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NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-202

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Are we asking the right questions in science and management?

Abstract

In this paper, we focus on the importance of asking effective questions in both management and the science that serves the management process. Part of this process involves making a clear distinction between management questions and scientific (or research) questions. A closely related component of asking good questions is a clear definition of each kind of question. We emphasize how both the distinction and the definitions are necessary for effectively linking science and management. Questions of both kinds must not only be asked, but they must also be asked as a tightly related pair for each management application. We show how this relationship contributes to the definition of both kinds of questions. The effective pairing of management questions and scientific questions involves a consistency far beyond anything achieved in today’s management. Once achieved, the match between the two kinds of questions helps remove barriers experienced between science and management. For years there have been legal requirements to utilize the best available science and information in management. Here, we demonstrate the fulfillment of those legal mandates by clearly defining, and showing how to use, the kind of science and the kind of information that best serve management purposes.

In this paper, we use this perspective to show how the process of management is complete only when the match between questions is extended to include empirical patterns that guide management and management action itself – management to avoid the abnormal to achieve health at all levels of biological organization (holistic or systemic management). We also emphasize the fact that a key element in this process is asking clear, well defined questions at the outset. Asking effective questions relieves the decision-making process in management of human bias, human limitations, politics and values secondary to that of sustainability and systemic health or health that includes individuals, species, ecosystems and the biosphere. Using examples, we show how we currently fail to understand what a good management question is, and thus fail to ask effective research questions, without which we fail to produce information that adequately serves management. The failure to ask good science and management questions is one of the primary factors involved in causing the problems we observe in our environment today (e.g., global pollution, the current extinction crisis, global climate change, overfishing, and oceanic acidification).


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