Professors Don Driscoll, Bob Pressey, Euan Ritchie and Noel Preece have just published in The Conversation, the results of their survey of experts in government, industry and universities which found that important scientific information about environmental threats often does not reach the public or decision-makers.
Over half of government respondents said they were prohibited from communicating scientific information.
Factors constraining commentary from government respondents included senior management (82%), workplace policy (72%), a minister’s office (63%) and middle management (62%).
Fear of barriers to advancement (49%) and concern about media misrepresentation (49%) also discouraged public communication by government respondents.
Almost 60% of government respondents and 36% of industry respondents reported unduly modified internal communications.
One government respondent said:
Due to ‘risk management’ in the public sector […] ministers are not receiving full information and advice and/or this is being ‘massaged’ by advisors (sic).
This is shocking and dangerous and it’s not just government. The influential hand of industry is suppressing conservation science through funding it gives to universities.
Here’s what these professors say should be done:
Public servant codes of conduct should be revised to allow government scientists to speak freely about their research in both a public and private capacity.
And government scientists and other staff should report to new, independent state and federal environment authorities, to minimise political and industry interference.
We certainly agree. They also remind us that:
A free flow of information ensures government policy is backed by the best science. Conservation dollars would be more wisely invested, costly mistakes avoided and interventions more effectively targeted.
And importantly, it would help ensure the public is properly informed – a fundamental tenet of a flourishing democracy.