Always Advocating

Michael E. Fraidenburg | The Cooperation Company, 5432 Keating Road NW, Olympia, WA 98502. E-mail: [email protected]

If you want to raise hackles at a fisheries conference, organize a discussion about advocacy. Expect two camps to immediately stake out terrain and start lobbying conflicting points of view:

Camp 1—Neutralists. These professionals believe
that there is an obligation to distance themselves from
decision making. Neutralists feel that true, science-based
professionals focus only on what is and should not be
concerned with what ought to be. The “ought to” question,
they say, is the domain of policymakers. Yes, scientists
should inform policy decisions but limit their input
to evaluating the impacts of alternative policy choices.
Neutralists believe that advocacy taints the science and
undermines a professional’s credibility. A scientist,
neutralists say, should not prescribe any particular outcome
because doing so is unprofessional; it amounts to
controlling a decision toward a predetermined outcome
(i.e., an act of commission).

Camp 2—Advocates. They believe that the natural resource
professions are part of the human experience. As
such, it is impossible to escape the “ought to” question.
The values embedded in our sustainability and economic
models establish an advocacy stance from the outset.
Advocates say that our management institutions have
stewardship missions, and these create a responsibility
for employees to achieve that mission. The peer review
process, advocates say, adequately ensures credible (i.e.,
unbiased) science. Like neutralists, they are committed to
the values that a scientist’s work must be objective, honest,
fully reported, and conveyed with measures of precision.
But advocates also believe that scientists and other
professionals have an obligation to speak out and even to
criticize decisions that compromise that mission. For advocates
there is an obligation to go beyond just providing
data. The professional’s job description includes making
affirmative recommendations to achieve the mission.
Professionals need only disclose when they are providing
descriptive evaluations and when they are prescribing
policy choice. Advocates believe that remaining silent is
an act of omission and, as such, unprofessional.

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