Australian scientists share experiences about ‘gag orders’
30th October 2023
By Nicole Miller - Communications Officer, IAG
Researchers have shared their stories of censorship in an ABC story. A geographer has criticised scientific censorship and agrees that researchers should have their work publicly accessible.
The ABC story, published on 26 October 2023, features interviews with scientists including retired Antarctic ecologist Dr Dana Bergstrom. Dana details her experience within the Australian Antarctic Division and claims she was ‘gagged’ when trying to share her work.
After releasing a paper detailing the collapse of 19 ecosystems on Macquarie Island, Dana claims she was told to stop speaking about her work and to let other researchers speak to the media. Others interviewed shared other experiences of censorship and have called for the practice to stop.
Australian National University palaeoclimate scientist Nerilie Abrams told the ABC that researchers need to speak clearly and directly to the public.
“And when we’re not clear in communicating the role humans are playing in climate change, it allows people to have doubt,” she said.
Geographer Jen Carter agreed that researchers should have their work truthfully communicated, without political interference and censorship. She noted there are limited exceptions where researchers should be prevented from communicating their work – if there are genuine confidentiality concerns, conflicts of interest or doubts around the methodology of the research.
“Nerilie’s call – to take our scientific evidence to the public as a 'moral obligation' – is spot-on, given the rapid rate at which humans and urbanisation are affecting our planet,” said Jen.
Jen believes Australian geographers are making an outstanding contribution to global knowledge, including research related to the human impacts on nature. She highlighted research published in two virtual issues of Geographical Research, the journal of the Institute of Australian Geographers.
Despite the many challenges faced by scientists, including those detailed in the story, Jen agreed with the hope and optimism expressed by Dana and Nerilie.
“I congratulate the courageous researchers who have spoken out in this story and continue to share their work with the public,” she said.
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Image ID: A hand reaches to adjust a microphone on a lectern holding other microphones. Image credit: Canva.