Friction Between Science and Practice: The Case of River Restoration
The growing public awareness that human activities can harm rivers is leading to rapid growth in efforts to restore river channels to some acceptable, if not natural, state. There is a corresponding increase in criticism from the scientific community that such projects are poorly designed and fail too often. Scientists also complain that design practice does not make use of the best available scientific information and feel that they are not listened to. Tension between scientist and practitioner is not new, unusual, or limited to river restoration projects. Practitioners may be inclined to dismiss criticism from those who do not leave their handiwork on the landscape for all to evaluate. This view, however, misses the point that the job of science is not to address particular cases, but to find the general principles that apply to all cases. Also, it is likely that much of the criticism is basically correct (given the advantage of hindsight). The problem is not faulty criticism, nor that scientists do not have the right to criticize. The problem is that the critique is ineffective, if effectiveness is measured in terms of injecting better ideas and reliability into practice.
Wilcock, P.R., 1997. Friction Between Science and Practice: The Case of River Restoration. Eos, Transactions, Am. Geophysical Union 78(41): 454, October 14.