Special EEB Seminar featuring Dr. Robert Lackey: science in public policy

“Science in Public Policy: Maintaining Relevance, Ensuring Accuracy, and Avoiding Advocacy”

The Interfaces of Global Change IGEP at Virginia Tech is pleased to welcome Dr. Robert Lackey for a special EEB Seminar on Thursday, March 5th, 2015.

Thursday, March 5, 2015 | 2:00-3:00 p.m. | Fralin Auditorium | Virginia Tech


Has science become irrelevant in informing policy debates?

Scientists in environmental science, natural resources, ecology, conservation biology, and similar disciplines are often not trusted by the public and decision-makers to present policy-neutral science. One reason is that scientists advocating personal or organizational positions on ecological policy issues have become widely tolerated and even encouraged by a segment of the scientific 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 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 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 and scientists ought to play in informing decisions on important public policy questions.

About Dr. Lackey


Dr. Bob Lackey is a professor of fisheries science at Oregon State University. In 2008 he retired after 27 years with the Environmental Protection Agency’s national research laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon, where he served as Deputy Director among other senior science and management jobs. Since his very first fisheries job mucking out raceways in a California trout hatchery, he has worked on an assortment of natural resource issues from various positions in government, academia, and the private sector. His professional assignments involved diverse aspects of natural resource management, but mostly he has operated at the interface between science and policy.

Dr. Lackey has published over 100 articles in scientific journals. He has long been an educator, having taught at five North American universities (including Virginia Tech) and currently teaches a graduate course in ecological policy at Oregon State University. Canadian by birth, he is a U.S.-Canadian dual-citizen living in Corvallis, Oregon.

His primary recent research themes have included: Pacific salmon policy and management; ecosystem management and alternative management paradigms; ecological policy and decision analysis; and the interface between science, scientists, and natural resource policy. These days, his specific research and policy focus is on the three overarching policy realities that will drive natural resource and environmental agencies in the Pacific Northwest through this century:

(1) the dramatic increase in the numbers of humans in the region

(2) a changing climate which will impose different ecological options and constraints on many species and the Endangered Species Act

(3) the ongoing and intensifying collective demand for ecosystem services

Dr. Lackey’s seminar will be titled: “Science in Public Policy: Maintaining Relevance, Ensuring Accuracy, and Avoiding Advocacy”.


This event will be co-sponsored by the Interfaces of Global Change Graduate Student Organization (GSO) as part of the continuing Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Seminar Series.

DOWNLOAD the seminar flyer here


Jacob Barney’s research in PNAS: New pasture plants intensify risk of invasive species

From VT News

In quest for greener pastures, don’t plant invasive species, researchers say

BLACKSBURG, Va., Dec. 2, 2014 – Few agribusinesses or governments regulate the types of plants that farmers use in their pastures to feed their livestock, according to an international team of researchers that includes one plant scientist from Virginia Tech. The problem is most of these so-called pasture plants are invasive weeds.

In a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study this month, the scientists recommended tighter regulations, including a fee for damage to surrounding areas, evaluation of weed risk to the environment, a list of prohibited species based on this risk, and closer monitoring and control of natural area damage.

The findings were also highlighted Nov. 12 in Nature.

The research team — led by scientists at the Australian National University — surveyed agribusinesses in eight countries on six different continents to see what species are planted in pastures, what traits are selected for, and what measures are taken to guard against invasion.

In response to human population boom and increased global food demand, some farmers resort to planting aggressive, fast-growing species in order to increase their herd size without breaking the bank.

This extensive growth allows for greater cattle forage, but has a long global history of escaping the paddocks and invading natural areas, where they squelch out biodiversity, suck up available water resources, enhance fire cycles, disrupt the behavior patterns of pollinators, and alter nutrient and trophic levels.

Dr. Jacob Barney

Dr. Jacob Barney

In turn, about $34 billion per year is spent annually in the United States on invasive weed management, said Jacob Barney, an assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life SciencesFralin Life Science Instituteaffiliate, and third author of the study.

“Meat consumption is increasing globally, which will increase animal production, and thus increase demand for forages improved for forage quality, productivity, and tolerance of poor growing conditions — all traits that may facilitate invasion into the natural ecosystem, making the invasion problem worse,” said Barney, who is also a core faculty member in Virginia Tech’s Interfaces of Global Change program.

“The weed problem faced by the USA and other countries is already enormous,” said Don Driscoll, an associate professor at the Australian National University and lead author. “It makes sense to have new regulations that discourage agribusinesses from releasing more aggressive varieties of these existing weeds. A polluter-pays system applied across the livestock and feed industry would be an important disincentive that could help to solve this escalating weed problem.”

Don A. Driscoll, Jane A. Catford, Jacob N. Barney, Philip E. Hulme, Inderjit, Tara G. Martin, Aníbal Pauchard, Petr Pyšek, David M. Richardson, Sophie Riley, and Vernon Visser. New pasture plants intensify invasive species risk PNAS 2014doi:10.1073/pnas.1409347111

Story by Lindsay Key

The future of “clean coal”

From the Wall Street Journal

The mix of energy sources used to produce electricity is changing—slowly. Coal is still king and is expected to retain that title for decades, giving ground only gradually to renewable fuels, natural gas and nuclear power.

Coal will account for 39% of global net electricity generation next year and 36% in 2040, according to projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Many people would like to see that number drop more dramatically. With concerns mounting about the effect of greenhouse gases on the global climate, pressure is growing for utilities to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in their power production.

The power industry has responded in part by increasing its use of renewable energy sources. But it also continues to pursue another idea to help address environmental concerns: clean up coal-fired power plants. Technology that achieves that by capturing most of the carbon dioxide in a plant’s emissions and then liquefying it for underground storage or for commercial use is just starting to be implemented.

Proponents of renewable fuels want utilities to focus instead on investing much more heavily in wind and solar power. The many billions of dollars it would take to implement clean-coal technology on a global scale won’t do enough to lessen coal’s environmental impact, they argue. That money, they say, should be going toward speeding the arrival of renewable energy as the new king of power generation.

Howard J. Herzog, senior research engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says clean coal has an important role to play in the future of power generation. Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow-in-residence at the Post Carbon Institute, argues that investment should be directed instead to renewable energy sources.

Read what they each have to say HERE.