GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 178-1
Presentation Time: 8:10 AM

BE A VOICE FOR SCIENCE (Invited Presentation)

HILLS, Denise J., Geological Survey of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401

Scientists may be reluctant to speak out about contentious issues, concerned that they may not be seen as impartial or believing that “politicking” sullies their science. This reluctance has contributed to the erosion of public trust and support of science. However, it is possible to be an advocate for science while maintaining (or even increasing) trust and respect for scientific research and the scientific researcher.

The Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA) is mandated to explore for, characterize, and report Alabama’s natural resources in support of economic development, conservation, management, and public policy for the betterment of Alabama’s citizens, communities, and businesses. As GSA employees, we are called to provide the necessary information so that all stakeholders can make prudent decisions.

When a local community learned that the GSA was conducting an evaluation on an oil sands resource near them, they became anxious and upset that resource exploitation was inevitable and could have significant negative impact on their lives. Through effective communication, including public meetings and townhalls and educational outreach materials, we were able to alleviate their concerns by demonstrating that we were providing them the information necessary to make their own decisions. By presenting facts in an approachable way, we became a trusted partner in their community. We explain our role as, “We can’t tell you what’s best for you to do, but we can provide you the information necessary so that you can make the decision that is best for you and your community and interests.”

A similar approach can be used when working with other decision-makers. Participation in programs such as Society-sponsored congressional visits days can be a great way to understand how the value of scientific research is best communicated to a policy-maker. We have found that decision-makers want input from scientists to help drive sound policies based in fact. Therefore, being a voice for science is not seen as political, but rather as an important public service.

  • Hills-VoiceForScience-GSA2019.pdf (14.2 MB)