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An Interview with Alana Westwood

March 22, 2016

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Numbering: Issue 10.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Six)

Individual Publication Date: March 22, 2016 (2016-03-22)

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2016 (2016-05-01)

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Web Domain: www.in-sightjournal.com

Words: 2,466

ISSN 2369-6885

 Alana Westwood

Abstract

An interview with Alana Westwood. She discusses: background in science; national research coordinator position for Evidence for Democracy, and its tasks and responsibilities; importance of public scientific organizations; research informing professional work; purposes of Evidence for Democracy; summary statement on published articles; hypothetical worst case scenario for Canadian citizens without accurate scientific information; hypothetical best case scenario for Canadian citizens without accurate scientific information; technological assistance in prevention of animal extinction; Canada becoming the next great nation in the middle and latter half of the twentieth century; observed impacts of E4D on policy and decision-making; and E4Ds near and far goals.

Keywords: Alana Westwood, Canada, E4D, Evidence for Democracy, science.

An Interview with Alana Westwood[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Please see the footnotes throughout the interview, and bibliography and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. What is your background in science growing up and into the present?

In terms of science formal training, I have an undergraduate degree in science from the University of Winnipeg. As well, I am almost finished my PhD at the University of Dalhousie department of biology in conservation biology with a focus on endangered species research. Informally, I’ve been doing science and science-related field work for over ten years now. It started as a young teenager: my summer job was counting mosquitoes, taking them out of traps, and sorting them into a genus. It’s been a long experience with hands-on field-based science, particularly in conservation biology and the study of the environment.

2. You have the position of national research coordinator for Evidence for Democracy (E4D).[5] What responsibilities and tasks come with this position?

E4D is an organization that has been around for over two years. We are a young organization. We have four staff members and hundreds of volunteers. My position involves administration and development for the research program, and work with volunteers. We have volunteers leading research projects. Each has volunteers to work on these projects. Other projects are led by me. E4D is small. Even so, I write, work with media, and so on.

3. Why are public scientific organizations with the intent to inform public policy important to you?

It is a needed voice. An unheard voice in Canada. Scientists, those involved in science, have a training, expertise, and unique perspectives and insights – not to mention the opportunities to discover more. Before E4D, no cohesive voice existed for scientists and science in Canada. We need a healthy environment, healthy population, good science, good support for science, and good evidence-based decision-making for an innovative nation. We had a vacuum before. There were fringe organizations. No one on the national stage said, “We need public policies backed by evidence-based decision-making.” There is a huge demand for this. We see this as supporters and volunteers. They come from every unlikely place, politically and occupationally.

4. You are a PhD candidate on avian species at risk in forest landscapes at Dalhousie University under the supervision of Dr. Cindy Staicer. You have four refereed publications in relation to biology, ecology, and geo-informatics. Therefore, you have developed the relevant professional skills and knowledge for professional work in Evidence for Democracy. How does this research inform professional work at Evidence for Democracy?

You need to understand science to be an advocate and voice for science. You need to understand collection, dissemination, researcher collaboration, basic research consequences into areas of innovation, and monitoring and baseline characterizations for understanding the next steps in the research. To be honest, I never felt right in science. Other scientists seem more curious curiosity-driven and passionate for natural systems in their research, not me. I was coming from a point of view of conservation and pragmatics. I derive means of informing decision-making for practical applications. In my case, I am working with endangered species. I wanted to do research to address the declines of these species. I wanted to do a Ph.D. in science as opposed to environmental studies or philosophy. I needed to understand science. I needed to understand data gathering, data validation, and peer-review. If you do not know that information, how can you tell good science from bad science? When presented with facts, how can you evaluate conflicts of interest, even mistakes? It’s important to examine data sources and conclusions. I’ve worked with amazing scientists. I see the work, and the linkages and connections in their work. I work with federal scientists too. I have insight into their working conditions. It is something E4D is highly vocal about: wanting to change working conditions and the funding situation for federal scientists. For those reasons, especially with E4D for me, it would be impossible without the foundation in more traditional science.

5. What are the purposes of Evidence for Democracy?[6]

To promote evidence-based decision-making at all levels of government. To advocate for scientists for access to stable funding, and to communicate their research. We serve to educate and inform the public.

6. You wrote articles such as We need a national debate on science, Stephen Harper’s Blatant Hypocrisy on Science, and The need for evidence-based policies.[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15] An obvious stream of concern to do with evidence-based information innervating the world of public policy.[16] What is the summary statement on these, and other, published articles?

I write more broadly (such as nature journalism and fiction). However, my E4D work into this previous election has been focused making sure Canadians know science is an important election issue. We have faced serious challenges to science with the past government. I want to ensure Canadians had the information necessary to their decision about support for science by the time of polling.

7. Hypothetical worst case scenario: if Canadian citizens do not have accurate science information when making decisions about public policy, how would this affect their everyday lives?

