In the latest issue of Conservation Biology, Nelson and Vucetich1,2 tackle the thorny issue of whether scientists can/should also be environmental advocates. This is one of the better, more philosophical, analyses I have seen.
For scientists worried that advocacy undercuts credibility, this piece may allay your concerns. I recommend reading the whole article (it’s a rich analysis).
Here’s the conclusion as a short excerpt:
Reasons to oppose advocacy by environmental scientists have been made on the grounds that doing so compromises scientific credibility, conflicts with the essential nature of science, and conflicts with the practical requirements of being a productive scientist. Reasons to favor scientist advocacy have been based on the fundamentally similar nature of science and advocacy, concern for the social harm that might arise from not advocating, and the dual nature of a scientist citizen. When examining these positions as formal arguments composed of premises and conclusions, all but two arguments (social harm and citizenship) collapse. Moreover, only one argument seems robustly sound and valid. According to this argument scientists, by virtue of being citizens first and scientists second, have a responsibility to advocate to the best of their abilities and in a justified and transparent manner. Importantly arguments against science advocacy are valuable for offering insight about how one should or should not be an advocate, not whether one should advocate. If these conclusions are accurate, then Hardin (1998) is correct: “[O]ne of today’s cardinal tasks is to marry the philosopher’s literate ethics with the scientist’s commitment to numerate analysis.” Our assessment calls for more active participation by scientists in matters of policy. Nevertheless, each scientist is called according to his or her abilities. Broad participation, however, will undoubtedly result in disagreement among good scientists and in some scientists advocating in an unjustified and dishonest manner. Thus broad participation will substantially complicate the policy-making process. Although this might seem undesirable, our goal here should not be simplicity but rather the betterment of society.
1Nelson and Vucetich (2009) On advocacy by environmental scientists: What, whether, why and how. Conservation Biology, Volume 23, No. 5, 1090–1101.
2Bowdoin people can link to the article here.
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