People affected by pollution, pipelines, and other environmental hazards don't see the world the same way that environmental scientists do. Both want to know the facts. But they clash over what facts are relevant, what data should be collected to get to the facts, how good the data is, and what it means.  

Want to understand environmental controversies? We say: stop asking why ordinary people don’t understand the science, and start looking at the disconnects in how ordinary people and experts are approaching the science.
 

Energy

The Issue:
AIR POLLUTION FROM OIL REFINERIES

The Disconnect:
Regulators care about average levels of chemicals in the air. Refinery neighbors think spikes in levels matter more.
On "bucket" air samplers and regulatory standards


The Issue:
PROXIMITY TO RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITIES

The Disconnect:
Refinery engineers claim their operations are benign. Neighbors are doubtful but don’t want to bad-mouth their community.
On living with an oil refinery

The Issue:
INDUSTRIAL-SCALE WIND FARMS

The Disconnect:
Scientists say they're safe. People living nearby observe migraines, nose bleeds, and other ill effects when turbines are operating. Is it all in people's heads, or are scientists’ studies poorly designed?
On environmental justice and industrial-scale wind farms


Citizen Science

  Air monitoring with “bucket” air sampler in New Sarpy, Louisiana. Photo courtesy of the    Louisiana Bucket Brigade   .

Air monitoring with “bucket” air sampler in New Sarpy, Louisiana. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

The Issue:
HOW SHOULD WE INTERPRET CITIZEN SCIENCE DATA?

The Disconnect:
Refinery communities compare results from short-term samples to regulatory standards. Regulators say it’s not a fair comparison.
On contexts for interpretation


The Issue:
CAN CITIZEN SCIENCE BE OBJECTIVE?

The Disconnect:
Scientists see community groups’ political agendas as evidence that citizen science is not objective. Community-based science highlights the values embedded even in apparently apolitical science.
On identifying “good science”


The Issue:
WHAT IS THE GOAL OF CITIZEN SCIENCE?

The Disconnect:
Scientists recruit citizens to bolster science and inform decisions. Community groups participate to remake science and promote social change.
On social movement-based citizen science


Big Data

The Issue:
PUTTING AIR QUALITY DATA TO USE

The Disconnect:
Scientists use data to enforce regulations and troubleshoot problems at industrial facilities. Communities use data to show systemic dangers the facilities pose to their health and safety.
On data interpretation and empowerment

The Issue:
LEVERAGING BIGGER DATA INTO BETTER SCIENCE

The Disconnect:
Scientists are not mining real-time air quality data. Community groups try to connect this kind of data with health effects, to improve screening levels for air toxins.
On data overload
On the power of community involvement