Dr. Sean Cadigan, a professor of marine history at Memorial, has been awarded the 2006 Ritter Memorial Fellowship from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California.
Dr. Cadigan is the second Canadian – and the first person from Newfoundland and Labrador – to win this prestigious international research award, which will provide him with a working grant of $15,000 US. He will travel to the Scripps Institution in the fall to give a major public lecture and conduct seminars, offering insight into how marine sciences and the treatment of knowledge have affected the Newfoundland fishing industry.
“Knowledge is only as good as the context in which the knowledge is used,” he says, offering the issue of northern cod stocks as an example. Dr. Cadigan says scientists who were critical of the government’s policy on northern cod in the early 1990s tended to promote “local ecological knowledge” as a crucial source of information. Ironically, this past fall when the same scientists tried to have cod listed as an endangered species, it was the invocation of “local ecological knowledge” that helped defeat them.
“Knowledge is contested terrain; it’s not simply fact, and the contest or struggle is determined by material circumstances,” Dr. Cadigan explains. He believes it is critical that scientists be cognizant of this as they comply with the demand for more and better data. “People will say we need more knowledge, but sometimes that’s just a quest for what they want to hear."
To a local fish harvester, concerned more about making a living and feeding a family than about scientific data, all the scientists working in different fields fall into the category of “experts”, Dr. Cadigan says. Since what the “experts” say is often contradictory, the fish harvester will pick and choose what’s convenient knowledge.
And so, he notes, will policy makers, who will choose their science depending on the objective. “If the objective is to ensure the fish stocks are healthy and thriving for a long time to come, then there can be this policy paralysis; if the objective is short-term economic solutions, then making policy is a much different thing.”
The William E. and Mary B. Ritter Memorial Fellowship honours the founder and first director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his wife. Its purpose is to bring to the institution pre-eminent scholars whose research enlarges and deepens the understanding of the history of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences.