Science, Policy, and the Public


Science, Policy, and the Public


Join us in exploring intersections between science, politics, policy, and justice.

Over the two years, we will contemplate a number of overarching questions about the relationship between scientific research, decision-making, and the public interest.

How are scientists and their communities engaging with the public and shaping policy discussions on issues ranging from disaster preparedness and response to personalized medicine for disease and disability?

What are the consequences when science is politicized and doubt is cast on its methods of discovery, or even the validity of empirical facts?

Who has the ability to exert political power, pass or reject laws, purchase earthquake or health insurance, make educated decisions about natural hazards or medical technologies, and access government resources and public services related to health and environmental disasters?


2019-20 Focus: Environmental Disasters and Resilience

Societies worldwide are experiencing sequential and overlapping environmental disasters that are stretching governments’ capacity to respond effectively and equitably. In Oregon, people are increasingly affected by and concerned about smoke, wildfire, drought, the impending Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, climate change and more.

Environmental disasters, are, on the one hand, scientific problems to study and address with technologies and engineering projects. They are also human events, profoundly influenced by issues of social inequality and politics. These disasters therefore raise a host of questions that must be approached from the full range of disciplines and professions as well as through effective policies, planning, education, and action.

Decision-Making Through a Resilience Lens
Resilience has been described as the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. Applying a resilience lens to decision-making leads to better designed projects and policies that address multiple challenges at once. We will explore current efforts to develop and implement decision-making frameworks that can help promote resilience in the face of environmental disasters. How can we support and promote effective efforts on campus, locally, and at the state level to help individuals and communities prepare for both the expected and the unexpected?

The Public Life of Science and the Public Roles of Scientists
We will examine the role of science and scientists in the policy process. When, why, and how are recommendations by scientists incorporated into the legislative, regulatory, legal and planning process? When and why have these efforts been included in or excluded from the process for political reasons? To what extent is scientific illiteracy responsible for the lags between science and the responses of elected officials, government agencies, and ordinary citizens? How do we address the gap between scientific complexity and the need for public solutions that are simple and familiar?

Unequal Vulnerabilities
We will explore how both risks of exposure and responses to disasters are structured by historical patterns of power and powerlessness and already-existing social inequalities. Marginalization of certain segments of the population make some individuals and communities more vulnerable and less resilient due to such forces as race and ethnicity, class and income, age and education, gender, and geographical location. Why are some people disproportionately affected by environmental disasters? Who has a say in recovery and rebuilding in the aftermath of disasters? What can we learn from people who have already experienced displacement and trauma linked to fires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and hurricanes?

On-the-Ground Action
How can practical planning address fear and denial as well as threats to our built and natural environments? What steps are being taken on campus, locally, and in Oregon to address the harm that is occurring and will occur? What is being done to increase resilience on campus and in our community? What role do university students, faculty, and staff have in shaping and engaging in those efforts?