Global political climate of ‘fear’ threatens ecologists’ work

Government policies are increasingly bringing ecologists into conflict with officials.

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Protesters march in support of science and evidence-based policy in London in April 2017.Credit: Jay Shaw Baker/NurPhoto via Getty

The recent global rise in political populism and nationalism is creating a ‘landscape of fear’ that is threatening the work and personal freedoms of ecologists, say the authors of an editorial in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Scientists face a public increasingly distrustful of their work, say the editors1, but changes to government policies and legal reforms are bringing ecologists, who document and address environmental challenges, into direct conflict with policymakers.

The authors cite several examples; in Brazil, government reshuffles have weakened or obliterated departments tasked with protecting the environment. In the United States and elsewhere, gag orders on scientists limit their ability to openly discuss their work, and politicians ignore or discredit scientific evidence during decision-making processes.

Technology can also cause ecologists to run afoul of authorities. In January 2018, nine Iranian environmentalists using camera traps to monitor Asiatic cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) were arrested and detained on suspicion of espionage. One has since died in prison. The others have been charged, four with ‘corruption on Earth,’ which can carry the death penalty.

Institutions that employ or train ecologists need to “step up their game” and ensure that staff and students are aware of the dangers, and that appropriate risk assessments, insurance and mitigation strategies are in place, says lead author and an editor of the journal Nathalie Pettorelli from the Zoological Society of London.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01055-3


  1. 1.

    Pettorelli, N.W. et al. J. Appl. Ecol. (2019).

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