Crossing the Valley of Death: Moving science into practice and policy

Society can't afford to take 20 or 30 or 50 years to put new scientific insights about the environment into practice, say two scientists from The University of Arizona in Tucson.

To shorten the time between the creation of new knowledge and the widespread acceptance of that knowledge by citizens and policymakers -- the so-called "Valley of Death -- environmental scientists need to take lessons from research on marketing and research how innovations are disseminated.

"Most scientists who work in this general area don't realize it takes a while to put their findings into practice," said Charles F. Hutchinson, director of UA's Office of Arid Lands Studies and a professor of arid lands resource sciences. "There's no mechanism that reliably passes research on so that it can be put into practice. One of the things we try to do is make the research community think about this problem."

His coauthor Stuart E. Marsh will present their paper, "Desertification Research: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Research and Practical Applications," on Friday, Feb. 17, at 3:45 p.m. local time at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in St. Louis. Marsh is a UA professor of arid lands resource sciences and of geography and regional development and the director of UA's Arizona Remote Sensing Center. His presentation will be in Rm. 220 of the America's Center, 701 Convention Plaza, St. Louis.

As an example of how long it takes for new environmental science to become accepted by the general public, Marsh will discuss science's not-so-new understanding of ecosystem change, concepts called threshold or state-and-transition models.

While scientists have come to accept the new models, which were proposed more than 30 years ago, policy makers, the general public and even some natural resource managers still operate under the assumptions of the succession model that was first proposed in 1916.

The su

Contact: Mari N. Jensen
University of Arizona

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