Nothing but the Truth

January 17, 2010 · 2 comments

At the Student Conference yesterday, Richard D. Clark of Millersville University addressed the role that scientists play in the community, narrowing it down to one essential word: truth. While acknowledging that there is always uncertainty, a scientist must always strive for “honesty and integrity in pursuit of truth,” according to Clark.

He explained that students–and all scientists–can fulfill this mantra by making certain the information they provide is always based solely on evidence, and also by aspiring to unquestionable ethics (while also passing on those ethical standards to others). Clark stressed the importance of clarifying scientific discussion by quantifying the uncertainty inherent in science.

Clark used Roger Pielke Jr.’s The Honest Broker to analyze the various roles scientists may play in their careers: from information provider (the “pure scientist”) to advisor for decision makers (“the honest broker”). Clark cited a recent poll that ranked scientists as the third-most trusted in a list of 22 selected professions, behind doctors and teachers. He noted that regardless of the role, the scientist ultimately must maintain that trust through the pursuit of integrity and the truth.

Clark recommended several ways that students can foster their pursuit of the truth, including 1) using professional societies and their policy statements for guidance, 2) keeping current on reports from major national organizations like the NRC and NSF, and 3) becoming involved in community activities related to their chosen fields.

The development of trust to facilitate the dissemination and application of scientific data is a currently a hot topic, and a number of presentations at the Annual Meeting are examining the issue, including:

Developing Climate Communication Tools for Integrated Decision Support at the Local and Regional Level (Tuesday, 8:30-9:45 a.m., B213)

A Community Wind Energy Project in Rural Albany County, New York State (Wednesday, 10:30 a.m-12:00 p.m, B202)

Emerging Niche Clienteles for Climate-Based Decision Support: Organic Farmers in Georgia (U.S.) (Thursday, 8:30-9:45 a.m., B212)

Knowing Which Way the Wind Blows: Weather Observation, Belief and Practice in Native Oklahoma– First Impressions (Monday, 2:30-4:oo p.m., Exhibit Hall B2)