Can Medical Science Teach Conservation Science to Become More Effective?
Pearson MD, Kimberley Crocker
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In the United States, most conservation decisions are delegated to local governments and agencies. Those decisions are made by appointed or elected officials who have minimal or no training in conservation science. Researchers aspire to have these decision-makers utilize scientific evidence in their work, yet the type of evidence that would best support decision making - i.e., the effectiveness of interventions in the real world - is significantly underrepresented in the conservation evidence literature. Scarcer still is any representation of the comparative effectiveness of different strategies that are designed to reach the same conservation goal. In contrast, over the past fifty years, the medical profession has integrated the collection and use of “real-world” data and evidence on the effectiveness of therapies into day-to-day medical practice. This process has been facilitated by the development of standardized outcome measurements, both disease-specific and generic, that are routinely collected from both clinical trials and clinical encounters. Conservation scientists have thus far been unable to develop such outcome measurements. Instead, they remain divided as to whether ecocentric or anthropocentric measures are the best indicators of conservation effectiveness. During the past two years of study in environmental science and policy, this conflict between the interests of human communities and those of their natural environment has been the central theme for every discipline in the JHU Environmental Science and Policy curriculum. In Ecology, the effects of human-caused habitat loss on biota are a main focus. In Hydrology, we study the effects of the built environment on local flooding or drought conditions. And, in our studies of environmental policies, the overriding tensions are between the effect of human demands for goods and services and the degradation of landscapes and their diverse biota. One way to resolve this debate is to utilize "win-win" outcome measures of conservation initiatives in which benefits to both humans and ecosystems are measured as co-equal outcomes. Effectiveness evidence collection can be accomplished without major expense through collaborations between paid scientists (“professionals”) and trained (unpaid) “amateur” scientists utilizing recent technological advances. When such collaborations are designed by scientists utilizing methodology to assure data validity and minimize bias, they can be invaluable additions to the use of evidence in conservation policy decision-making.