There’s a current Twitter hashtag called #WeNeedToChangeTheWorld, which WMC has also discussed in this post. It’s bit cliché, but it’s probably true, for many reasons. As also mentioned in WMC’s post, Peter Jacobs tweeted the following
This is similar to what I’ve said before. If a scientist is considering speaking out about something, but is worried about being criticised for engaging in advocacy, maybe they should also consider the regret they may feel in future if they choose not to speak out. This seems pretty obvious, to me. There are pros and cons to everything. There may well be good reasons why some might choose to not speak out, and reasons why others may speak out despite potential criticism.
Also, choosing to do nothing is not necessarily neutral. The status quo is still a political position, and not speaking out may well become deserving of criticism. I’m not suggesting that not speaking out immediately implies endorsing the status quo. It’s possible to not speak out, but to be supportive of those who do. It’s, of course, also possible to have no public profile whatsoever. However, I do think it is hard to have some kind of public profile in which one’s choices do not indicate some kind of preference.
Utimately, I think people need to decide for themselves what they regard as the appropriate thing to do, or not do. Ideally, those who do speak out should be clear about the role they’re taking, should not take advantage of their position when doing so, should provide suitable caveats, should engage responsibly and honestly, should take into account other issues and factors, and should be clear to distinguish between when they’re speaking as an expert with domain knowledge, and when they’re speaking as a citizen with political views.
However, this should really apply to all, so I’m not quite clear as to why there seems to be this focus on advocacy by scientists. I don’t think scientists have a special position either way; I don’t regard them as being a group who should specifically avoid advocating, or a group whose advocacy should be taken more seriously than that by others.
I think some regard advocacy by scientists as violating a fundamental tenet of the scientific process – objectivity. I simply don’t agree with that. Scientists should aim to be objective when carrying out their research, but doing so doesn’t remove their rights to engage in broader society. I get the sense that some regard scientists as having too much influence. This may be true, but I think this should be resolved by others speaking out more convincingly, rather than by scientists speaking out less.
Utimately, I think people should simply decide what they think is right and best for them, and act accordingly. I do, however, think that people should consider that there are potential consequences to what they might do, or not do. I’m also not suggesting that scientists who do choose to advocate should not be criticised. They’re as open to criticism as anyone who chooses to speak publicly. Ideally, they should be critiqued on the basis of what they say, rather than who they are. Of course, speaking out is inherently political, so expecting the criticism to be ideal is probably unrealistic.