Science And Policy; Geosciences In Decision-making

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Abstracts With Programs - Geological Society Of America




The Science in Context Core requirement was introduced at the University of Puget Sound (UPS) to overcome the artificial categorization of students into science and non-science camps. UPS and NEH-NSF-FIPSE funded the development of interdisciplinary, team-taught courses demonstrating that science is not done in a vacuum, but has applications to the lives of "ordinary citizens". Our contribution is a course examining the use of scientific information in the development and implementation of public policy related to geological and environmental "catastrophes" such as pollution/waste, climate change, flooding, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and biodiversity loss. Objectives of the course include showing students how to access and evaluate basic scientific information, the use of such information to understand causes of hazards, and formulation of mitigation policy for hazards. To integrate these activities, student Political Action Committees (PAC's) of 5-6 students with diverse backgrounds get involved in ongoing local/regional policy debates related to "catastrophes" discussed in class. Much of the research is non-traditional, involving interviews with policy-makers and stakeholders on all sides of these controversies, rather than library searches. In order to preserve and disseminate their findings, PAC's produce internet home pages summarizing their results and recommendations and including links to other information sources. The web pages not only preserve valuable information which might otherwise be lost, but also give students a sense that their work reaches and affects people in their community and around the globe. For more course and project information visit http://www.ups.edu/scxt/SCXT325/scxt325.htm. Our students will help make future decisions on critical questions regarding the environment, technology, sustainable development, and other issues where the use of scientific information is critical, often with limited information and no clear "right" answer. In this class, they learn to utilize their own strengths and work with people of differing viewpoints to arrive at a consensus, much like policy-making groups operate in the "real" world.