% Science Free]