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Science during crisis: the application of social science during major environmental crises

January 1, 2014

Historical and contemporary experience suggests that science plays an increasingly critical role in governmental and institutional responses to major environmental crises. Recent examples include major western wildfires (2009), the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010), the Fukushima nuclear accident (2011), and Hurricane Sandy (2012).

The application of science during such crises has several distinctive characteristics, as well as essential requirements if it is to be useful to decision makers. these include scope conditions that include coupled natural/human systems, clear statement of uncertainties and limitations, description of cascading consequences, accurate sense of place, estimates of magnitude of impacts, identification of beneficiaries and those adversely affected, clarity and conciseness, compelling visualization and presentation, capacity to speak "truth to power", and direct access to decision makers.

In this chapter, we explore the role and significance of science – including all relevant disciplines and focusing attention on the social sciences – in responding to major environmental crises. We explore several important questions: How is science during crisis distinctive? What social science is most useful during crises? What distinctive characteristics are necessary for social science to make meaningful contributions to emergency response and recovery? How might the social sciences be integrated into the strategic science needed to respond to future crises?

The authors, both members of the Department of the Interior's innovative Strategic Sciences Group, describe broad principles of engagement as well as specific examples drawn from history, contemporary efforts (such as during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill), and predictions of environmental crises still to be confronted.

Publication Year 2014
Title Science during crisis: the application of social science during major environmental crises
DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-8959-2_3
Authors Gary Machlis, Kris Ludwig
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70048719
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Office of the AD Hazards