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What Kind of Knowledge for Effective Biodiversity Policy?. Professor Brian Wynne , ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, CESAGen Lancaster University International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity, IMoSEB European Consultation

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what kind of knowledge for effective biodiversity policy

What Kind of Knowledge for Effective Biodiversity Policy?

Professor Brian Wynne,

ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, CESAGen

Lancaster University

International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity, IMoSEB

European Consultation

Geneva, 25-27th April 2007

what kind of biodiversity
What Kind of Biodiversity?

“Measures of biodiversity vary in scale and purpose. They extend beyond the species level to encompass entire habitats and ecosystems, and can also focus more narrowly on the details of populations and genres. No one measure is best for all purposes. A broad suite of measures is necessary to meet specific needs [but the sheer multiplicity of current measures contributes to the difficulty of building public awareness and understanding]”

Measuring Biodiversity for Conservation, Royal Society report, 2004, p.vii.

effective policy knowledge means also listening to policy actors
Effective policy knowledge means also listening to ‘policy actors’:
  • Two-way communications essential: not just science  policy
  • What is salient to measure? Worth measuring? Measurable?
  • What imagined uses of knowledge? Ends or purposes of knowledge-generation? And how does this affects knowledge-needs?
  • How does this affect what counts as salient? Hence as criteria of valid knowledge?
  • Example of UK Environment Agency & Fly-fishers as amateur experts
  • Thus local saliency and validity important - & scientifically substantive
  • But so is global circulation, connection, exchange, standardisation
  • Hence structural tensions between global standards and flows, and local variation and grounding
sharing and knowledge transfer
Sharing and knowledge transfer



Conservation action





High quality

data – q & q

Forum for






National resource -

NHM profile

Citizen scientists –

technical differences

with EA science

what counts as effective sound science biodiversity knowledge
WhatCounts as Effective (‘Sound Science’) Biodiversity Knowledge ?
  • Precision (n decimal points, or order of magnitude?)
  • Comprehensiveness (centre-mainstream only, or including margins?)
  • Accuracy (what baselines?) – eg, indicator-species, or communities?
  • Scope (universality, standardisation)
  • Consistency
  • Temporality
  • Revise-ability
  • Calibrated to (envisaged) use(s): use-ability
    • What uses? Which users?
    • What end-points?
what who affects or protects biodiversity
What-Who Affects, or Protects, Biodiversity?
  • D - P - S - I - R - - -
  • ‘Policymakers’ ? - Global, national, local . . . .
  • Land-use ? – habitats, corridors, etc: destruction/damage
  • Conservation practices and policies
  • Socioeconomic ‘lifestyle’ drivers and pressures
  • Instrumentalising biodiversity
    • Exploiting biodiversity ‘in order to protect it’ (UN CBD)
    • Bio-prospecting
    • Measuring Biodiversity to protect it? or to exploit it commercially?
      • Royal Society 2004 report
      • Different ends require different measures, thus different knowledge(s)
      • Different taxonomic systems; different corresponding social forms?
  • Indigenous knowledges of ‘biodiversity’….
indigenous biodiversities and knowledges
‘Indigenous’ Biodiversities and Knowledges
  • Important under UN CBD…
    • but ‘indigenous’ is not just ‘exotic’. It is grounded, practical, and universal
  • Nature as instrumental object (whichever taxonomy used)
    • Thus empty of its own meaning, and standing or value?
  • Or ‘other’ subject? Thus with its own ethical-moral standing
  • Combinations of objective and (inter-)subjective relations…
  • Diverse, decentralised relations/responsibilities, or ‘global’ ones only?
  • Indigenous knowledges often embodied in practices, and informal
    • Hence difficult to record/recognise in scientific, mobile forms
    • But formal scientific databases have somehow to respect this, in uses if not in formal substance
indigenous biodiversity stakeholders cbol negotiations of needs and science
For higher animals, CO1 selected as ‘universal’ genetic marker. Its universality under question: e.g. alternative markers already used in South America (questions of standardisation and governance)

For plants, multiple genetic markers selected by CBOL’s Plant Working Group: DNA bar-coding still an experimental technique – will it work for defined purposes?

Eg species identification alone or evolutionary and ecological approaches to biodiversity – what does barcoding contribute?

CBOL promises global database (BOLD), organised by standard biomarkers and connected to global users-publics by hand held sequencers: immediate global digital archiving and access

Relations between DNA barcode gene-sequence molecular biomarkers, and ‘biodiversity’ ?

Do different local purposes-uses mean different selections of marker? So, global standardisation-comprehensiveness?

‘Indigenous’ Biodiversity Stakeholders – CBOL negotiations of needs and science
“the accurate naming of biological specimens is an essential activity in many areas of science and can present a bottleneck that impedes progress: identification by traditional methods is a time-consuming business… The development of universal DNA barcodes provides an opportunity to overcome this constraint by enabling rapid and unequivocal identification on the basis of DNA sequences”(Cowan et al, 2005)

Note not only faster, it is claimed, but “unequivocal” – so better science….??

How will the relationship between vernacular biodiversity knowledge/practice and molecularised, digitised, high-tech approaches develop?

– questions of interoperability + accessibility?

taxonomy at a crossroads science policy and publics in biodiversity
Interdisciplinary ESRC funded research project: Lancaster University and NHM (2006-2009)

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge and Science Studies

Exploring the shifts in taxonomic sciences towards molecurisation and digitisation (DNA Barcoding)

Implications of these shifts for scientific, policy and public communities


“Taxonomy at a Crossroads: science, policy and publics in biodiversity”
effective public engagement and effective policy knowledge for biodiversity
Effective Public Engagement and Effective Policy Knowledge for Biodiversity
  • Existing bodies of knowledge have not been effective (Royal Society conference July 2004; IMoSEB documents)
  • Taxonomic deficit – losing biodiversity faster than we can know it
  • So, intensify existing knowledge-efforts and databases?
  • Or reconsider relations of biodiversity knowledge and society….
  • How to engage social actors in all their diverse local life-situations?
    • some are already knowledge-actors (Amateurs as experts)
    • Indigenous peoples, and indigenous practices/needs
    • more could be; but how?
    • how might we need to re-imagine knowledges and ‘policies’ to encourage this?
ipcc and climate biodiversity parallels and differences
IPCC and Climate: Biodiversity parallels and differences
  • Climate not mainly terrestrial, but ocean-atmosphere
  • A dynamic, singular system ?
  • mainly physical-chemical processes
  • Science of climate based on highly physical-representative deterministic-dynamic models, focused on few key output parameters (temp., rainfall, etc), highly aggregated
  • ……Biodiversity equivalents?
  • Even so, translations into local impacts and practical policy parameters extremely difficult, and questionable
  • Globally-exclusive process for many years, better recently
  • Has IPCC ‘worked’ anyway?
implementation and effective knowledge
Implementation and Effective Knowledge
  • How might scientific knowledge undermine practical implementation?
    • Concentration, access, knowledge-agency
    • Recognition and responsibility; partnership
    • Classifications and calibrations meaningful, useable
      • Cultural meanings
      • Local practices
      • Agency of actors ?
  • Persuading ‘policy’ does not equal persuading and motivating relevant publics
  • Reconciling the Global with the Local ?
final questions biodiversity science policy
Final Questions: Biodiversity Science & Policy
  • Do we need to know biodiversity, before we can ‘protect’ it?
  • If we expect to know biodiversity, its loss, and risks ‘well enough’ before we can act collectively - will it be too late by then?