Patrick Foley patfoley at csus.edu
Fri Oct 13 14:25:56 EDT 2000


    If you reread my last reply to you, you will recognize you are
setting me up as a straw man. I did not say that polls determine
science. I rejected Bruce Walsh's claim that his view was "science". I
am a scientist. I write peer-reviewed scientific literature on
extinction, evolution and epidemiology with lots of numbers (if that is
what you want). However there is very little research directly
addressing the dangers of butterfly releases, so neither Bruce nor I
have cited  _any_  experiments that decide the issue. Instead we both
have discussed theory and used comparisons to other relevant problems.
    How could we decide the issue? We try a little theory. Bruce
suggests that low Fst butterfly species are safe to release randomly. I
suggested some problems with his measure. Fst is a composite index of
population subdivision. It does not deal with all the details and does
not identify and reveal the uniqueness of all the small populations. Who
cares about small populations? Read the literature. Most modern
evolutionary scientists suspect that much of the future of a lineage
lies in rarish events in small populations.
    Do you and Bruce and Paul think this is an issue worth studying? Or
do you want "proof" that small isolated populations matter to the
evolution of species? To ignore the voluminous literature on the subject
and to simply claim that only Bruce has shown you numbers is so stupid
that I can't control my usual sense of politeness (not a very perfect
sense anyway).
    Do you want proof that increasing population intercommunication
increases disease transmission and epidemics? Read the literature on
    Do you want proof that random butterfly transplants confuses the
research on butterflies? Read what the researchers have to say. Read
Brower and Opler and Ehrlich and Hanski. Or talk to them.
    Don't take my word for it. I could be wrong. Other scientists could
be wrong. Don't think that because one scientist (Bruce Walsh) agrees
with you that you have science on your side. I am not dissing everyone
who doesn't read the literature. I _am_ saying that if you don't know
this literature at all, you don't have an informed opinion about what
scientists truly think.
    I respect Bruce Walsh. He is smart and he has an excellent training
in population genetics, but he has no magical key to the complex
mysteries we are discussing. Bruce has made some legitimate arguments,
as have others whom I disagree with. Nonetheless I believe my position
is closer to the consensus of population biologists. I readily admit
that there have been no decisive experiments. This is a hard problem to
crack ethically and logistically, and we will not have a clear
resolution quickly. In such circumstances most scientists believe we
should proceed with caution. We should do the appropriate research,
theoretical and experimental. And we should have a little humility in
the face of our ignorance. To claim that random butterfly release is
scientifically sound (even in the case of "cosmopolitan" butterflies) is
irresponsible arrogance.

Yours in ignorance,
Patrick Foley
patfoley at csus.edu

Jacob Groth wrote:

>  Hi Patrick, I don't make my conclusions based upon "how many" people
> believe certain facts.  I try to let the facts form my conclusions.
> So far, Bruce is one of the only scientists that presents real numbers
> for examination.  Many of the others simply propose "hypothetical"
> situations of "what if" type scenario's.  It's easy to say that
> something "could" be harmful.  All I have ever heard from these
> majority scientists is that releases "could" be harmful, but I have
> yet to hear of numbers or studies that would prevent evidence to
> support this opinion.  Whereas, Bruce supports his opinion with real
> numbers and scientific reasoning.  That is what wins my opinion.  The
> doom-sayers know that it is impossible to prove a null hypothesis, so
> as long as they couch their words in non quantifiable "coulds and
> woulds," they can never be pinned down and proven wrong.  If I were to
> say walking could be harmful to butterflies, could you prove me
> wrong?  No.  But, if I said walking could kill 100 butterflies per
> hour, then you could start debating with me scientifically.  Bruce is
> the only one willing to put himself under examination by presenting
> real numbers and real scenario's.  I'd be more willing to believe the
> other side of the opinion spectrum if they would simply start
> presenting case studies with real numbers to analyze. Jacob
>      ----- Original Message -----
>      From: Patrick Foley
>      To: jacob at swallowtailfarms.com
>      Cc: Leps List
>      Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2000 7:50 PM
>      Subject: Re: Poll?
>       Jacob,
>      I did not call a poll scientific. I said that Bruce's views
>      did not represent a scientific consensus. A consensus
>      involves the shared opinions of people. Is it your
>      experience that most scientists involved in population
>      biology share Bruce's view that the random release of
>      butterflies is safe for all species of butterflies? Would
>      most butterfly population biologists welcome such releases?
>      Patrick
>      Jacob Groth wrote:
>     > Patrick wrote: "let us conduct a meaningful poll of active
>     > researchers in population biology who have given the
>     > matter any thought."
>     >
>     > You call that scientific?
>     > Jacob
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