Academic freedom in ecology and conservation

Academic Freedom Working Group

Terms of Reference


The overall Academic Freedom Working Group objectives are:

  • to understand the limitations on academic freedom imposed on government and university scientists, including self-imposed limitations arising from implied threats, scope of research topics and open communication of research findings.
  • to evaluate constraints and safeguards imposed by public service codes of conduct.
  • where possible, to provide illustrative examples of suboptimal practice, and seek to develop best practice guidelines.
  • to discover whether any limitations contravene ESA objectives, or principles of democracy
  • to understand the changes in ecological capacity of government agencies (No. staff, No. staff with ecological training, budgets, ease of access to information within department, journal access), and evaluate impacts on policy and management.
  • to make recommendations to the board for how the ESA could respond.
  • to coordinate implementation of responses as approved by the board.
  • to develop links with other organisations that have an interest in improving academic freedom.

Strategic Alignment

This working group aligns to AIM 4 and Strategies C, D and F of the ESA Strategic Plan 15/16 – 19/20.  The working group's purpose and responsibilities are consistent with the following objects of the ESA constitution, section 3.2 (a).

(ii) promoting the application of ecological principles to the development, utilisation and conservation of natural resources

(iii) advising governmental and other agencies in matters where the application of ecological principles may be relevant to their planning and decision making processes;

(iv) fostering, conservation and ecological management of native biota, their diversity, ecological function, and interaction with the environment;

(v) encouraging high professional and ethical standards among the Company’s Members and other ecologists;

(vii) facilitating the dissemination and exchange of ideas and information about ecology and the information among the Company’s Members, ecologists, other professional disciplines and the general public

(viii) educating the Company’s Members, ecologists, other professional disciplines and the general public about the environment;

The working group also aligns with Australia's Ecosystem Science Council's "Foundations for the Future", the Australian ecosystem science long-term plan. This plan highlights as one of six priorities; "a general public that is inspired, informed and empowered with knowledge and understanding of Australian ecosystems."  The report elaborates on this goal: "To put the Australian community in a position to make judgements and decisions about the use and management of their ecosystems, they need to be engaged with and informed about these ecosystems."  Suppression of scientific information would contravene this priority of Foundations for the Future.

The working group is also consistent with one of the four platforms of the global March for Science movement; Open Communication: "Publicly-funded scientists have a responsibility to communicate their research and public outreach and accessibility of scientific knowledge should be encouraged. Communication of scientific findings and their implications must not be suppressed."

Timeline of key actions (delete this section if not applicable)

End of 2017. Established membership, planned initial data-gathering

2018. Evaluated data-gathering, made links with external groups as appropriate, put proposed responses to the board.

2019. Implementing approved responses.




Don Driscoll

Chair/WG Leader

Euan Ritchie

provide advice to the chair and contribute to response

Martine Maron

provide advice to the chair and contribute to response


provide advice to the chair and contribute to response

John Woinarski

provide advice to the chair and contribute to response

Bob Pressey

provide advice to the chair and contribute to response

Working Group Meetings/Teleconferences

The Academic Freedom Working Group will communicate by email and meet by teleconference as needed.

Review of the Terms of Reference

These Terms of Reference were adopted by the ESA Board on:


And will be due for revision no later than two years from the above date.

Detailed terms of reference