The realm of conservation biology has been rocked by the controversy surrounding scientific advocacy. Many people argue that scientists cannot be both scientists and advocates at the same time. They claim that advocacy runs counter to the objectivity of science, and that it damages the credibility of the scientist and for science as a whole. They believe that scientists should be removed from advocacy and only take on a minimal role as providers of information and data and nothing else so as to not invalidate the data in any way. This argument falls apart though when you look at the framework of conservation biology, and at science in a broader view.
The idea that science is solely objective is not as true as we set it up to be. From the beginning, a researcher invests a level in interest and thought as to what they wish to research and present. This research is of their own choosing and often takes years of dedication and funding. This is the very first value-judgement made and it is not wrong for people to make. There is not that great of a divide between values and science as people think there is (Noss 2007). Everything has an inherent level of value and this type of thought also supports the whole of conservation biology.
Conservation biology is made up of value judgements.
Image from http://beforeitsnews.com/environment/2010/09/cartoon-guide-to-biodiversity-loss-ix-181208.html
While pointed and ironic in nature, this cartoon is an excellent illustration of what conservation biology does. The goal of conservation biology is to preserve those species that are worthy of preservation in order to prevent them from dying out. And as such, some species are held in higher priority over other species. Value-judgements are made in order to determine which species should be saved, and what kinds of policies should be enacted in order to do so. What some people would call subjectivity is actually fueled by a very objective view of data and results. These results do not change no matter what else is being said. Science cannot be in any way changed because there is advocacy joining it. What damages science’s credibility is not advocacy, but the bad science behind some of the more ridiculous positions that some scientists have taken in the past (Nelson, et. al 2008).Barring scientists from advocacy removes a very important part of what makes up policies concerned with preserving biodiversity. As a scientist, they come to conclusions with the objective data they find and apply this information in practice. This includes making recommendations in policy decisions, and even pushing for these policies as a scientific advocate, using their knowledge and their position to further conserve what needs to be protected and prevent this:
Nelson, M. P., & Vucetich, J. A. (2009). On Advocacy by Environmental Scientists: What, Whether, Why, and How. Conservation Biology, 23(5), 1-12. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01250.x.
Noss, R. F. (2007). Values Are a Good Thing in Conservation Biology. Conservation Biology, 21(1), 18-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00637.x.