Photo: Richard Wylie
Media

New research highlights the suppression of ecological and conservation science

It’s not just the media that needs freedom to report on important issues of public interest. Science suppression is keeping the media, public and even policymakers in the dark on topics ranging from bushfires to species extinctions, a new survey reveals.

Now 600 scientists have endorsed a statement by the Ecological Society of Australia calling for governments, universities and industry to stop the censorship and suppression of science and scientists, which they say is harming nature and society and violating democratic principles.

The statement (available in full here) was developed in response to a survey of ESA members that revealed extensive and deeply concerning evidence of suppression of research results and professional advice in government, environmental consultancies and universities.

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.

“We have innovative, science-based solutions to many of these issues,” according to Don. “This week we’ve 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;
  • and much more”.

“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,” says Don.

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 statement available here.
Media releases at: www.ecolsoc.org.au/media-and-events/media-releases
On Twitter: #ESAus19 // @EcolSocAus
Conference website: www.esa2019.org.au

The Ecological Society of Australia’s 2019 Annual Conference is held on the 24th – 29th November at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, Launceston.