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Science and the social sphere

At Evidence for Democracy, we take a broad view of science, one that includes a variety of means of establishing and testing knowledge.
Three books going into garbage can.

We promote the use of evidence in government decision-making with the conviction that this will lead to decisions that serve the public interest. And we understand that good decisions rely on input from both the natural and social sciences.

Scientists and researchers of all stripes structure their research questions in a variety of ways and use a multitude of techniques to seek out answers. Although their fields can range from nanotechnology to art history, they are united by certain key ways of operating. Researchers draw on current knowledge to formulate new questions. In seeking answers, they build on existing techniques and approaches or they develop new ones. Their findings are evaluated through a blind review process undertaken by their peers.

The peer review process is of fundamental importance across the natural and social sciences. It serves as a form of quality control. When applying for funding and when seeking to publish, scholars submit work to be examined from multiple angles by qualified experts. Even work that is already strong can be strengthened through feedback from reviewers. Though not perfect, the peer review system represents an important means through which researchers—whether natural scientists, social scientists, or scholars in allied fields—establish and validate new evidence.

It is this kind of evidence—painstakingly developed and rigorously reviewed—that Evidence for Democracy believes should be the basis for government decision-making. The organization emerged out of advocacy by natural scientists who were concerned about a range of worrying issues, like the muzzling of government scientists and the cutting of funding for basic research (such as that underway at the Experimental Lakes Area). Since its creation, Evidence for Democracy has also been active on issues of fundamental importance to social scientists, such as the elimination of the long from census and the curtailing of federal library services. Our staff and board represent a diverse range of backgrounds, including history, law and conservation biology.

Evidence for Democracy promotes policy frameworks that would benefit practitioners across the natural and social sciences, including open communication of study findings and adequate funding for basic research. We seek to serve the public interest by cultivating the expectation that government decisions be made on the basis of evidence, not ideology. Given the challenges facing our governments at this time, ranging from climate change to persistent poverty, input from researchers from across disciplines is essential. Evidence for Democracy provides a forum through which researchers from a variety of fields can advocate for conditions of work that would benefit them all—and, most importantly, position them to do the research that would allow governments to make the informed decisions that best serve the interests of Canadians.

How can we more effectively include social scientists in our work? What are the similarities and differences in terms of the challenges facing social scientists and natural scientists? Let us know what you think in the comments! And if you are a professional researcher in any discipline, you can get involved by joining our Network of Experts!

Dr. Shannon Stunden is an environmental historian and historical geographer at the University of Alberta, and serves on Evidence for Democracy’s Board of Directors.

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