Do politicians read scientists?

Science has transformed our world but it can be hard to inform people about new developments. SciDev.Net and the World Agroforestry Centre are helping change that, says Robert Finlayson


We are living the legacy of a long history of intellectual discoveries that continues to transform our planet, our societies and individuals, at increasing pace.

Yet scientists complain that it can be difficult for them to get information about their discoveries to people who have the power to make decisions that can change lives for the better—politicians and senior government officials—let alone the more than 7 billion members of the general public in 196 nations using 6500 languages.

Journalist, scientist, farmer, new agricultural techniques, Northwestern Viet Nam, Vietnam

Journalists, scientists and farmers discussing new agricultural techniques on a farm in Northwestern Viet Nam

The 330 scientists of the World Agroforestry Centre are no exception. Their focus is publishing articles about their discoveries in some of the many thousands of international and national scientific journals. They refer to each other’s articles to inform their own education and new areas of research. But it is not clear whether anyone other than their fellow scientists read these often complex and highly technical documents. Politicians are usually not scientists, so how are they to find out about, and analyze the importance of, the results of scientists’ research?

Sometimes, the scientists themselves will produce documents specifically intended for readers they call ‘policy makers’. This is a blanket term used to describe people with the power to influence government decisions. This includes politicians, senior government officials and, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the particular polity, national civil society and international organizations. But politicians are a very mixed group with varying educational backgrounds who don’t have a lot of time to spend reading even simple documents. Their understanding of specific subjects—education, health, technology, trade, agroforestry, for example—might not be highly developed. Senior government officials might have more developed knowledge born of their departmental involvement, education or training. Neither group might necessarily be fluent in academic English. It can be a difficult task to write for such audiences.

Which is where an organization like SciDev.Net—the Science and Development Network—plays an important role. The SciDev.Net website is a source of reliable and authoritative news, views and analysis of information about science and technology for global development. The information is aimed at development professionals, policy makers, researchers, the media and the ‘informed public’. SciDev.Net publishes editions focussing on Sub-Saharan Africa (English and French), South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean (Spanish), Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Middle East and North Africa (Arabic) and global issues. Using scientists’ articles as their source, they apply a more readable, news journalism style that includes interviews with key people and examines possible pitfalls. It’s an accessible style that helps their target readership grasp the issues quickly.

The World Agroforestry Centre is a partner of SciDev.Net and Centre staff provide advice and, of course, scientific stories for SciDev.Net. We also collaborate on training and education programs for journalists, editors and scientists. In this way, we hope that it will be easier for our scientists’ discoveries to be accessible to people throughout the world so that all can benefit.



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This work supports the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry




Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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