Robert T. Lackey

Oregon State University
Fisheries and Wildlife

Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
Corvallis, OR
97331 |  Visit Personal Website

Search Google Scholar
Search for Google Scholar Profile

My research interests cluster around diverse aspects of natural resource and environmental management, but mainly at the interface between science and policy. Much of my recent work has involved synthesizing realistic and relevant scientific assessments of politically divisive natural resource and environmental problems in North America. Specific examples of such natural resource and environmental issues are freshwater and marine fisheries sustainability, salmon science and policy, climate change, acid rain, biological diversity, water conflict, and clarifying the proper role of science in public policy. My current work focuses on assessing the three overarching policy realities that will drive North American natural resource and environmental agencies through this century: (1) the likely dramatic increase in the numbers of humans inhabiting the region; (2) a dramatically different climate which will impose different ecological constraints; and (3) the ongoing and intensifying collective demand for ecosystem services.

Lackey, Robert T. 2009. Is science biased toward natural? Northwest Science. 83(3): 291-293.
Abstract: A policy bias toward “natural” is a common misuse of science in policy and politics, but there are many other examples. Such policy biases in science are often subtle and frequently the individual scientist is unaware. Having widely available, accurate, understandable, relevant, and unbiased scientific information is central to the successful resolution of the typically contentious, divisive, and litigious environmental policy and regulatory issue. For this and other reasons, scientists should vigilantly guard against slipping into normative science in environmental management and policy. Otherwise, society risks marginalizing the helpful role that science and scientists can play in resolving important, but divisive public policy issues.
Lackey, Robert T. 2013. Normative science. Terra Magazine, Oregon State University, Winter Issue, Volume 8(2): 36.
Abstract: These days, technical experts in natural resource management, environmental science, conservation, and similar disciplines are often not trusted by the public and decision-makers to present policy-neutral science or, more generally, technical information. One reason is that scientists and engineers advocating personal or organizational positions on policy issues has become widely tolerated as acceptable professional behavior and is even encouraged by a segment of the technocratic community. As a result, the scientific enterprise is collectively slipping into a morass that risks marginalizing the contribution of science to public policy. Public confidence that scientific and other technical information is technically accurate, policy relevant, and politically unbiased is central to informed resolution of policy and regulatory issues that are often contentious, divisive, and litigious. Especially, scientists, engineers, and other technical experts should watch for the often subtle creep of normative science (i.e., information that appears to be policy neutral, but contains an embedded preference for a particular policy or class of policies). Failing to do so risks marginalizing the essential role that science, scientists, and other technical experts ought to play in informing decisions on important public policy questions.
Lackey, Robert T. 2007. "Science, Scientists, and Policy Advocacy." Conservation Biology. 21(1):12-17.
Abstract: Effectively resolving a typical ecological policy issue requires providing an array of scientific information to decision makers. In my experience, the ability of scientists (and scientific information) to inform constructively ecological policy deliberations has been diminished when what is offered as "science" is inculcated with policy preferences. As with all human activity, the scientific enterprise is not free of values, but values reflected in subtle form as policy preferences should not be permitted to prejudice scientific information. Scientific information becomes "normative" when it contains tacit policy preferences and thus, by extension, promotes particular policy options. There are many examples of normative science confusing the development of sound ecological policy when it operates under the guise of policy neutral science. With its disguised value and preference characteristics, normative science provides little substantive help in reconciling the most divisive elements of ecological policy. In my opinion, scientists should play the important role of informing policy discussions with unbiased, understandable scientific information, assessments, and forecasts. To develop sound policy, science is important, helpful, perhaps even essential, but involvement with policy issues by a naive scientist or scientific organization can lead to loss of credibility and perceived independence unless the proper roles of both science and policy are understood and followed.
Lackey, Robert T. 2006. "Axioms of Ecological Policy." Fisheries 31 (6):286-290.
Abstract: Many current ecological policy problems are contentious and socially wrenching. Each possesses unique features, but there are several generalities that apply to nearly all. I propose nine axioms that are typical of most current ecological policy problems: (1) the policy and political dynamic is a zero-sum game; (2) the distribution of benefits and costs is more important than the ratio of total benefits to total costs; (3) the most politically viable policy choice spreads the benefits to a broad majority with the costs limited to a narrow minority of the population; (4) potential losers are usually more assertive and vocal than potential winners and are, therefore, disproportionately important in decision making; (5) many advocates will cloak their arguments as science to mask their personal policy preferences; (6) even with complete and accurate scientific information, most policy issues remain divisive; (7) demonizing policy advocates supporting competing policy options is often more effective than presenting rigorous analytical arguments; (8) if something can be measured accurately and with confidence, it is probably not particularly relevant in decision making; and (9) the meaning of words matters greatly and arguments over their precise meaning are often surrogates for debates over values.

Substantive Focus:
Energy and Natural Resource Policy SECONDARY
Environmental Policy PRIMARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Analysis and Evaluation PRIMARY