Tuesday, September 1, 2015

When the big science revelation falls flat on the facts


Something that's been noted a lot recently, and which genuinely should cause people concern, is that Americans have come to have an increasing contempt for science.

That's bad.

An educated, modern people, should be informing itself by science in making important decisions. And the evidence is pretty clear that at least into the 1980s, they did.  But not so much now.

And part of the reason of that is that Americans also tend to get a pretty big dose of bad science, which doesn't help to build trust in science and scientist at all.

Part of that falls into the category of the big announcement that just flatly fails to comport with actual real work observations. And we've gotten a fair amount of that in the past several decades.  And I say that as a person with a science background.

We got a big dose of that the past couple of weeks. At least if you are a hunter or fisherman you did, as probably every urban dweller you know sent you the news about the study that was published in Science that humans are a Super Predator and the current methods of fish and game conservation are all wrong.

There's only one problem with that study.

It completely fails to comport with actual observed information gathered over the past couple of centuries.  Or at least if the reports about what it says are correct, it does.

The study raises fears that we're going to hunt and fish all wildlife into extinction as, basically, we're a Super Predator that uses technology (i.e., tools, because it includes our distant ancestors) and we take the best of our prey, and prey on other predators, and are wiping everything out.

Except, its pretty clearly we're not.

Indeed, the evidence is highly to the contrary.

All big game species hunted in North America and Europe have increased dramatically, in numbers, and in health, over the past century.  All of them.  The predators we're supposedly about to wipe out have, in the same areas, increased, not decreased, in the last century as well.  Large ungulates are reclaiming ground that they had retreated from a century ago, in prodigious numbers.  Ungulate species that were on the brink of extinction, such as the Pronghorn antelope, now exist in huge numbers.  Deer exist in insanely huge numbers.  Elk have increased.  About the only exceptions to these rules are wear predators (remember, which we are supposedly wiping out) have been reintroduced and there are no human controls.

And all this was due to modern game management, funded almost exclusively by hunters.

In other hunted species this si also largely true. Waterfowl populations, which were headed for a collapse, recovered with the exception of a very few species, but some waterfowl species have always gone up and down in numbers. Quite a few species of birds now exist in areas that they are not native to, and thrive, as they were introduced.  Again, things are going well.

And we hardly need mention small game species, the numbers of which are exploding.

So where's the data to support the Science article in North America and Europe, as to land animals?  It doesn't exist.

Indeed, what the article would largely support is the introduction of North American style game management where it doesn't exist.  And where some of those influences have crept in, that has worked. 

I'll not go much into South America, where once again, things are largely going fine.  They are in the large landmass of Russia as well.  Africa and Asia definitely have their problems, however, but that's because the hunting culture there is completely different than the one mentioned above.  Having said that, in Africa, where a peculiar sort of Trophy Hunting has come in, actually sees game animal numbers increasing, not decreasing. Even animals like lions, so recently in the news, are actually increasing substantially in areas where they are controlled via legal hunting.  Where trouble exists in Africa, it's due to poaching, not legal hunting.

I'll abstain commentary on fish, as I don't know enough about sport fishing to comment.  Maybe the article is more accurate there. But this leads to me to what I'd next note.

I'm not a "sport" fisherman, nor am I a "Trophy" hunter.  I fish and hunt but I'm more in the subsistence category.  I suspect most hunters fit into  my category in varying degrees, although articles of this type seem to miss that.  I can't blame them too much, as writing in the big game arena tends to focus on Trophy Hunting rather than Subsistence Hunting.  The difference is fairly significant, but to summarize it, I'm just as likely to take a doe deer or antelope than a buck, as I'm hunting for the table.  Around here, indeed, that was the norm up until perhaps the 1970s, when people who moved in, that trophy concepts came in.  But the game isn't really managed that way, and there are still plenty of Subsistence Hunters around here.  We aren't in a special defined category under the law, like in Alaska or the Yukon, but we exist, and that's what most hunters actually are. 

Which should be encouraged.  It's hunting of that type that's preserved wildlands nature around the world.  It's preserving the wild, and preserving the mental sanity of our increasingly loopy species, by keeping us in touch with what we actually are, and are meant to be by nature.  Truth be known, the soccer mom driving the SUV all around during the day, and who lives in a McMansion, and doesn't raise or take any of her own food is a much bigger threat to wildlife than any hunter is.

None of which is to say that there aren't problems.  The commercialization of everything in American life is introducing problems by inserting a certain manor lord mentality amongst those with means that didn't previously exist, and that does cause the reduction, ultimately, of availability of everything.  Urbanization is a big problem. And technology is indeed a problem, as people are defeating the limits of the natural world, but also making themselves irrelevant at the same time in everything. 

But another problem is the release, in this fashion, of science that's simply contrary to the observed data.

We've seen a lot of bad science in recent decades.  Immunization causes Downes Syndrome.  Aluminum cookware causes Alzheimer's.  All sort of bad dietary information.  Other examples could be given.  And when this is the case, it causes contempt for science. And that's a terrible thing.  That plays to the ignoring of real problems, which is a huge problem. Scientist ought to therefore be careful about releasing studies that the observed data just doesn't support, or which is speculative in the extreme.  I'm not blaming scientist for the increasing degree of contempt of science, but stuff like this doesn't help.

No comments: