Journal Club: What role do scientists have in advocating for change?

Journal Club is Ocean Voices’ latest initiative. Each session explores thought-provoking publications through an immersive exchange of views from the club members.
Last month’s Journal Club focused on a recent paper that discussed whether scientists should be participating in civil disobedience to call for urgent climate action. Here’s what we thought:

There is a need to enable scientists to use their voices as they feel appropriate and comfortable, finding different approaches to suit each one, whether in an active/direct way or working “behind the scenes"

Ocean Voices’ first edition of Journal Club discussed the role of scientists in using their voices to accelerate change towards a healthy, equitable ocean space. The conversation questioned if and how scientists should communicate their expertise through advocacy, activism, and civil disobedience. This topic has been brought to the forefront in the context of climate change, with calls for scientists to engage in civil disobedience (Capstick et al., 2022). Yet for scientists, especially early career scientists, choosing how to use your voice to communicate scientific evidence is a challenging, and often controversial, issue. 

Participating in activism alongside scientific careers can, in some cases, strengthen the ability of an individual to be drivers of change. Some scientists feel that there is a strong need for stepping up, coming out of their shadows and raising their voices. They may also have the circumstances and tools to do so – but this may vary between career stages and be influenced by a range of factors including location, gender, topic, and discipline. 

Others may prefer to influence change through alternate ways such as focusing on science and research, knowledge exchange, working directly with communities, by providing regular scientific assessments to policy makers or through raising awareness about an issue through science communication. 

Acts of activism and civil disobedience are in some cases a privilege not afforded to all. In some situations, activism can endanger someone’s career prospects, scientific credibility, personal life, or safety. Some early career scientists are cautious about civil disobedience as it may compromise future opportunities in their career. 

Conversely, for underrepresented communities that are facing urgent, disproportionate climate change-induced impacts, not participating in activism might not feel like a choice, since a person may need to wear multiple ‘hats’ and feel required to fight for their generation’s survival. This conversation is complicated by diverse views on the distinction and links between advocacy and activism, and influenced by different cultural contexts.  

For early career ocean researchers exploring ways to use their voice, it is crucial to provide spaces for conversation about the challenges, opportunities and options in different countries and cultures. 

Instead of assuming that scientists have an obligation to be activists, there is a need to support systems which allow scientists to explore how they want to use their voice, as they feel appropriate and comfortable, and empower early career researchers to recognise their own ability to influence change.   

Authors: Mariana Caldeira, Vanessa Lopes
Get to know the authors and Ocean Voices Fellows, Mariana and Vanessa, here.
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