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From climate change to pandemics: decision science can help scientists have impact

by   Christopher M. Baker, et al.

Scientific knowledge and advances are a cornerstone of modern society. They improve our understanding of the world we live in and help us navigate global challenges including emerging infectious diseases, climate change and the biodiversity crisis. For any scientist, whether they work primarily in fundamental knowledge generation or in the applied sciences, it is important to understand how science fits into a decision-making framework. Decision science is a field that aims to pinpoint evidence-based management strategies. It provides a framework for scientists to directly impact decisions or to understand how their work will fit into a decision process. Decision science is more than undertaking targeted and relevant scientific research or providing tools to assist policy makers; it is an approach to problem formulation, bringing together mathematical modelling, stakeholder values and logistical constraints to support decision making. In this paper we describe decision science, its use in different contexts, and highlight current gaps in methodology and application. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust mathematical models into the public spotlight, but it is one of innumerable examples in which modelling informs decision making. Other examples include models of storm systems (eg. cyclones, hurricanes) and climate change. Although the decision timescale in these examples differs enormously (from hours to decades), the underlying decision science approach is common across all problems. Bridging communication gaps between different groups is one of the greatest challenges for scientists. However, by better understanding and engaging with the decision-making processes, scientists will have greater impact and make stronger contributions to important societal problems.


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