Putting science in its place

Eric T. Freyfogle, Julianne Lutz Newton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Science and policy are both relevant to managing land. How they fit together is best understood by viewing land management as a process and by beginning the inquiry from and with that process, drawing distinctions between issues of substance and process and between the functions of describing nature and evaluating it normatively. This process-based approach and these two distinctions help isolate and clarify the various proper roles of science in the overall land-management equation. They also clarify (1) when nature can be said to possess intrinsic value; (2) why it is proper for conservation biologists to base their work on normative goals as long as they make it clear what they are doing; and (3) why arguments surrounding ecosystem management, which should focus on competing policy visions, are often diverted into less fruitful arguments about science and process. A process-based approach that employs our distinctions is particularly useful, we argue, in showing why confusion arises so easily when science-based terms such as ecological integrity are used not just for science purposes but as normative land-management goals. Using science terms in this way can strengthen the conservation cause by expanding the influence of scientists, but dangers lurk in the practice, including dangers to the integrity of science as such. On balance, a goal less overtly tied to science - such as land health - offers a better option for land management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)863-873
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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