Beyond advocacy: Making space for conservation scientists in public debate

Date: 01, Jun, 2016
Author(s):   Georgia Garrard, Fiona Fidler, Bonnie Wintle, Yung En Chee, Sarah Bekessy
Publisher: Conservation Letters

The topic of advocacy by scientists has been debated for decades, yet there is little agreement about whether scientists can or should be advocates. The fear of crossing a line into advocacy continues to hold many scientists back from contributing to public discourse, impoverishing public debate about important issues. We believe that progress in this debate is limited by a misconception about the relationship between scientific integrity and objectivity. We begin by unpacking this relationship and debunking three common misconceptions about advocacy by scientists: namely, that advocacy is harmful to scientific credibility, beyond the scope of science, and incompatible with science, which is value-free. We propose new ways of thinking about responsible advocacy by conservation scientists, drawing on practices from the health sciences, where researchers and professional bodies are empowered to act as health advocates. In so doing, we hope to open further space for conservation scientists to ac- tively and legitimately engage in public debate about conservation issues.