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The Great Debate: Hands on or hands off?
Monday, 9th April 2018
Austria Center Vienna

EGU Great Debate on Expertise
European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2018

Convened by: Caspar Hewett, Jonathan Dick, Paul Quinn, Mark Wilkinson and Cristina Garcia Fernandez

In recent years there has been a growing distrust of experts in the public imagination which has been expressed in numerous debates from Brexit to the US presidential election. This gives rise to serious questions about the role of scientists in policy making and the political sphere. As geoscientists, our disciplines can have a real impact on the way humanity organises itself, so what should our role in that be? There are serious tensions here between the desire for our knowledge to have real impact and make a difference, the need for scientific detachment and objectivity, and respect for broader perspectives and for democracy itself.

The key questions for this debate are:

  • Should geoscientists restrict themselves to knowledge generation and stay out of the policy world?
  • Or should we be getting involved and making change happen?
  • Should our voices as experts be heard louder than others?
  • Or does evidence-based policy undermine democracy?
  • Should we be hands on or keep our hands off?

This Great Debate will address these questions and critically examine the controversies surrounding expertise and policy.

You can tweet about the debate using #tgd18 and #egu18

Elena López Gunn, ICATALYST/University of Madrid
Minni Jain, The Flow Partnership
Paul Quinn, Newcastle University

Chair: Dr Caspar Hewett

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Hands on or Hands off? EGU 2018


Dr Elena López Gunn
Elena López Gunn is the Founder and Director of ICATALYST and a Visiting Fellow at University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Elena finished her PhD at King's College, London. She also holds a Masters from the University of Cambridge, and a Master in Investigative Journalism, data and visualization from the University Juan Carlos I with “El Mundo” newspaper. She was an Associate Professor at IE Business school and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics as Alcoa Research Fellow. Professionally, Elena has collaborated with a number of organizations including UNESCO, FAO, UNDP, EU DG Research and Innovation, universities (Spanish and Dutch) and river basin agencies, the England and Wales Environment Agency, as well as the private sector like Repsol, and NGOs like Transparency International-Spanish Chapter. She has published on a range of topics mainly related to water security, social innovation, collaborative decision making, water governance, evaluation of public policy, knowledge management and transfer. Her current main focus is on climate change adaptation and the role of green infrastructure, as well as groundwater strategic management. Elena lives in Madrid with her husband, Dave, and her three fabulous children.

Minni Jain
Minni Jain is the operations,director of the FLOW Partnership which has revived 7 rivers through community action in arid areas of Rajasthan, India. The principles of this work in India are proving to be beneficial to understanding and finding solutions to floods in the UK. Minni is an editor of the Holistic Science Journal. She also helps co-ordinate a series of workshops called Process and Pilgrimage which explore the relation between Science and Spirit through dialogues on knowing, knowledge and experience.

Minni’s skill is in bringing unlikely combinations of people together in order to bring about the real action needed to enable change in complex systems. Her driving force has always been in keeping the focus on the search for the deeper spiritual meaning of life, to aspire to that which is higher than ourselves. Her work has always tried to initiate and connect grass -root level movements, in India, which is where she originally comes from and in the UK where she now lives. Her motivation is to enable a voice for the poor, the marginalised and the dispossessed using all her abilities.

Dr Paul Quinn
Paul Quinn is senior lecturer in Catchment Hydrology at Newcastle University, UK. His research interests focus on catchment instrumentation, GIS and modelling. The work includes implementing a wide range of soft engineered interventions for diffuse pollution management and flood risk mitigation. Equally the work includes liaison with catchment stakeholders and regional & national policy bodies. He has worked closely with Defra & the Environment Agency (EA) and many rural organisations and NGO’s. Paul actively promotes the topic of Catchment Systems Engineering as a proactive method to solve environmental problems.

In 2016 he was appointed as a special advisor to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee on the “Future Flood Prevention”. In 2015 NERC he was awarded an Industrial Fellowship at ARUP with the broad goal of ‘Delivering Natural Flood Management to Industry’. In 2015 also he won the ICE Robert Stephenson Award for the Belford catchment flood management scheme in partnership with the EA and AMCO.

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