Censorship of Science Rampant

Filed under Education & Childcare, Environment & Pollution, News, Science & Research ~ by Editor on  30 Nov 2019

Is there suppression of ecological and conservation science?

“Science suppression” is keeping the media, public and even policymakers in the dark on topics ranging from bushfires to species extinctions, according to scientists.

The Ecological Society of Australia’s 2018-19 survey on academic freedom and research suppression reveals extensive and deeply concerning evidence of suppression of research results and professional advice in government, environmental consultancies and universities.

The survey revealed this suppression has serious consequences, including poor environmental outcomes, poorly informed policy, and compromised public debate, which weakens democracy.

Over one third of survey respondents reported reduced job satisfaction, bullying and harassment for communicating publicly, and increased personal suffering, according to outgoing ESA President Don Driscoll who led the survey.

Many reported jeopardised employment prospects, including job losses, and deteriorating mental health as a consequence of employers violating academic freedom and suppressing research.”

The statement was endorsed this week as ecologists from around the country met in Launceston to discuss how science can help us address some of the biggest problems facing the planet – from bushfire to species extinction.

Over 600 ecologists met to address the theme; "Ecology: science for practical solutions."

Ecologists provide expert advice on ecosystem matters, delivering practical, evidence-based solutions for major environmental problems. However, vital information about the threats and solutions is being suppressed for political or corporate gain, at the expense of society, nature and the wellbeing of individuals.

Driscoll said there are innovative, science-based solutions to many of these issues, and he had heard from people who are:

  • helping farmers to drought-proof their properties though the conservation of native grasslands and woodlands on farm;
  • developing ways to proactively reduce fuel loads and empower communities to protect specific assets during bushfire, minimising losses and the cost of fighting fires;
  • successfully breeding and reintroducing threatened species into areas they have disappeared from;
  • improving human health by bringing biodiversity back to our cities;
  • working with Indigenous land managers to reduce numbers of feral cats, protecting bilbies, skinks and other native desert animals;
  • determining ‘which plants we should plant where’ to ensure that our urban trees and large-scale revegetation projects survive a changing climate.

The voices of these experts need to be heard, and to be trusted and respected, if we are to overcome these grand challenges facing our society,” he said.

The ESA is calling on government agencies to change their workplace culture and codes of conduct to allow public servants to provide factual evidence-based information, both in public discourse and in internal communications.

They’d also like to see more science undertaken in industry subjected to peer review to improve accountability, and for universities to proactively support their academics, providing them with appropriate training and defend when they are unfairly attacked over their research or teaching.

Conference Resolutions

The conference spelled out the changes needed for government, academia, and industry to make, or risk increasing the already disturbing landscape of distorted or inaccurate news and a growing percentage of a public influenced by rumour, spin, and deliberate untruths.

We call on governments to:
• Modify code of conduct statements and conditions of employment to ensure that expert scientists in government cannot be prohibited from delivering factual, scientifically-derived information in public discourse.
• Actively change workplace cultures to create an environment where responsible practice is defined as providing factual information, both in public discourse and in internal communications.
• Respect academic freedom when collaborating with university researchers, including in contractual arrangements.

We call on universities to:
• Have explicit, publicly-visible policies that enshrine academic freedom as a fundamental right of academics.
• Pro-actively and publicly defend academics when they are unfairly attacked over their research or teaching.
• Provide training for academics on effective public-facing science communication and expression of their right to academic freedom.
• Reject contractual arrangements that do not respect academic freedom.

We call on industry to:
• Improve accountability of ecologists in industry, both to ensure that results and reports are professional and defensible, and to provide the best professional advice and guidance for industry.
• Encourage open sharing and peer review of consultant reports and data sets.
• Support staff to share factual information about their work publicly.

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