Department of “Conservation” plan to blanket Kahurangi National Park with 1080 poison……
Off the Top of My Head
By Paul Murray
Not good news I’m afraid….more from me soon….
WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE?
The development of mankind over millennia has shown that we have the ability to think ideas through and work things out.
There were always some in the fledgling communities who ‘tried things out’. They chipped away at stone to see if they could make a sharp edge, they planted seeds to see if they could grow food closer to their new habitations, they found ways to cure animal skins.
This desire for knowledge has never wavered and as we became more sophisticated we developed tools to help us delve further into the unknown environments surrounding us such as microscopes and telescopes.
While in general the human population retains its interest in ‘things’ it has been diluted by our pace of life and the conflicting demands on our available time.
However not all of us in our communities have lost that driving passion for understanding the unknowns. Many have made it a lifelong challenge to shine light into dark and unknown places to see what is there, just as they always have done. These folk are our scientists. They are our seekers, testers, and challengers.
Science has been at the forefront of human development since the caveman days and its importance to us now is greater than it has ever been due to our burgeoning human populations.
IS SCIENCE ABSOLUTE?
No, definitely not.
Science is not about absolutes, it can always be refuted. In fact good scientists, who really
understand their craft, have a strong desire to be proved wrong when they propose a hypothesis they have developed from studying some natural phenomenon.
The world’s best scientists are tied by a common thread:-
- They challenge the givens.
- They are sceptics.
These healthy attributes ensure that for any given hypothesis other scientists will devise other experiments to see if they can corroborate the original conclusions or extend the observations to discover if there is a range over which the conclusions hold true. In other cases additional scientific endeavour may discredit the original conclusions because of some incorrect interpretation of data or missed observations or the advent of more accurate measuring tools.
Science is organised scepticism trying to prove work wrong or trying to look for alternative explanations for current results.
“Science is not about truth, but doubt; not about knowledge, but ignorance; not about revealed facts, but uncertainties.”1
WHY IS SCIENCE UNCERTAIN?
Many scientists are not independent.
They are often tied to employment relationships with funding organisations which require
that they tend to produce science which is pleasing to the funders so future work and employment is assured.
“Observer effects are rooted in the universal human tendency to interpret data in a manner consistent with one’s expectations. This tendency is particularly likely to distort the results of a scientific test when the underlying data are ambiguous and the scientist is exposed to domain-irrelevant information that engages emotions or desires”2
“..one of the strongest distorting influences is the reward systems that confer kudos,
tenure, and funding. “I could be patient, or get lucky—or I could take the easiest way,
making often unconscious decisions about which data I select and how I analyze them, so that a clean story emerges. But in that case, I am sure to be biased in my reasoning.”3
It has been reported widely in our own news media that the scientific community itself is concerned with the impact that funding streams can have on bias in science.
HOW DOES THIS BIAS DEVELOP?
It is possible that every piece of science produced over the millennia has had some degree of bias associated with its findings as it is a human trait to tend to find what one is looking for or to interpret observations which fit the expected results
Bias is not a conscious decision in science but its impact can be enhanced by the conditions under which scientists work.
A comparison between today and the 15th century may help explain this.
In the year 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned to death at the stake.
At the time the Catholic Church was all-powerful and decreed that the Sun revolved around Earth.
Bruno established the fact that the Earth revolved around the Sun.
In our modern times a consortium of organisations is all-powerful (including TbFreeNZ,
Department of Conservation, The Forest and Bird Society, and a succession of NZ
Governments), and decreed that the widespread un-targeted aerial distribution of the world’s most powerful insecticide over vast areas of New Zealand’s natural areas did not kill insects.
In 1994 a scientist named Mike Meads undertook experiments and observations and established that in fact very large numbers of insects were killed by the distribution of the insecticide not only in the treatment areas but also in large areas outside it.
Bruno proceeded to spread his findings in his community and this drew the attention of the Catholic State which then demanded he recant his findings because they were contrary to the ‘facts’ established by the church.
Meads attempted to have his scientific paper published and even though it received a number of confirming peer reviews the aerial poisoning consortium refused its publication.
Bruno refused to recant his scientific findings and this was one of the reasons why he was burnt to death at the stake.
Meads refused to recant his scientific findings and found himself unemployable in any of the scientific organisations which drew funding from the aerial poisoning consortium.
The punishment of both Bruno and Meads sent a clear message to their scientific communities that if you did not toe the line and produce science results acceptable to those with power over you then you will be harshly dealt with.
The treatment of Bruno was not an isolated incident of suppressing contrary science.
In 1632 Galileo, known variously as the “father of science”, the “father of astronomy”, and the “father of modern physics” refused to recant his scientific findings and was sentenced to death which was then commuted to house arrest and spent the rest of his life unable to leave his home.
Today, apart from the refusal to publish contrary science, the suppression of modern scientific research is a little more subtle.
