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The State of Marine Social Science

May 31, 2012

One follow up to yesterday’s post on Oran Young’s Rescource Regimes. Consider this statement from Young’s preface:

I am not a natural scientist, and I have nothing to contribute to our understanding of natural systems as such. Thus, I have no insights to offer on the population dynamics of stocks of fish, the probable impacts of oil spills on marine ecosystems, or the effects of inorganic runoffs from agricultural lands. As a social scientist, however, I am struck by the amount of attention now being directed toward these problems by natural scientists, particularly in comparison with the rather low level of interest among social scientists in society’s decisions about the use (and abuse) of natural systems. It is true of course that a number of economists have been working in the subfields of resource economics and environmental economics for some time. And students of public administration have occasionally taken an interest in these matters in connection with the study of rule making and regulation. But by and large, the work of social scientists in this realm lags far behind that of their colleagues in the natural sciences. It is my hope that this work will play some role in altering this situation, not by downgrading scientific research on natural systems but by stimulating work among social scientists on natural resources and the environment…

I think Oran Young should be quite pleased by the social science work that has come after him with regards to terrestrial systems. BUT…I think it is quite reasonable to say that we’ve not come very far from 1982 in the application of social science to the oceans. There just aren’t many strong social scientists doing this sort of work. I’ve heard about this from Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University and Edward Miles of U of Washington as well as other marine social scientists as I’ve struggled to find a good place to conduct PhD research. And worse still, many of the existing academics are now retiring.

This leaves many unfulfilled marine management needs. For example, in 2009, the NOAA Science Advisory Board found that the ability of NOAA to “meet its mandates and fulfill its mission is diminished by the underrepresentation and underutilization of social science” and this applies across NOAA. Interestingly, this was the same problem found in a similar review in 2003.

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