Novim’s latest study: Warning Signs: Effects of Proposed Federal Funding Cuts to Environmental and Climate Research and Development Programs.

“The boundary between science and policy is only one of several boundaries that hinder the linking of scientific and technical information to decision making. Managing boundaries between disciplines, across scales of geography and jurisdiction, and between different forms of knowledge is also often critical to transferring information…

information requires three (not mutually exclusive) attributes – salience, credibility, and legitimacy [emphasis added] – and that what makes boundary crossing difficult is that actors on different sides of a boundary perceive and value salience, credibility, and legitimacy differently.”David Cash et al.


For decades, social scientists (as exemplified by Bill Clark and his collaborators at Harvard and across the world, in papers such as that cited above) have helped us understand the difference between assessments that offer a foundation you can build on – and studies that are something less. It all boils down to this:

  • Are the studies salient? Do they address subjects that matter?
  • Are the studies credible? Do they hold up under scrutiny?
  • Are the studies legitimate? Do those who have views and who will be impacted have a say? Were all views given serious attention?

Novim logo

Novim released a study today that meets these guidelines and merits your attention – first and foremost because of the topic – our national ability to meet future needs for food, water and energy, build resilience to hazards, and protect the environment. Second, because it’s authored by Jack Fellows, David Blockstein, Tamara Dickinson, Michael Holland, Kei Koizumi, Kathie L. Olsen, Robert M. Simon, and Joel Widder. What a group! More than a little gravitas here. Individually and collectively they provide a deep and expertise spanning this topic. Third, as you’ll be able to judge for yourself, the document has been rigorously limited to matters of fact.

You may not have heard of Novim. Fact is, it should be a household word. They introduce themselves this way (their website provides richer detail): At a time when truth is under fire, Novim brings the best minds in the scientific community together to tackle controversial issues with hard science.

And they’ve been at it for ten years. Take this latest study, Warning Signs: Effects of Proposed Federal Funding Cuts to Environmental and Climate Research and Development Programs. It provides two things. First, a detailed analysis of cuts that have been proposed in the 2018 federal budget – cuts that aggregate to some $2B, representing a 20% reduction in 2017 federal outlays. Second, an enumeration of the implications of such cuts in five respects, namely reductions in:

  • investment and capacity – reduced US prospects for innovation, economic growth, and safety
  • observations and modeling – breaks in the continuity and integrity of vital data sets
  • adaptation and assessments – a decline in food, water, energy development and use, and resiliency with respect to hazards
  • workforce – reductions in the needed researchers, resource managers, and decision makers
  • international commitments – a reduced US ability to meet legal and international obligations.

Again, these are matters for sober reflection – but not for disputation.

Where do you and I come in? The Novim study is a foundation. It’s societal benefit will be determined largely by how the rest of us build on it. It lays out facts (or more precisely possibilities, since at this writing the 2018 budget numbers are still in play, and since the 2019 budget proposals to be released shortly will build on this starting point) and their implications.

Our U.S. democracy comprises 320 million individual stakeholders, as well as myriad institutions – governments at state and local levels, small business and major national and multinational corporations, universities, and thousands of NGO’s – whose prospects are all dependent directly or indirectly on the level, balance and extent of these environmental and climate R&D investments. The outcomes of these budget proposals affect all of us differently, even to the extent of creating a few winners among the losers. Many of us, and the institutions where we work, lack the wherewithal to assemble Novim’s comprehensive picture. But when we can see it laid out before us, we are better positioned to know the impacts on us our goals, and the needs and hopes of those we serve. Novim has made it possible for us to hold a healthy national conversation on how to move forward – even to express vigorous disagreement and debate – but to do so while grounded in fact, as opposed to seeing who can yell the loudest.

It’s now time for all of us to do our part.

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