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A Modest Research Agenda

Clearly, the application of science during crisis is not novel: it has been used to monitor and respond to events ranging from epidemics and terrorist attacks to manmade disasters and natural hazards. However, there has been little coordinated effort to formally characterize science (including social science) during crisis and to identify ways in which it can be improved for responding to future crisis events. This is particularly true for environmental crises, with the oft-repeated pattern of multiple jurisdictions, overlapping responsibilities, a traditional focus on tactical rather than strategic science, and high levels of uncertainty.

There are ample opportunities for improvement. New organizational frameworks could streamline the use and application of science during crisis. New technologies could improve visualization, communication, and the sharing of information among scientists, emergency responders, and the public. Advanced training, simulations, and workforce development could improve the preparation of the next generation of scientists needed to respond to future crisis events. Preparing decision makers to use science during crises and to make science-informed decisions is equally important. While the role of science during crises – war, natural disasters, industrial accidents, pandemics, and more – has increased significantly in contemporary times, there has been little scholarly attention devoted to the distinctive character of science during crisis and how such science can most effectively be planned, conducted, examined, communicated, and applied to decision-making. This is particularly true for interdisciplinary and strategic science. Organizational frameworks for science during crisis have not been described, best practices have not been systematically identified (Machlis and McNutt 2011; Machlis and Kooistra 2012), and a research agenda for understanding and improving science during crisis has not been proposed or implemented. We suggest a modest first step is to examine several essential questions:

1. Is science during crisis different than science practiced in non-crisis periods, and if so, how?

2. If it is different, how do these differences affect the management, design, conduct, analysis, application, and dissemination of science?

3. How can science during crisis be improved and made more useful?

4. How can the workforce and scientific community be better prepared?

5. What are the most appropriate organizational frameworks and best practices for science during crisis?

6. What role can interdisciplinary and strategic science play in responding to major crises?

A range of disciplines including sociology, anthropology, economics, organizational and management science, as well as policy studies can be fruitful partners in answering these questions. Historians of science can provide thoughtful guidance based on the role of science in historical and recent past events. For environmental crises, professionals in hazards management, emergency response, risk assessment, and resources management can be vital contributors, both as end-users of strategic sciences and as “first responders” responsible for emergency and recovery. Results should be shared broadly and thoughtfully converted to usable knowledge. The result would be improved science during crisis.

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