Timely delivery of scientific knowledge for environmental management: a Freshwater Science initiative

Susan B. Norton, J. Angus Webb, Kate A. Schofield, Susan J. Nichols, Ralph Ogden, Micah Bennett, Sylvia Lee, Caroline Ridley, David Gibbs, Alexandra Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Advancing the science of freshwater ecosystems and its ap-plication to environmental management and policymaking is a core value of the Society for Freshwater Science (SFS). Researchers have contributed a wealth of peer-reviewed in-formation for publication in Freshwater Science (FWS) for >30 y, creating a strong scientific foundation for freshwater management. However, even the best scientific knowledge cannot be applied to environmental decisions if it cannot be distilled from the ever-growing deluge of scientific data and information in an effective and timely manner (Attwood et al. 2009, Larsen and von Ims 2010, Boon 2016). Over 2 million journal articles are published each year. PubMed alone adds ∼1 article/min (Plume and van Weijen 2014, AAA 2015). Reviewing this mountain of information and condensing it in policy-relevant ways is a daunting task. Rel-evant research results must be identified, extracted, and combined with other results, and the conclusions must be provided in a format and time frame that is relevant to envi-ronmental managers and the decision under consideration. This need raises the question: given the value we, as SFS members, place on informing evidence-based freshwater management, how can we become leaders in improving adoption of scientific knowledge to inform environmental policies? Defensibility and timeliness are 2 important qualities of information if it is to have a transformative influence on policies. Systematic literature assessment methods im-prove defensibility by providing transparent and unbiased protocols for synthesizing the body of knowledge on a par-ticular topic. Systematic literature assessments, consisting of traditional medical-style systematic reviews (Khan et al. 2003, CEE 2018) and more recent rapid evidence synthesis methods (Webb et al. 2017), provide the scientific back-bone for evidence-based decision making, particularly for complex issues with conflicting evidence, opposing stake-holder views, or poorly defined knowledge bases (Pullin et al. 2009). Systematic literature assessment methods build on their historical application to medical interventions and increasingly are being applied to synthesize evidence and develop scientifically defensible policies for environmental questions. Implementation of systematic literature assessment methods is hampered by the time required to search, screen, extract, and compile research results (Ziegler et al. 2015). A comprehensive search of the literature on a specific topic can return tens of thousands of references, a subset of which are then reviewed in detail, with results extracted into a form that can be further analyzed and synthesized (e.g., via meta-analysis). Few managers (or their technical staffs) can take the time to screen and consistently extract infor-mation from even the most relevant subsets of papers. More importantly, the time required to complete these steps may lead to missing the window of opportunity for informing the decision that originally prompted the review (Rose et al.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-207
Number of pages3
JournalFreshwater Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


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