Science Lobbyists – For the Greater Good?

We like to think that we are very well-educated in today’s world. The average human can do a variety of maths, have a basic idea of most science topics, and is also literate. It’s not a bad start, but it’s just enough to be dangerous, not enough to be well-informed and knowledgeable.

The majority of people are well-meaning, but utterly ill-informed about all aspects of any particular argument. And if it’s a controversial topic, people will often give a basic desire, but otherwise go about their lives. This often goes, “Yes, I want to live in a clean, healthy environment,” which gives a nod to the lobbyists to go ahead and do what they do. The average person will get riled up if they hear it’s not going their way, but they still don’t really investigate more into the discussion and controversy to understand both sides.

Lobbyists have a mixed review. Ask anyone what they think, and you’ll likely hear mistrust and cynicism or enthusiasm. There’s not much range in the middle ─ unless the person you ask doesn’t know what lobbyists do. It doesn’t help any that even a political science career overview describes the role of a lobbyists with terminology such as “client’s agenda,” or that there are big organisations such as Corporate Europe Observatory has a strong distaste for them as they are associated with corporate

The problem comes when parts of the stories behind any given issue are conveniently hidden from the public that either give permission or raise hell against any given issue. Let’s take one big issue that have hit in the western world, specifically American where the issues tend to get loud and obnoxious:

Yucca Mountain.

The Yucca Mountain case seeks to remove toxic wastes and nuclear wastes from cities to a remote area where it would be buried (within barrels) as it decays. The concept is to remove it from among the middle of human activity to the outside of it so it can decay safely. Yucca Mountain was chosen because it’s stable, away from humans, and easy to monitor. (There are more nuanced reasons, but you can read them here.)

The project stalled out for political reasons. Some will say environmental reasons, but frankly it’s a preservationists view that we shouldn’t put the wastes there because it might harm the environment. Yes, that’s a possibility, but a remote one. There was a lot of work and science that went into selecting a spot, but preservationists didn’t want to trust that. Their own fear trumped science, and thus the lobbied for something different. And now we’re stuck with these toxic wastes in the middle of cities, often where the lowest socioeconomic classes live, injuring the environment and human lives.

Everything comes at a cost. You can find similar dichotomous arguments with two sides in the XL Pipeline that results in train accidents spilling oil over large swaths of the environment and solar panels frying birds as they migrate.

It pays for every individual to have scientific literacy so they can look at both sides of every debate and choose accordingly. It’s time to stop leaving the issues to the lobbyist and politicians ─ they clearly aren’t going to address both sides of the argument and deal with legit concerns that impact more than their own agendas.

Feature image:  jjinsf94115 on Flickr.

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Grace Conyers

Grace is a soil scientist, researcher, educator, and science communicator. She spends a lot of her day alternating between teaching, dancing in a lab while waiting for chemical reactions, reading, and plotting business adventures. She is the owner and a co-founder of Insanitek Research and Development. Grace can be found on social media on Minds, Google+, and She invites you to meet up with her on any of these platforms.

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1 Response

  1. s says:

    i seem to see this is about the USA more than its about UK. But lets move on a bit in reality big companies or organizations uses scientific research to lobby government. Much of the research is fixed to suit the big company or organization purpose of either making money or some other dubious reason. Sometimes it is a very good reason that would benefit our country. I am left in two minds by that.

    But on Lobbying it self I see a big opportunity to lobby good policies too our governance system, by a patriotic group that is actually made up of the general public. Such a group if large enough would get loads of media attention. but would have to be a strictly non political think tank. That exactly why I founded the British Guardians. Non scientific Lobbying, by the people for the people, is a different kettle of fish to scientific lobbying. I rather like that idea.

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