Evidence complacency is no joke!

There is an old joke about the difference between ignorance and apathy. Do YOU know the difference between ignorance and apathy?  I don’t know and I don’t care!

The problem with this joke is it is too close to real life for comfort when it comes to environment and conservation.  Folks don’t know and they don’t care.  It’s both ignorance and apathy.

According to a comment by Sutherland and Wordley in Nature Ecology and Evolution, there is a large and growing body of studies relating to all sorts of issues like nature, conservation, climate, and biodiversity.  But are conservation practitioners and policymakers actually using these studies to influence their decisions?  No, they prefer anecdote over evidence.  They don’t know and they don’t care.

Even when conservation work is being done… Even when conservation policy is being made, it is often basically a groping in the dark based on what feels right at the moment.

Why is available evidence rarely used in decision making with regards to environmental conservation?  Sutherland and Wordley offer several possibilities – mostly having to do with the beliefs and feelings of the practitioner or policymaker.

A practitioner or policymaker may believe

  • that she or he already has sufficient knowledge
  • that available evidence is not relevant to the question or context
  • that it is too much effort to check the evidence
  • that a reliance on evidence reduces professional autonomy in decision making
  • that people (anecdotes) are more accessible and useful sources than evidence
  • that scientific evidence is not on people’s radar of sources to consult
  • that they have had inadequate training in using evidence
  • that they have competing demands on their time and attention

I think that we (you and I), even though we have generally good intentions, probably also fall prey to evidence complacency in our personal lives as well as in our activism and conservation work.

Why do you suppose feelings and anecdotes often trump evidence in your conservation efforts and in mine?  Leave me a comment and let’s talk about this!




Categories: Conservation, Nature