It would be hard to draw an immediate connection to a particular reduction and say, “Okay, this is the effect.” However, we would see severe indirect effects. For example, public-funded science is responsible for monitoring food safety and inspection, water quality, ocean health, and toxicology. We lost people from every department. If you do not have these checks and balances, problems will occur. When you cut science and stifle science, people think, “Okay, we’ll have less research for new discoveries.” However, a lot is maintaining the baseline, figuring out where we are, and tasks needing doing to keep people safe and healthy. It is important to ensure that the environment is not degraded to the point of inability to provide necessary ecological services.

8. Hypothetical best case scenario: if Canadian citizens do have accurate science information when making decisions about public policy, how will this affect their everyday lives?

Let’s say all governmental levels embrace evidence-based decision-making, parliamentary debate will become slow in the development of legislation. Why? Government would need to evaluate more facts and reports. We would need a Parliamentary Science Officer. The Liberals pledged to create one. Policies would receive further study with eventual implementation in solid evidence. A good example is crime. Global consensus is increasing punishment for less serious offences increases recidivism. Other countries are moving from this model. Canada ignored the evidence for the previous four years. We saw minimum sentencing move up. On the flip side, if you were to have evidence-based decision-making, you would see reduction in small crime imprisonment, and increased focus on better health outcomes and better family outcomes for offenders.

9. With respect to species at risk, for instance, bird species at risk, how can technology assist in preventing extinction of species that are risk such as various avian species?

Technology assists comprehension. For example, we utilize advanced geo-spatial mapping methods, modelling methods, to understand bird migration and habitats. All of the time we are putting geo-locator tags on birds. As the technology improves, the tags get smaller. We track migration patterns and find at-risk habitats. Technology provides an idea of the needed conservation action. Ultimately, it comes down to the political realm whether conservation efforts happen, or not. Whether land is protected from development, climate policy, and climate change is a serious factor facing multiple bird species. Evidence-based decision-making commitment becomes a necessity. Indeed, technology can support more information. Even so, one’s use of the information is equally important, if not more important. In general, for bird extinction, technology will not save them. Only we develop the better relationship with resource efficiency and utilization.

10. Could Canada become the next great nation in the middle and latter half of the twentieth century with respect to improvements in ecological and environmental science policy?

It depends on if the social and political will is there. The way that we’ve seen things go in the last ten years has been the opposite. It will remain within the direction this new majority Liberal government takes for Canada.

11. What have been the observed impacts of E4D on policy and decision-making?

One big impact is raising consciousness and awareness. Science became an election issue. We were able to mobilize hundreds of volunteers. Thousands attended events and educational evenings, candidate debates, and panels organized by E4D and partner groups over the last few years. It highlights the importance of science to citizens of Canada, evidence-based decision-making, and what this means for a democracy. Every major newspaper covered the issue. The international community is aware. It catapulted into the public, which has never been seen before in Canada, ever.

12. What are its near and far goals?

We accomplished one major goal with the recent election. We focused information for citizens to scientifically-informed election choices.  Future goals include holding the majority Liberal government to their promises with respect to science, support for science, and evidence-based decision-making. We want to continue work on this at other levels – at other organizational and governmental levels, to do a lot more public education. Canadians do want evidence-based public policy decision-making.

Bibliography

  1. [LegacyTVLive]. (2014, May 23). The Evidence for Democracy Alana Westwood (May 7 14) Host Parkland Institute. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yn7bjef4rMg.
  2. [TheRealNews]. (2015, October 22). Trudeau Pledge Tracker: Reinstating 40 Million in Science Funding and Appointing a Chief of Science. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wozj-lPhno.
  3. Barker, N., Fontaine, P., Cumming, S., Stralberg, D.,Westwood, A., Bayne, E., Sólymos, P., Schmiegelow, F., Song, S., and Rugg, D. 2015. Ecological monitoring through harmonizing existing data: lessons from the Boreal Avian Modelling Project. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 39(3). Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281343963_Ecological_Monitoring_Through_Harmonizing_Existing_Data_Lessons_from_the_Boreal_Avian_Modelling_Project.
  4. Evidence for Democracy. (2016). Evidence for Democracy. Retrieved from https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/en.
  5. Westwood, A. (2015, March). How to save a bird nobody likes. Retrieved from http://www.sco-soc.ca/picoides/archive/Picoides28_1_2015.pdf.
  6. Westwood, A. (2015, November 13). Over the past 10 years this deadly fungus has nearly wiped out North America’s bats. Retrieved from http://community.lovenature.com/2015/11/13/over-the-past-10-years-this-deadly-fungus-has-nearly-wiped-out-north-americas-bats/
  7. Westwood, A. (2014, April 8). Redefining Recovery: A New Model for Saving Species At Risk. Retrieved from http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/community/blogs/wild-side/redefining-recovery-new-model-saving-species-risk.
  8. Westwood, A. (2015). Sailing Without a Map: The need for evidence-based policies. Retrieved from http://www.humanistperspectives.org/issue193/westwood.html.
  9. Westwood, A. (2014, June 6). Stephen Harper’s blatant hypocrisy on science. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/06/06/stephen_harpers_blatant_hypocrisy_on_science.html.
  10. Westwood, A. (2015, August 12). We need a national debate on science. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/08/12/we-need-a-national-debate-on-science.html.
  11. Westwood, A., Conciatori, F., Tardif, J., Knowles, K. 2012.Effects of Armillaria root rot disease on the growth of Picea mariana in the boreal plains of central Canada. Forest Ecology and Management 266: 1-10. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112711006815.
  12. Westwood, A., Reuchlin-Heugenholtz, E., Keith, D. 2014. Re-defining recovery: A generalized framework for assessing species recovery. Biological Conservation 172: 155-162. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320714000925?_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_origin=gateway&_docanchor&md5=b8429449ccfc9c30159a5f9aeaa92ffb&ccp=y

