University of Sussex
Individualism and distributed knowledge in conservation science cover and resub clean.pdf (955.54 kB)

Strengthening conservation science as a crisis discipline by addressing challenges of precaution, privilege, and individualism

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-10, 01:16 authored by Andrew StirlingAndrew Stirling, Mark A Burgman
Conservation science deals with crises and supports policy interventions devised to mitigate highly uncertain threats that pose irreversible harm. When conventional policy tools, such as quantitative risk assessments, are insufficient, the precautionary principle provides a practical framework and range of robust heuristics. Yet, precaution is often resisted in many policy arenas, especially those involving powerful self-interests, and this resistance is compounded by structures of privilege and competitive individualism in science. We describe key drivers and effects of such resistance in conservation science. These include a loss of rigor under uncertainty, an erosion of crisis response capabilities, and a further reinforcement of privileged interests in conservation politics. We recommend open acknowledgement of the pressures exerted by power inside science; greater recognition for the value of the precautionary principle under uncertainty; deliberate measures to resist competitive individualism; support for blind review, open science, and data sharing; and a shift from hierarchical multidisciplinarity toward more egalitarian transdisciplinarity to accelerate advances in conservation science. Article impact statement: Precautionary principle, privilege structures among disciplines, and culture of individualism link to effective conservation policy making.


Publication status

  • Published

File Version

  • Accepted version


Conservation Biology





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Event location

United States

Department affiliated with

  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Publications

Full text available

  • Yes

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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