University of Cambridge > > Engineering Design Centre Seminars  > Weighting evidence to save the planet: which studies should we trust and why?

Weighting evidence to save the planet: which studies should we trust and why?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Mari Huhtala.

Efforts are currently underway in biodiversity conservation to emulate the successes of evidence-based medicine. The Conservation Evidence project aims to summarise the entire conservation literature relating to quantitative tests of conservation actions (i.e. answering what works in conservation?). Oftentimes for a given conservation action we find that some studies will suggest it is effective, whilst others suggest it is not. There is a great need to understand which studies we should trust when making decisions, not only in conservation, but also in other fields. In my talk I will focus on my work to understand how experimental/study design affects the quality of studies (internal validity). Using simulations and empirical analysis of 47 empirical datasets I show that less robust experimental designs can severely compromise the quality of evidence. However, analysis of approximately 5500 studies from Conservation Evidence database also suggest that less robustly designed studies dominate the conservation and social science literature, presumably due to practical and resource limitations. Surely a call for increased rigour? And yet practitioners and policy-makers also prefer locally relevant evidence to inform their decision-making. Further analysis of the Conservation Evidence database suggests relevant evidence (in terms of taxa, biome, location and metrics used – i.e. external validity) is also in short supply. This leads us to a major philosophical question that applies across disciplines – how, with limited resources and imperfect evidence bases, to balance efforts to improve evidence bases between relevance and robustness (e.g. internal vs external validity)? I will talk about the challenges we face in conservation and many other disciplines in reconciling these competing interests and provide some possible solutions we are working on. These include some prototype decision-making tools that allow the weighting of evidence by its robustness and relevance, as well as leading users through the process of making an evidence-based decision, whilst incorporating a multitude of other socioeconomic factors and qualitative sources of evidence.

This talk is part of the Engineering Design Centre Seminars series.

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