Should Environmental Scientists Engage in Public Advocacy to Help Conserve the Natural World?


Should Environmental Scientists Engage in Public Advocacy to Help Conserve the Natural World?

Theatre 2
School of Geography
221 Bouverie Street


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Advocacy is the public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. It is also something that many environmental scientists have to struggle with over the course of their careers, yet is a topic that few have received any training in. To some scientists, public advocacy is an action to be avoided at all costs. To others, it is not only implicit within the discipline of conservation biology but is an obligation that must be fulfilled by citizens in a civil society who hold specialised technical knowledge.

Objections to public advocacy by scientists are usually based on the assumptions that (1) advocacy calls into question the (supposed) objectivity of scientific advice and its (supposed) special place in policy formulation; (2) conservation biologists are no better qualified to advise on conservation topics than anyone else in the community; (3) advocacy leads to conservation science being politicised; and (4) the possibility that public advocacy will lead to self-promotion.

In this presentation, Professor Paul Boon will show that all four objections are deeply flawed. The current state of the world leads to the argument that environmental scientists should aim to influence conservation policy and on-ground works through a multitude of channels in order to influence and mobilise public opinion (which is arguably the only factor acknowledged by politicans, the ultimate makers of conservation policy). The limits to this course of action are outlined along with possible adverse outcomes for those scientists who choose to engage in public advocacy, including the risk of legal action.


  • Professor Paul Boon
    Professor Paul Boon, University of Melbourne