by Emily Myron -- November 23rd, 2011
After attending the Kathryn Fuller symposium in Washington D.C., it seems it is not more publications we need, it is more heart.
Last week, I attended the Kathryn Fuller symposium, enitled “Conservation Forward: Ideas that work and how science can effect change,” hosted by WWF in Washington D.C. with two fellow MEM’s. Career services would have been proud, we attended with our Nic School name tags on, business cards in hand, and ready to network until we lost our voice. However, this goal was not accomplished – instead, I took away a sense of direction and purpose, which, arguably, is even better than a business card.
The speakers were truly inspirational. From Lester Brown’s keynote address, to discussion of letting go of assumptions, to novel, effective conservation techniques, to an eloquent wrap-up by William Clark, the days were just chalk full of meaningful and innovative ideas. However, the one that I think rang most true was a point made by Randy Olson, of Prairie Starfish Productions. As a scientist turned filmmaker, Randy was quite adamant about his belief that data is not what motivates people to care. He argued that scientists are great at being ‘cerebral’, but are, in general, sorely lacking when it comes to being ‘visceral.’ It is this ‘being visceral,’ Randy claimed, that makes people passionate and motivated to effect change.
It was clear that his talk made an impact, as each subsequent speaker tried to be extra passionate and inspirational, and, initially, I agreed with Randy. However, after some thought, I am not so sure…
I agree that effective communication is crucial in motivating people to make the life choices they need to in order to preserve the planet, but I am not sure I agree that this is the job of our ‘cerebral’ scientists. Conservation scientists’ work should be aimed toward projects that advance areas of understanding needed to make responsible decisions for our planet, and perhaps they should try to publish some work in more publicly accessible journals, but I do not think it is necessarily their job to try to motivate people, as well. Of course there are scientists who are also excellent communicators (please keep up the good work!), but I don’t think that this needs to become a requirement for conservation scientists – there are other resources they can use.
Like us! It is the jobs of MEMs, and similar professionals, who understand both the science and the management, who have the passion Randy spoke of, to act as intermediaries. I know that was one of the main reasons I chose to pursue this particular degree – a reason I had forgotten in all the stress of the semester. Let scientists be ‘cerebral’ – I will be ‘visceral.’ We are all a team working toward a common goal, so why not let everyone utilize their strengths, rather than insist people take on roles in which they are uncomfortable. Hopefully, as the field of conservation continues to change, more positions like this, as intermediaries between science, managers, and the public, will be created, and we MEM’s will be in the perfect position to fill them!