AgBioResearch Scientist Selected as 2008 Leopold Leadership Fellow

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Scott Swinton was selected as a 2008 Leopold Leadership Fellow. (view larger image)

AgBioResearch scientist Scott Swinton, professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, is one of 19 environmental researchers from across North America selected as Leopold leadership fellows for 2008.

Pamela Matson, scientific director of the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, said the members of the group were selected through a highly competitive process on the basis of their exceptional scientific qualifications, demonstrated leadership ability and strong interest in communicating science beyond traditional academic audiences.

Each of the fellows will participate in two weeklong intensive training seminars in June and September to learn to become stronger communicators with audiences outside of academia, including journalists and policymakers.

“Like many MSU professors, I’ve learned how to reach academic audiences via classroom teaching, journal article publications and conference presentations,” Swinton said. “But making scientific learning accessible to the general public and to policymakers is a greater challenge.”

Swinton’s areas of research include environmental economics, ecosystem services, pest management, sustainable agriculture, natural capital and agricultural issues. He studies how farmers make management decisions about agricultural systems, and he has a special interest in how farmers’ attitudes combine with price and policy incentives to influence their technology choices.

His current research with the National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) agroecological site in Michigan focuses on management decisions to enhance the provision of ecosystem services from row-crop agriculture and explores farmers’ awareness, attitudes and incentives to adopt low-input cropping practices.

“My work with MSU‘s Long-Term Ecological Research site at the Kellogg Biological Station has persuaded me that the greatest ecological challenge today is to create incentives for humans to make more ecologically sustainable choices,” Swinton said. “I am an economist, and incentive design is central to what economists think about.”

The Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, located at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, was founded in 1998 to fill a gap in environmental decision making: getting the best scientific knowledge into the hands of government, nonprofit and business leaders to further the development of sustainable policies and practices. The program recognizes the fact that environmental scientists are increasingly called upon to explain their research, provide comments on public policy and give advice within the public sector and helps build their communication skills. The fellows also become part of a network of Leopold leadership alumni and program advisers who are leaders in conducting scientific outreach beyond traditional academic and scientific circles.

“Aldo Leopold was committed to science that informs policy and makes a difference. I look forward to learning more about how to do that,” Swinton said. “The Leopold program draws from leading researchers with interests in ecology and associated policy. So, it looks like a promising chance to build the kind of professional ties that will enable both better research and research that makes a difference for society.”

A list of 2008 fellows and more information about the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program are available online.

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