Biodiversity as stealth policy advocacy

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Submission Summary
The conservation ecologist Robert Lackey (2005, 2013) describes stealth policy advocacy as strategy deployed in the pursuit of “policy-based science.” As a proponent of the value-free ideal, Lackey argues that the adoption of ethical values by scientists (in a professional capacity) undermines their credibility and erodes public trust. Stealth policy advocacy is especially pernicious, he adds, because it presents scientific concepts as if they were purely empirical when, in fact, they “contain tacit policy preferences and thus, by extension, promote particular policy options” (2005). Lackey cites ecosystem health and alien species as examples of stealth-policy concepts that should be eliminated. The first part of this paper argues that stealth policy advocacy should be resisted by both proponents and critics of the value-free ideal. Critics like Longino (1996), Douglas (2009), and Elliott (2020) point to legitimate roles for values in hypothesis confirmation conceptual framing. However, in order to avoid systemic bias, these values must be transparent and open for debate, not tacitly disguised as value-neutral. The second part of this paper presents survey evidence (X-Phi) from a sample of practicing ecologists and conservation managers. I show that they employ two conceptions of biodiversity: a value-neutral conception that equates biodiversity with the diversity of units at some level (e.g., species richness), and a value-laden conception that equates biodiversity with the diversity of units plus integrity/naturalness—a normative property. Individual scientists’ reliance on a given conception was not explained by their subdiscipline, research focus, level of professional standing, their preferred explicit definition of biodiversity, nor their explicit reasons for valuing biodiversity. The coexistence of these two conceptions promotes equivocation and makes it practically difficult to tease apart the normative from the empirical. At the same time, the presence of a purely empirical concept alongside one that is normatively “thick” allows conservation scientists to deflect calls for elimination of the value-laden concept (Santana 2014). Specifically, it becomes possible to strategically deploy the value-laden concept while reverting, under scrutiny, to the value-neutral concept as a sort of alibi. I see this predicament as pointing to both the desirability and the impracticality of biodiversity eliminativism. Douglas, Heather. 2009. Science, Policy, and the Value Free Ideal. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh. Elliott, Kevin C. 2020. Framing conservation: “biodiversity” and the values embedded in scientific language. Environmental Conservation 47: 260-268. Lackey, Robert T. 2003. Appropriate use of ecosystem health and normative science in ecological policy. pp. 175-186. In: Managing for Healthy Ecosystems, David J. Rapport, William L. Lasley, Dennis E. Rolston, N. Ole Nielsen, Calvin O. Qualset, and Ardeshir B. Damania, (eds), Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, Florida. Lackey, Robert T. 2016. Keep science and scientists credible, avoid stealth policy advocacy. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 46: 14-16. Longino, Helen. E. 1996. Cognitive and non-cognitive values in science: Rethinking the distinction. pp. 39-58. In Feminism, Science and the Philosophy of Science. L. H. Nelson (ed). Kluwer Academic Publishers: Great Britain. Santana, Carlos. 2014. Save the planet: Eliminate biodiversity. Biology & Philosophy 29: 761-780.
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University of Guelph

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