“Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” Albert Einstein (1879–1955).
There is a high degree of scientific illiteracy among policy-makers and we as scientists urgently need to engage in the policy process and action. In practice, few of the scientists are truly independent and perceptions of conflicts of interest are inevitable when engaging in the policy process and these are to be accepted and mitigated and not ignored.
Scientists engaging in policy should be precautionary; be wary of statements being taken out of context; not get defensive when disagreement occurs, and be wary that caveats will be ignored and arguments oversimplified. Scientists should actively correct the misrepresentations of science and develop their communication skills to ensure clear, concise advice.
To encourage scientist engagement in the policy process, evaluation of faculty and researchers should give credit for work that has “real world” policy/regulatory/action impact. Conservation scientists have long debated whether they should advocate for their science, but in recent years attitudes have changed. We all agree that policy is politics and politics is people.
When governments determine conservation policy, action, values, ideologies, economics, biases, and emotions are all factors to consider in the decision-making, with varying degrees of relevance depending on the issue. In this context, we believe that training in science communication is important. The question is, do scientists have an obligation to correct the misrepresentation of their research? How can scientists address the inherent uncertainty in their results when those results are used to develop policy, including the importance of incorporating the Precautionary Principle when making science-based policy? How can we use what we know – Science for action in the conservation and drive the needed change?