Surrey Beatty & Sons, Pacific Conservation Biology
Conservation biologists are obliged to function in a ‘post-truth’ environment in which ‘alternative facts’ are used by those who oppose meaningful action to conserve the natural world. Objections to public advocacy by scientists are usually based on the inter-related assumptions that (1) advocacy calls into question the objectivity of scientific advice and its 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 conflation of advocacy with individual self-promotion. These objections are shown to fall short in the face of two obvious conservation failures: (1) the manifest inability of current approaches to generate globally sustainable fisheries; and (2) the lack of success in convincing the wider public about anthropogenic climate change. Instead of refraining from public advocacy, conservation biologists should acknowledge their primary responsibility in a civil society as informed citizens possessing specialised knowledge and experience that most other citizens lack. They should aim to influence conservation policy and on-ground works through a multitude of channels: (1) traditionally, through peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature; (2) through formal input into professional advisory panels to inform government; and (3) through public advocacy. The positions adopted with regard to contentious issues by practitioners in other branches of scientific enquiry can provide useful guidance as to how conservation biologists can contribute meaningfully to discourse in the public interest without compromising their professional standing.