Mark Walker MWalker at
Mon Nov 13 13:20:56 EST 2000

Michael Gochfeld wrote:

> It is a popular political ploy to refer to any scientific 
> findings that 
> undermine ones political interests, beliefs, or positions, as junk 
> science. But junk science cuts both ways.

I will agree that the problem of misinformation is likely more common and
deceitful on the side of those who oppose conservation.  I argue, however,
that this position is so well established, discussed, and accepted that the
revelation that "junk science cuts both ways" is really more sensibly
applied to the converse.  While it may be "a popular political ploy", the
accusation of misinformation by conservationists is not generally presented
to nor accepted by the public.  

Still, I claim that much of what gets propagated regarding conservation and
ecology is often hyped and formulated for emotional appeal - and therefore
not based soundly on science alone.  If public opinion is required to create
action, and (as someone has written) the public is not generally swayed by
(or even aware of) science alone, than it becomes very tempting to stimulate
the necessary public opinion using more exploitive techniques.

Since many on this list are of the scientific-fold (both from industry and
academia), perhaps this statement is perceived to be offensive.  It is
certainly not intended to be so.  I am not judging the scientific
methodology being applied - only the way that information is being
propagated to the general public.  While I agree that the public itself
carries the brunt of responsibility for "getting it right", the scientific
community should still be called to act responsibly and should avoid making
emotionally charged statements that will be misconstrued, amplified, and
blown out of proportion.

Patrick Foley wrote:

>   Most ecologists are environmentalists from bitter experience and careful
analysis. It is simply not true that ecologists are fudging their data,
about their conclusions or intentionally misleading the public. Certainly,
ecologists are biased and fallible. 

Exactly.  On the other hand, if commenting publicly on their findings causes
a heightened public concern which is based on information taken out of
context, what actions will these same responsible scientists likely take to
quench this public concern?  And how do these scientists, in the presence of
such an embracing public opinion, truly prevent their own biased interests
from further shaping this public opinion?

Let's assume that we all want to "protect the Monarch".  I think that's a
safe assumption - regardless of what some may think of insecticide salesmen.
Notice I didn't say, "Save the Monarch".  That would assume the insect is
need of saving - which I don't think is true.  This minor point is really
the essence of my argument - for I contend that a large portion of the
public has been misguided to believe that this insect (and all other
butterflies for that matter) is on the verge of extinction.

If over 50% of the Monarchs all congregate in one single overwintering
location (forgive my ignorance of the facts), then it stands to reason that
we would want to avoid any human activity that might adversely effect this
population/habitat.  Paul is arguing the facts associated with what it takes
to do this - based on the quantity of space the Monarchs need and degree of
fragility of these populations.  These are scientific questions that have
answers - muddy as they may be.  Suffice it to say that there is some
minimum on the amount of land and some maximum on the extent of human
activity that these butterflies can tolerate.  Determining these numbers is
the job of conservation scientists.

What is NOT the job of conservation scientists is the leading/feeding of
public concern over the general well being of these insects to the point
where the concern is no longer based on science.

I guess I can summarize this long winded argument in a single question:  Can
you honestly say that the average citizen with conservationist tendencies is
basing their opinions on fact and not emotion?  We on this side of THIS
argument often cite the "bug-huggers" failure to embrace other, less
appealing insects (like flies, cockroaches, etc.) as proof of this misguided
state.  But there are many other examples that reveal this reality.  The
statement quoted by President Zedillo, "...We trust our neighbors to the
north will be able to redouble their efforts to protect the monarch
butterflies' route," is another.  Redouble our efforts to protect the
Monarchs migration route?  What does that mean?  I'll tell you what it means
- it means that the general public now thinks that a) the U.S. Monarch
migration routes are somehow threatened, and b) that applying twice as much
money and energy to protecting them is a U.S. responsibility.

It also means that Joe and Josephine Conservationist - while picnicking from
their SUV - are more likely to harass net-wielding Neanderthals like me.

Oh! So NOW the light bulb goes on...

Mark Walker
Oceanside, CA
(currently with a view of Lake Michigan)


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