Bias in Aquatic-Habitat Science and Potential Solutions, with a Focus on Instream-Flow Issues

Robert Vadas Jr. , Habitat Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, WA
Mostly since I wrote a paper on academic-science bias in 1994 (see http://www.beesource.com/pov/wenner/oikos94.htm), I have encountered political realities when conducting quantitative, fish-habitat science while working for government agencies and private companies and organizations during the past 28 years. Political pressures to slant publications towards funders’ interests may come from your government employer, environmental groups, industry, and/or scientific journals, especially if studies involve contentious ecohydrologic issues (particularly for large water bodies). Pressures may include providing habitat-management recommendations that are (a) stronger, given funding needs for state agencies and environmental groups; or (b) weaker, given politically dependent funding concerns of government agencies and consulting companies. The latter can include a narrow focus on incremental-impact analyses that do not show cumulative impacts, or on theoretical models that avoid examination of instream-flow criteria or limiting factors like human-population size and total-water use. Political pressures may be mollified by extensive, early communications with all players - and by talking independently and exchanging information with scientists from other involved groups - to help inform their early plans and policy development. However, despite all efforts, scientists involved with quantification of contentious habitat questions need good negotiation skills, dogged determination, and a strong statistical background and thick skin.