Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was once quoted as saying: “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is bacteria.” While there is certainly some truth to this quote, especially considering water quality in the 1700s, it should be noted that beer’s long history is also fraught with microorganisms—both helpful and harmful in the eyes of the brewer.
Scientists have a lot of data. And with so many high-profile environmental policy issues, ecologists are increasingly faced with turning these data into something that makes sense not only to other scientists but to policymakers and the public. But what we’re learning from these various policy debates is that making sense is only a first step. As we have seen in the climate debate and elsewhere, decision makers often get the science, but they place other topics—the economy, social justice, local culture—ahead of it. More critical, then, is scientists’ ability to make their findings matter, and matter enough.
It seems the only certainty amidst the Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster is that nothing is certain. From the amount of oil continually pouring from the seafloor to British Petroleum’s use of chemical dispersants, this crisis has been anything but straightforward. As evasive, and at times downright misleading, as BP has been, the environmental impacts of this disaster are far from allusive. Just take a look at the photos on the Public Broadcasting Service’s News Hour site to get a sense of urgency surrounding this crisis.