People have dedicated their careers and spilled much ink on bettering relations across the science – policy divide. In recent years, whole institutions have sprung up in order to better communicate and work across this boundary, the kind of institution formally called a boundary organization. In short, the people who work at such places must know the language and culture of both sides, be able to navigate around the sensitivities of each, and serve as a trusted person in moving a conversation along. These people are often called “honest brokers” because of the importance of the trust they must gain and hold. As someone who’s now working on the boundary for a number of years in the marine conservation world, I have some reflections of how exactly that role is not so simple. Hopefully my top 10 reflections will be helpful in building the next generation of boundary spanners.
In the last few months, the Middle East and North Africa have seen some of the most dramatic political changes since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled with an iron fist for more than 20 years, was overthrown. Shortly after, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had also been a brutal dictator for decades, stepped down in the wake of massive public protests. As of this writing, similar protests are taking place in Yemen, Oman, Morocco, Iran, Djibouti, Jordan and Libya (where government retaliation to the protests has been particularly brutal). If you’re a CNN junkie like I am, you’ve read all about how these revolutions will affect human rights, international relations, oil prices, and the influence of terrorism in the region. There has been relatively little mainstream media focus on how science will be affected, however.
At the recommendation of my parents, I’ve started reading “Decision Points”, President Bush’s autobiography. I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected to. It paints a picture of a well-intentioned guy doing what he thought was right in tough circumstances and occasionally getting it wrong. I find this view of President Bush more appealing than either of the common liberal caricatures of him (those being either an evil genius trying to destroy the world or a bumbling idiot completely out of his depth).
Each chapter focuses on an important decision he made during his two-term Presidency. One of these concerned his stem cell research policy and made a few references to his policy towards science as a whole. Since liberals considered his science policies so bad that incoming-President Obama references “restoring science to it’s rightful place” in his inauguration speech, I was curious to hear President Bush’s side of the story.