Can't we all just get along

by Jodi Peterson

"Mud wrestling" might be the best term for what happens when we try to hash out messy environmental issues, says a recent report from the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado-Boulder. But the West is full of talented scientists who can help pull us out of the ring if we’d just let them, according to a new report, Making the Most of Science in the American West: An Experiment.

The problem became clear a decade ago, says co-author Patricia Nelson Limerick, the Center’s chair. In a conflict over a Leadville, Colo., mine drainage, politics and culture kept residents at odds with scientific experts. Townspeople blamed the scientists for plummeting property values; scientists were frustrated by the citizens’ hostile reaction to their advice.

The new report could help head off the next big environmental dust-up by getting everyone to treat scientists as human beings, says Limerick. People need to recognize that science is often uncertain, and that policy changes are actually ongoing experiments. If an environmental dispute is awash in a sea of confusion, Limerick says, the report may come to the rescue: "We have the life preservers stacked. We just need to hear the splashing."

For a copy of the report, see www.centerwest.org/science.htm.
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