In an article published on June 10, 2015 in the magazine National Geographic, journalist Lindsey Konkel reports on the recent shift among North American academics towards increasing involvement and outspokenness when it comes to environmental and public health issues. Traditionally, academics in the U.S. and Canada have not taken advocacy positions to use science for public policy making, Konkel writes. There is concern about being labeled as environmentalist or activists by politicians, business lobbyists, or interest groups and losing scientific credibility. However, nowadays many scientists leverage their knowledge and do speak out on contentious issues. “We are advocating for society to make the best possible decisions based on the best possible knowledge. We shouldn’t feel bad about that,” says Ken Lertzman, professor of forest ecology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby B.C., Canada. “As scientists, I do think it’s our role to make sure the data we produce is communicated accurately and objectively at a level that policymakers and the public can understand,” adds Heather Stapleton, associate professor of environmental ethics and sustainable environmental management at Duke University, U.S. In Europe scientists have a longer history of public dialog, Konkel explains. “To me, it is obvious that scientists have a responsibility to society to offer an interpretation of the right path based on research and scientific data. To not do so is wrong,” says Åke Bergman, deputy head of the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry and head of the Environmental Chemistry Unit at Stockholm University, Sweden. Philippe Grandjean, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, says the university encourages scientists to engage in public research. “If academics hide in ivory towers, society doesn’t benefit from public investment in research institutions,” Grandjean adds.
In Canada, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, some environmental researchers have been let go and federal environmental science institutes have been closed in recent years. “Scientific expertise is not valued by the federal government in Canada,” says Peter Ross, a marine toxicologist and former government scientist. An article published in the summer 2015 issue of Coast Mountain Culture Magazine outlines the recent development of government (de)funded research in Canada.
Lindsey Konkel (June 10, 2015). “Why more scientists are speaking out on contentious issues.” National Geographic
Jordan Sowunmi (May 2015). “The silencing of science.” Coast Mountain Culture Magazine