Last December, Resource published an article entitled ‘Activist scientists: acceptable?’ I was pleased to see this topic getting attention as I see more and more scientists around me who proclaim their opinions and make calls to action through numerous channels.
It is often said that the risk with activism is the general public or your colleagues will start to doubt your credibility or scientific objectivity. But there is a bigger risk. An activist approach inevitably means you have a conviction about how the world works and what needs to change. That conviction is based on certainty, your belief and confidence that your view of the world is the right one.
In my opinion, the risk of an activist stance is partly the social cost of having to change your opinion, which can be high when you have been climbing the barricades and announcing your opinion to all and sundry through a megaphone. However, an even greater risk is that your views become part of your identity. Then you don’t just lose the appearance of objectivity, you actually become less objective.
I call on everyone at WUR to support the people who are prepared to speak out
The best and most inspiring scientists I have known were always open to the possibility that they might have got it entirely wrong, even after they had seen their hypotheses confirmed time and again throughout their career.
Does this mean I am opposed to activism by scientists? Absolutely not. Given how cheap opinions are in our society, the contributions of scientists can be particularly valuable. So I call on WUR to support the people who are prepared to speak out, because that takes courage, and anyone who does so deserves the support of their organization. However, the activist scientists also need to take a hard look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves whether they are still open to evidence that undermines their position. Because what if you got it wrong?
Guido Camps (39) is a vet and researcher at Human Nutrition and OnePlanet. He enjoys baking, beekeeping and unusual animals.