RESOLVE science sheds light, reduces heat

Jan 9, 2012

RESOLVE’s Collaborative Science program has been successful in calming one aspect of one of the more controversial water disputes in the nation – the diversion of Sacramento River water to southern California. Centered around the protection of endangered species in the San Francisco Bay ecosystem, and involving multiple lawsuits, the dispute had led to accusations of scientific malpractice against government scientists. Things were escalating with Congressional hearings, and potentially serious consequences for all involved. The US Department of the Interior asked RESOLVE to convene a panel of independent experts, and investigate the facts of the case. Our conclusion: there was no evidence of deliberate malpractice, but there was evidence of misunderstandings and lack of clarity.

The judge (who had initially leveled the accusations), and the Interior Department (who had been criticized), both welcomed the findings. You can read about the case and their reactions here (LA Times), here (Fresno Bee), and here (E&E News).

Here at RESOLVE, we are taking some lessons from the result too. We did not present our results in terms of one party being right and the other wrong: Science doesn’t work that way. We worked independently to gather the right information; identified the ‘best available’ science, and called on scientists who were credible with all parties. Such steps can be very helpful to managers and decision-makers. Rather than declaring winners and losers, independent science review can support collaborative settlements and productive next steps. Maybe lawyers should consult more with scientists?

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