Michael Nelson, an MSU associate professor of fisheries and wildlife, knows that being a scientist means having responsibilities outside of the lab.
He and more than 180 Michigan scientists, lived up to those responsibilities last week by signing a letter pressuring Michigan lawmakers to take swift action against climate change in the Great Lakes State.
Composed by a group of scientists at the University of Michigan, the letter outlined the effects of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases on Michigan’s environment and economy.
Nelson added his signature to the letter shortly after the publication of his paper on the importance of advocacy in the scientific community.
“(The letter) is a good example of what we call science advocacy,” Nelson said.
Along with Nelson, 60 other MSU scientists signed the statewide letter, said Tom Dietz, director of MSU’s Environmental Science and Policy Program.
“We really feel it is important that the congressional delegation understand that there is strong scientific consensus about climate change among Michigan scientists,” Dietz said.
Knute Nadelhoffer, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at U-M was one of the primary composers of the letter that went to state legislators.
“We view this as a global problem, but we view Michigan as perhaps suffering much more than it would if we could recognize the reality of the climate situation,” Nadelhoffer said. “Basically, we need to solve these problems at the regional and local level.”
Nelson said he understands the importance of the letter after researching advocacy for about two years with his colleague John Vucetich, a population biologist at Michigan Technological University, to develop a 12–page analysis urging scientists to support important issues they research.
“It is not only OK for a scientist to be an advocate, but they are obligated as a citizen in a democracy,” Nelson said.
The paper was published two weeks ago in Conservation Biology, a national science journal, and analyzes theories both in favor and against scientists being advocates. The analysis concludes that scientists have a civic duty to use their knowledge for advocacy. Action should be taken in a way that is justified and transparent, Nelson said.
“Our paper isn’t a license to be a lunatic,” he said. “If you are going to be an advocate you need to proceed in a way that is similar to our paper, present the full argument and the critiques of your argument.”