by D. Lewis, Sep 21, 2020 in Nature
Environmental scientists in Australia say that they are under increasing pressure from their employers to downplay research findings or avoid communicating them at all. More than half of the respondents to an online survey thought that constraints on speaking publicly on issues such as threatened species, urban development, mining, logging and climate change had become worse in recent years.1
The findings, published this month in Conservation Letters, reflect how politicized debates about environmental policy in Australia have become, says Saul Cunningham, an environmental scientist at the Australian National University in Canberra. “We need our publicly funded institutions to be more vocal in defending the importance of an independent voice based on research,” he says.
Australian scientists aren’t the only ones who have reported interference in science or pressure — particularly from government employers — to downplay research findings. Scientists in the United States, Canada and Brazil have also reported such intrusions in the past decade.
Scale of the problem
Two-hundred and twenty scientists in Australia responded to the survey, which was organized by the Ecological Society of Australia and ran from October 2018 until February 2019. Some of the respondents worked in government, others in universities or in industry, for example in environmental consultancies or non-governmental organizations.
The results show that government and industry scientists experienced greater constraints from their employers than did university staff. Among government employees, about half were prohibited from speaking publicly about their research, compared with 38% employed in industry and 9% of university staff. Three-quarters of those surveyed also reported self-censoring their work.