Having expressed some forebodings about UAMRICH in an earlier post (see “The human ecosystem of environmental management …”), I can now re-visit those concerns with the benefit of hindsight and, in particular, see if the “thirty-three percent rule”, which I proposed a couple of years ago, works or not. If you recall, this is my suggested ratio of academics and end-users necessary to generate fertile discussions in applied science meetings.
There did seem to be some fertile discussions, during both formal sessions and social events, and a willingness to question existing dogmas and to explore new ideas (such as the application of Next Generation Sequencing). Moreover, most of the discussions were firmly grounded in the frameworks provided by current legislation (the Water Framework Directive in Europe and the Clean Water Act in the USA). The days when someone would stand up and talk for twenty minutes about “biomonitoring” unencumbered by irksome details such as what the legislation actually says do seem to have passed.
So where did all the participants come from? Analysing the participant list in the back of the abstract booklet, I see that the largest contingent (half of the total) come from universities, with the remainder split almost equally between museums, research institutes, consultants and regulators. Sorting these into a straight binary divide between “academics” and “practitioners” isn’t straightforward: some university academics are deeply involved in advising regulators and other end-users, whilst some of us in the “consultants” category are capable of writing quite abstract scientific papers from time to time. However, a crude categorisation of “academics” as university and museum staff, and “practitioners” as everyone else gives us a ratio of 41:23, which is pretty close to my thirty-three percent rule. This assumes that those from research institutes are primarily engaged in applied research. If we include this group with the “academics”, the ratio drops to 49:15, suggesting that my “thirty-three percent rule” should be re-cast as the “twenty five percent rule”. A few university and museum staff were at UAMRICH primarily for the taxonomic sessions which occurred at the end of the week, and this may have affected the ratio. Nonetheless, I think my original point still stands: that if you are discussing the application of science to a real-world problem, you have the best discussions, and most beneficial outcomes, if you have both academic and end-user / stakeholders represented in numbers.
Participants at UAMRICH, Trento, broken down by their employment.