Should we rely on science to inform policy?

Today marks the start of the badger cull Round 2The hugely controversial cull of a British Icon has sparked debate across the nation, and many contend that science has not been the basis for decisions made throughout the process.

Springwatch Team. By Jo Garbutt (Flickr: Chris, Michaela and Martin) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Springwatch Team. By Jo Garbutt (Flickr: Chris, Michaela and Martin) [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Whether science is used to inform a policy, or raise awareness of the topic, is dependent on the context. In terms of climate change, science has helped adhere 98% in agreement of anthropogenic causation in the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), and governments have thus recognized its importance.

Without enough science, wrong decisions are made. Sunday marked International Vultures Awareness Day. Initially thought to be a population decline due to an infection, vultures in India were suffering at the doors of a commonly used veterinary antibiotic, diclofenac. The science community was enthralled when research recognized this as a causal factor, banned the drug in the market, and effectively reversed the vulture decline.

By en:User:Sameyley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By en:User:Sameyley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


It is the communication of science which needs improving. Migrant birds suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation, affecting the distances they travel and the stops they make on-route. Birds traveling to under-developed countries are specifically threatened by a lack of local awareness and information. Informing communities with a common language will motivate the public and improve conservation from the bottom up.

Popular science television including Attenborough Series’, and BBC Springwatch, are thought to be more influential than scientific fact. Through creative arts and personification we may connect the trials of life with a wider audience to inspire a new attitude. In a similar way, the cultural value of the common badger is under-recognized, though social science should have an equal say in decisions made about conservation, in coordination with the ecological evidence.


Last weeks conference, A Focus On Nature, hosted by youth conservation network Vision For Nature, held a debate around the importance of science in conservation. Comments were added by Dr Mark Avery, Ralph Underhill, Rob Lambert, and Dr Debbie Pain.