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Biologists fear spike in assaults in US, want reforms in conservation of endangered species
Cartagena, Colombia

Biologists fear spike in assaults in US, want reforms in conservation of endangered species

Biologists on Wednesday called for reforms in conservation of endangered species as they believe assaults on them under the Trump administration will be particularly extreme. They fear it may extend far more broadly.

They want freedom to communicate their research with the public, like medical professionals are doing.

"To halt the current biodiversity crisis we need evidence-based solutions," James Watson of the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science with the University of Queensland in Australia said.

In a study published in the journal Conservation Biology on July 25, co-author Watson said: "Scientific integrity is critical to this and must allow government scientists to communicate their research to the public and media in the same way the medical profession does."

In the study, a transnational team of scientists associated with scientific societies in the US, Canada and Australia has identified eight reforms which are needed to defend the scientific integrity of policy processes related to conservation of endangered species and ecosystems.

"Science is the best method we have for determining what is likely to be true. But truth can be inconvenient: conservation goals sometimes seem at odds with social or economic interests," says lead author Carlos Carroll, an ecologist with the Klamath Center for Conservation Research in Orleans in California.

The release of the paper coincided with the Society for Conservation Biology's five-day 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB 2017) that will conclude in this walled city on July 27.

With more than 2,000 conservation professionals and students coming together, the ICCB is a forum for addressing conservation challenges.

The study says recent assaults on science and scientists under the Trump administration are particularly extreme but extend far more broadly. Rather than causing scientists to shrink from public discussions, these abuses have spurred them and their professional societies to defend scientific integrity.

Among these efforts, says the study, was the recent March for Science -- the largest scientific demonstration in history that took place at over 600 locations globally.

"Public access to websites or other sources of government scientific data should not be curtailed," Watson, a former president of the Society for Conservation Biology, said. "Such limits on accessing taxpayer-funded information undermines the ability of citizens to participate in decisions that affect them or even to know why decisions are being made."

It proposes that scientists share their experiences of defending scientific integrity across borders to achieve more lasting success. It summarises eight reforms to protect scientific integrity, drawing on lessons learned in Australia, Canada and the US.

As per scientists, scientific integrity simply means the ability to perform, use and disseminate scientific findings without censorship or political interference. It requires that government scientists can normally communicate their research to the public and media. Such outbound scientific communication is threatened by policies limiting the ability of scientists to publish, publicise, or even mention their research findings.

Vishal Gulati is a special correspondent for the Indo-Asian News Service currently in Cartagena for the Internews' Earth Journalism Network Biodiversity Fellowship Programme at the International Congress for Conservation Biology. He can be reached at [email protected]