Check out prominent socioecological researcher Kai Chan’s page at UBC. What I want to draw particular attention to is their “About” page:

Connecting Social and Natural Systems Lab (CHANS Lab)
We envision a world where consideration of social and ecological risks and consequences is fundamental to decision-making.

Our mission is to provide rigorous cutting-edge applied and insight-driven research that informs real-world decision making, to enable the just treatment of current and future people and the natural world.

* Why should a research group have a mission? Because contrary to the myth of the objective scientist, no researcher is without overarching values. We believe it is important to be explicit about our agenda, for transparency and effectiveness.

** What do we mean by enabling just treatment? We recognize that such notions vary across cultures; but we argue that justice cannot be served without at least considering explicitly the risks and expected consequences to those who cannot speak for themselves (future people and non-human entities).

(Note as well that they’ve managed to make a clever acronym out of the PI’s name and the lab’s name… Is there anything they can’t do?) The point they make with regards to bias (or rather, a mission and an agenda) is exactly the one I make, often, to my students. I don’t think it is a common or established view among my colleagues, but at least it is present among current and up-and-coming practitioners. (Chan’s point about transparency, science, and bias is one I think both the evidence and logic support rather unequivocally.)

I (for the most part) don’t think I can express my own mission, and that I’m trying to foster in the AgroEcoLab, any better than that myself.

I say “for the most part” because I think an equally underlooked and important facet of “just treatment” is conversation, consultation, and consent***. Said another way: The Golden Rule is wrong: don’t treat others as you want to be treated, because that assumes everyone is like you. But who knew? They aren’t–everyone isn’t just like you. Whether they share your specific culture or subculture, race, gender, orientation, religion, creed, color, etc., or not. (But perhaps especially if “not”.) Treat others–wait for it–as they want to be treated. And how do you know how that is? Through dialogue, by asking and by understanding and learning, through trial and error–there’s no guarantee it will work, but it is more likely to work and generate a good and healthy relationship than assuming they want to be treated exactly as your clone warrior co-troopers and you do.

This is all reminiscent of something I wrote here a while back; it is good to see that the new senior researchers of the field, like Prof. Chan, are getting on the political ecology boat.

***From a recent publication by Chan et al.: “Identifying and measuring intangible values can be successful only when those with stakes in the decision context participate as collaborators throughout. Researchers involved in such endeavors can coproduce relevant knowledge only when they are invited. Good research practice goes beyond the standards of informed consent (see, e.g., AAA 2009) to respect the diversity and variability in local context and culture. Although developing local partnerships may create challenges to scientific objectivity or researcher legitimacy (see step 3 below), good research practice requires a multiparty partnership with local institutions or organizations, which may include formal memoranda of understanding with indigenous groups or governments, local government, and key stakeholder groups.”

I would add informal understanding as an at least equally important element, if one that is by definition harder to pin down.–mjc

2 thoughts

  1. Thanks so much for this, MJ Chappell! I don’t know how I missed this until now. I totally agree, btw, about the Golden Rule. I always tack on an extra clause: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you–if you were in their shoes”. It puts the same emphasis on understanding others, as comes from conversation, empathy, etc.

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