Following World War II, the U.S. began increasing its commitment to publicly-funded science. The responsibility of the scientist was thought to be a straightforward process: if the scientists asked the “right” questions, their answers would help policy makers to make the “right” decisions.

However, the questions asked by researchers do not always translate easily into policy. Clark Miller (Arizona State University) will discuss ways to bridge the gap between research and decision-making in the talk, “Changing the model of science and society: the need to design science to address societal needs.” Sharon Kingsland (Johns Hopkins University) will offer a post World War II perspective on ecology in her presentation, “Selling the subversive science: a historical perspective.”

In the United States and abroad, much publicly-funded science is explicitly promoted and justified in terms of the quest for specified societal outcomes. But how well do the results from ecological and restoration research link to the complex problems facing society in a changing world?

In his 1998 Carey Lecture to the AAAS, Representative George Brown noted that “we will not achieve our promises unless we reevaluate and reform our system of research and education and the integration of new knowledge into society.”

George Brown is often remembered as science’s best friend in Congress, yet he also worked to hold science and technology morally accountable for participating in solving concrete world problems. In addressing the 1998 AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology, he challenged the group saying, “Given that we can completely transform the world with our knowledge, we are morally compelled to answer the question, ‘What is the end that we seek?’”

In the symposium “Linking ecology and restoration to societal outcomes: Living the legacy of George Brown,” Lori Hidinger, Mark Neff (Arizona State University) and colleagues will explore the history of ecologists’ engagement with society and how ecology and restoration scientists can link their research more directly with outcomes desired by society.

Dr. Kingsland notes that even as early as 1970, then Director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF), William D. McElroy (the first biologist to serve as NSF Director) declared that “In the past, the principles of science were most often judged by the intellectual ideas of simplicity, harmony, and beauty. Today, we also must ask if science meets the needs of the community.”

In the invasive species realm, concerns raised by ranchers, managers, scientists and others led federal agencies to conduct research on prevention and removal of invasive species. Discussing the role of research in the U.S. Forest Service, Carolyn Hull Sieg (Rocky Mountain Research Station) presents “Linking invasive species research with societal needs: Caring for the land and serving the people.” The talk provides insights into how stakeholders and researchers may work together so that research addresses societal needs and informs policy development.

Jeff Herrick (USDA Agricultural Research Service) will describe strategies applied at the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range and the Jornada LTER in the presentation, “Prioritizing ecological research and restoration based on societal outcomes.” Ecological research is commonly driven by interest in a particular pattern, process, or organism. Herrick will discuss ways to prioritize research by comparing long-term societal requirements for ecosystem services with the ecological potential of the land.

While ecological restoration enjoys a positive image both as a research topic and management objective, sometimes the methods employed in restoration do not match what society views as restoration. Mark Brunson (Utah State University) will explore the connection between people’s reactions to ecological restoration and the realities of restoration in his talk, “Restoration for what and for whom? Understanding the subtleties of societal outcomes.”