As a scholar who focuses on empirical legal studies and environmental/natural resources law (and hopes that the two areas will "talk" to each other more often), long ago I wrote about the need for better data in crafting environmental and natural resources policy. Holly Doremus (UC-Davis), in her paper Gaps in Natural Resource Management: Sniffing for Leaks Along the Information Pipeline, has offered some suggestions for improving the information and data pipeline in natural resource policy. Abstract below the fold.
"Despite wide recognition that natural resource management decisions are heavily dependent on the supply of scientific information, little attention has been paid to the processes by which that information is supplied. This paper lays out the key steps of the information supply pipeline, which include exploration, extraction, refining, blending, distribution, and consumption. Leaks in the pipeline can occur at any of these steps, interrupting the supply of information to decisionmakers. Because information supply is contextual and complex, no universal fix can address all information shortfalls. Nonetheless, several general recommendations emerge. First, decisionmakers must recognize the limits of scientific information, both in terms of the degree of precision and certainty attainable, and in terms of the need for other inputs into decisions. Second, priorities should be more consciously set, both on the broadest level across multiple resource demands and for specific problems. Third, freewheeling creative exploratory research needs to be better encouraged. That will require more than increased funding; the training and cultures of both managers and researchers also need to be addressed. Fourth, the production of available information must keep up with theoretical advances. Targeted funding, incentives for information production, and institutions with an information production mission are all needed to ensure that extraction keeps pace. Fifth, collaboration needs to extend across traditional disciplinary, political, and institutional boundaries. Finally, once information is produced it needs to be archived in locations and formats that make it both accessible to and useful for future researchers and managers. Focusing on the information supply pipeline helps move the discussion beyond the simplistic dichotomy of precaution versus certainty to the ways we can improve the information base for decisions and the value of those improvements."