SYMP 13-5 - A single human geographer in a sea of (physical) scientists: Social-science research as a tool for translational sciences

Wednesday, August 9, 2017: 3:40 PM
Portland Blrm 251, Oregon Convention Center
Tamara Wall, Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV

How can social science research from a variety of fields--human geography, sociology, anthropology--inform translational sciences? One of the challenges for researchers engaged in translational ecology and knowledge co-production is in understanding how factors specific to how the stakeholders they work with—fire practitioners, natural resource managers, emergency managers, and other people involved in using research to make on-the-ground actions and policies—use or don’t use the information researchers create. This synthesis uses two case studies to illustrate how social science research can lead to new research directions and insights for physical science research/translational sciences to inform management actions and develop policy. Case study 1, Fire Stories, used a novel quasi-quantitative method of narrative micro studies to examine firefighters perceptions of extreme fire behavior. Case Study 2, Fire Danger PocketCards: helping to keep firefighters safe or one more piece of paper to carry around? examined how firefighters were using a climate/weather-related safety product. The project involved both a statistical analysis of the indices used to estimate fire danger ratings and interviews with firefighters to identify how they used the Fire Danger PocketCards.


In Case Study 1, Fire Stories, the narratives gathered from firefighters about their experience with extreme fire behavior drove the selection of fire events for a statistical analysis of changes in the energy release component for those geographic areas, demonstrating that these values had increased over time. Working with fire behavior experts, we also determined that many of the narratives linked to extreme fire behavior often seemed to be linked to a lack of fire weather knowledge, suggesting a need for additional training in fire weather and its effects on fire behavior. In Case Study 2, while statistical analysis of fire danger indices indicated that many Fire Danger PocketCards (a product designed to inform firefighters about fire danger in a specific geographic area and fuel type, both on their home units and when working in other geographic areas) were valid, the social science research in this project indicated that much of the lack of use of this product came from firefighters' perceptions that the information on the cards was outdated, not relevant, or not understood adequately. Recommendations from both the physical and social science research were used to support changes to the Fire Danger Pocket Cards in the National Fire Danger Rating System in 2016.