Australian scientists have said they have been barred from speaking openly about their work and that their advice is being suppressed by government and industry when it comes to the impact of logging, mining, land clearance and the climate crisis, according to new research.
A study by the Australian Environmental Society, published in Conservation Letters, surveyed 220 scientists across government, industry and academia about the extent of their work being repressed.
Forms of repression include the inability to present or publish results, changes made to results before work is released and self-censorship due to fear of retribution.
The association found that about a third of the environmentalists and conservation scientists from government and industry who responded said they had experienced an unnecessary adjustment in their work. About half of government scientists and nearly 40% of industry workers said they were barred from releasing or discussing what they found either publicly or internally where they worked.
Just over half of the respondents (56%) said they felt that the restrictions on public comment had become more severe in recent years.
This was most often the case in commenting on the plight of threatened species, with 56% of industry, 46% of government and 28% of university scientists working in the region reporting that they felt limited in what they could say.
University and industry researchers were more inclined to avoid public comment due to fear of misrepresentation in the media, while government employees were most often tied down by their manager or workplace policy.
Don Driscoll, lead author and former president of the association, said the study showed that some of the best Australian scholars were prevented from sharing their work not only with the media and social media platforms, but with colleagues and policymakers through peers. Reviewing journals and conferences.
The potential consequences, he said, were profound because it meant that policies on issues such as climate change, forest fires and regulation of development proposals may not be guided by the best science.
He told the Guardian Australia newspaper: “In fact, these results may be the tip of the iceberg.” “It reflects the type of corruption that is occurring in the system.”
Driscoll, who is also director of the Center for Integrative Environment at Deakin University, said several scientists working in the industry were consultants hired to assess the environmental impact of the proposed developments.
These scholars are often left without any remedy if the work they performed prior to submitting it to the government in implementing Tatweer was modified because their contracts prevented them from speaking publicly.
Likewise, he said that scholars who worked in government departments and agencies faced an increasingly politicized system where information was often filtered by public officials and ministerial employees before reaching politicians.
Since the survey was accepted, it only reflects the experience of the sample that chose to participate, but the eight scientists behind the study said the participants were an accurate reflection of the scientific workforce across age, gender, and type of work.
Driscoll said the findings indicated a politicized culture of how to deal with science and demonstrated the power of private interests, and highlighted the need for an independent oversight body such as the National Environmental Protection Agency to assess development proposals and determine whether they should move forward.
“It is vital that our environmental assessments change so that the people who cause the harm do not employ the scientists who assess the damage to the environment,” he said.
Ewan Ritchie, Deakin University Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology and co-author of the paper, described the study as “very clear evidence that the democratic process, which is based on an informed audience, is being interfered with.”
He said it also showed that suppressing the work of scientists had a fatal impact on their mental health. The paper includes anonymous quotes from respondents who said they were threatened with losing their jobs if they spoke after ignoring their advice, were intimidated by senior public officials over the phone and social media, and resigned from their positions due to stress and loss. Of motivation.
The stress of suppressing the work coincides with the “basic environmental anxiety and environmental distress” that many scientists have experienced, Richie said. He said, “It is a serious and insidious mental health problem that has not been dealt with properly.”
The research was conducted before the ongoing review of national environmental laws by Graeme Samuel, former chair of the Competition and Consumer Commission. In an interim report in July, Samuel found the laws ineffective, the environment deteriorating, and advised the government to introduce an independent monitoring body to ensure its protection.
Samuel also recommended the introduction of national environmental standards to ensure better conservation protection while the Morrison government granted greater powers to approve development for states and territories.
The government last week muzzled the debate while forcing legislation to begin the process through the lower house of parliament. The proposed changes to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act did not include environmental standards as promised. Environment Minister Susan Lee said they will be introduced later.
Driscoll said the government’s decision to remove an independent oversight body and introduce laws without including environmental standards was a “fatal mistake” and demonstrated what can happen when lawmakers do not listen to scientific advice.