Pinched from both sides: Challenges in the NGO sector to applying best available science for conservation of imperiled species
Broad agreement exists that science-driven research is required to implement the technical solutions for environmental problems that impinge on the public interest. Since the 1990s, when it was still then somewhat novel, scientists and research applications became increasingly embedded within the mission interests of private, non-profit, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Scientists in NGO settings, however, have neither tenure nor the academic freedom granted to their university colleagues. And because protections for scientific integrity are non-existent in the NGO sector, there are substantially fewer protections available for individual scientists whose work can be pressured from administrative, policy, and political influences. Thus, NGO scientists can be ‘pinched from both sides.’
To better serve the public interest, more safeguards are needed to protect scientists who work outside academia and government. Some potential solutions include: 1) stronger anti-retaliatory laws applicable specifically to the non-profit sector; 2) having NGO researchers ultimately report to other scientists; 3) encourage NGOs to voluntarily adopt best scientific practices, including those for scientific integrity; 4) requiring NGOs to be certified for compliance with scientific integrity standards by professional societies, and; 5) having NGOs publicly announce to their members and the general public that they will strive to use only the ‘best available science.’ Here, best available science (BAS) is operationally defined as information, data, observations, syntheses, or theory that is: evidenced by the greatest standards of excellence, authenticity, and consensus; extant, readily accessible, and transparent to users; and the consequence of repeated experimentation and hypothesis-testing wherein failures are rejected, all evidence is followed, and nothing remains immune to skeptical questioning. Until scientists everywhere achieve greater (if not complete) insulation from undue interference, the public discourse over science applications will be severely compromised.