Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Goals

The goal of this seminar is to explore the role of science and scientists in ecosystems and natural resources management focusing on joint fact finding as a new approach to environmental policy-making. Increasingly scientists and science organizations are confronting a conundrum: Why is science often ignored in important societal decisions even as the call for decisions based on sound science escalates? One reason is that decision-making is often driven by a variety of nonscientific, adversarial, and stakeholder dynamics. Thus, even though science helps inform choices, it is only one of many values and interests considered by each stakeholder.

In response to this emerging challenge, scientists, and science agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, are embarking upon research that explores the problems of incorporating science into value-laden societal decisions. This research includes designing experiments that will assess the appropriateness of using the new and emerging approach of Joint Fact Finding to address some of the Nation’s most contentious environmental conflicts. In the first few sessions we will examine the problems of using science in environmental disputes. In following sessions, students will analyze and discuss cases that involved or that should have involved Joint Fact Finding of various kinds. During the second half of the seminar, students will concentrate on gathering information to assist in resolving the Cape Wind project, the dispute concerning the placement of wind farms in waters adjacent to Nantucket. Students will lay the groundwork for a collaborative project that includes Federal and State agencies, academic institutions and non-profits.

The seminar, which will operate as a workshop, will be interactive and dependent upon a high degree of student participation and initiative. Students will have the opportunity to discuss real-life situations with guest speakers that include senior level Federal policy makers. Students will be expected to undertake a project that analyzes the role of Joint Fact Finding in the Cape Wind controversy. Early in the semester we will discuss project options. The projects could take the form of individual research papers or a role-play simulation developed by the class as a team that introduces participants in the Cape Wind controversy to the concept of Joint Fact Finding. The projects could be part of a joint USGS/MIT working paper series.

Major Themes

There are three major themes in this course:

Theme A (Lectures #1 through 6): The challenge of using scientific and technical information in environmental policy-making

During sessions in this theme we will discuss the ways in which scientific information is normally used in the policy-making process. The points of view of the scientist and policy maker will be considered. We will explore why scientific information is not used and how it is misused.

Theme B (Lectures #7 through 14): Introduction and development of the Joint Fact Finding Approach

In this theme we explore collaborative approaches as a better way to incorporate science into environmental policy. A simple hypothesis that we will test is “the more you involve the people most affected by a policy decision in the design of the supporting scientific inquiry, the greater the chance that they will use and value the results in decisions that get made.” To help resolve the most contentious environmental disputes, citizens across the nation are increasingly using collaborative processes to seek consensus. We will discuss collaborative approaches as a foundation for citizen stewardship groups and the role these groups play in sustainable development and environmental policy-making.

Theme C (Lectures #15 through 22): Cape Wind Project

We will investigate the background of this dispute to place wind turbines in shoal water off the Nantucket coast. Then we will explore Joint Fact Finding as an approach to help resolve the dispute.