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Research Coordinator, Evidence for Democracy; Contributing Scientist, Boreal Avian Modelling Project; Instructor, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 22, 2016 at www.in-sightjournal.com; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2016 at www.in-sightjournal.com.

[3] PhD, Candidate in Biology, Dalhousie University (2011-present); Hons BSc, Applied Environmental & Forest Ethics, University of Winnipeg (2011).

[4] Photograph courtesy of Alana Westwood.

[5] Evidence for Democracy. (2016). Evidence for Democracy. Retrieved from https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/en.

[6] [TheRealNews]. (2015, October 22). Trudeau Pledge Tracker: Reinstating 40 Million in Science Funding and Appointing a Chief of Science. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wozj-lPhno.

[7] Westwood, A. (2015). Sailing Without a Map: The need for evidence-based policies. Retrieved from http://www.humanistperspectives.org/issue193/westwood.html.

[8] Westwood, A. (2014, June 6). Stephen Harper’s blatant hypocrisy on science. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/06/06/stephen_harpers_blatant_hypocrisy_on_science.html.

[9] Westwood, A. (2015, August 12). We need a national debate on science. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/08/12/we-need-a-national-debate-on-science.html.

[10] Westwood, A. (2015, November 13). Over the past 10 years this deadly fungus has nearly wiped out North America’s bats. Retrieved from http://community.lovenature.com/2015/11/13/over-the-past-10-years-this-deadly-fungus-has-nearly-wiped-out-north-americas-bats/.

[11] Westwood, A. (2014, April 8). Redefining Recovery: A New Model for Saving Species At Risk. Retrieved from  http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/community/blogs/wild-side/redefining-recovery-new-model-saving-species-risk.

[12] Westwood, A. (2015, March). How to save a bird nobody likes. Retrieved from http://www.sco-soc.ca/picoides/archive/Picoides28_1_2015.pdf.

[13] Barker, N., Fontaine, P., Cumming, S., Stralberg, D., Westwood, A., Bayne, E., Sólymos, P., Schmiegelow, F., Song, S., and Rugg, D. 2015. Ecological monitoring through harmonizing existing data: lessons from the Boreal Avian Modelling Project. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 39(3). Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281343963_Ecological_Monitoring_Through_Harmonizing_Existing_Data_Lessons_from_the_Boreal_Avian_Modelling_Project.

[14] Westwood, A., Reuchlin-Heugenholtz, E., Keith, D. 2014. Re-defining recovery: A generalized framework for assessing species recovery. Biological Conservation 172: 155-162. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320714000925?_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_origin=gateway&_docanchor&md5=b8429449ccfc9c30159a5f9aeaa92ffb&ccp=y.

[15] Westwood, A., Conciatori, F., Tardif, J., Knowles, K. 2012. Effects of Armillaria root rot disease on the growth of Picea mariana in the boreal plains of central Canada. Forest Ecology and Management 266: 1-10. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112711006815.

[16] [LegacyTVLive]. (2014, May 23). The Evidence for Democracy Alana Westwood (May 7 14) Host Parkland Institute. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yn7bjef4rMg.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Alana WestwoodIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal [Online].March 2016; 10(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2016, March 22). An Interview with Alana WestwoodRetrieved from www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Alana WestwoodIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 10.A, March. 2016. <www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2016. “An Interview with Alana Westwood.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 10.A. www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Alana Westwood.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 10.A (March 2016). www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2016, ‘An Interview with Alana Westwood’, In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 10.A. Available from: <www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2016, ‘An Interview with Alana Westwood’, In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 10.A., www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Alana Westwood.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 10.A (2016):March. 2016. Web. <www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Alana Westwood [Internet]. (2016, March); 10(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-alana-westwood.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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