An example is the funding provided by the aerial poisoning industry to the science community to study, as stated in the abstract “This paper presents the first results from a 5– year study investigating the benefits to terrestrial invertebrates of reducing the abundance of mammalian predators in forested sites in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand.” 4
What this means is that only benefits to insects by pest control inputs are being reported. If negative impacts are discovered they will not be reported as they fall outside this scope.
Clearly this is totally against the concept of true scientific endeavour.
Two more cherry-picked quotes from a discussion document written by scientists themselves may help understand this fault of scientific bias better.
4 (Potter, M.; Stringer, I.; Wakelin, M.; Barrett, P.; Hedderley, D. 2006: Effects of pest control on forest invertebrates in Tongariro National Park—preliminary results. DOC Research & Development Series 230. Department of Conservation, Wellington .17 p.)
“…the problems of false findings often begin with researchers unwittingly fooling
themselves: they fall prey to cognitive biases, common modes of thinking that lure us
toward wrong but convenient or attractive conclusions.”5
“Whereas the falsification model of the scientific method championed by philosopher Karl Popper posits that the scientist looks for ways to test and falsify her theories—to ask “How am I wrong?”—Nosek says that scientists usually ask instead “How am I right?” (or equally, to ask “How are you wrong?”). When facts come up that suggest we might, in fact, not be right after all, we are inclined to dismiss them as irrelevant, if not indeed mistaken.”6
There is no question that bias is alive and well in science.
HOW DOES SCIENCE MITIGATE AGAINST BIAS?
Another two quotes from scientists point to the answer.
“A common response to this situation is to argue that, even if individual scientists might fool themselves, others have no hesitation in critiquing their ideas or their results, and so it all comes out in the wash: Science as a communal activity is self-correcting. Sometimes this is true—but it doesn’t necessarily happen as quickly or smoothly as we might like to believe.”7
For science to eliminate bias and be self-correcting there has to be efforts to prove the existing science wrong. These efforts do not exist with our aerial poisoning industry. There is no self-correcting contrary science.
“But the process is key – to throw your assumptions open to challenge and see where it goes. In this way we can fight our individual bias and the collective biases emerging from consensus building activities.”8
Again, this all-important ‘process’ can only occur if other scientists are studying the same subject but from different angles, different perspectives, and different beliefs, so the biases can cancel out.
This is not happening with our aerial poisoning industry. This ‘for’ and ‘against’ stance is essential in scientific research and the only way to reach consensus is for studies to be undertaken by both sides so unscientific bias can be identified and discarded.
There is much truth in the adage – “There are three sides to a story. Your side of the story, my side of the story, and the truth.”
It is only when the biases are cancelled out that the truth can be found.
This is how science SHOULD work.
IS SCIENTIFIC BIAS SUCH A BAD THING?
Yes it is because it can cause great harm by slowing down our ability to realise when we are making mistakes.
There are many thousands of examples of this with a good example being the studies into cigarette smoking and its impact on human health.
“It is estimated that 17.7 million Americans died from tobacco-related causes between 1964 and 2012.” 9
Had the tobacco industry-sponsored scientists not been biased in their work many of those folks may have lived long and productive lives.
The link between cigarette smoking and negative health impacts was detected early:-
“Between 1920 and 1940, a chemist named Angel Honorio Roffo published several articles showing that cancers could be experimentally induced by exposure to tars from burned tobacco . Roffo et al. further showed that cancer could be induced by using nicotine-free tobacco, which means that tar, with or without nicotine, was carcinogenic.”10
Yet in November 1953 a press release issued by the American Tobacco Company stated:-
“…no one has yet proved that lung cancer in any human being is directly traceable to
tobacco or its products in any form” and scientists were used as the perfect foil for the
tobacco industry’s public relations response to allegations that cigarette smoking was
injurious to health. Scientists could be counted on to call for more research, giving the
impression that there was controversy. In addition, by supporting scientific research, the industry would be seen as doing something positive to address the serious allegations that smoking was harmful.11
This is directly comparable to, and parallels, the aerial poisoning arguments currently occurring in New Zealand.
Contrary science is essential in scientific research as the only way to reach consensus is for studies to be undertaken by both sides so mistakes can be identified and correctly quickly. With the ‘cigarette smoking and its impacts on human health’ debate there were 7000 scientific studies undertaken with over 41 million pages of material and 9 million distinct documents before the tobacco industry could be held to account.
That was at least 17.7 million deaths too long. We HAVE scientists whose continued employment and future advancement relies on scientific funding from the aerial poisoning industry.
We DO NOT HAVE scientists who have the infrastructure and funding to study the negative impacts of the aerial poisoning industry.
We HAVE our equivalent of the pro-tobacco smoking lobby in the aerial poisoning industry. We DO NOT HAVE our equivalent of a well-funded health industry to counter the risks of the aerial poisoning industry.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE?
We do not have the all-important balancing science so the truth can be found. As has already been explained science is about doubt, ignorance, and uncertainty and scientific results should always be viewed with scepticism and be rigorously tested. This is not happening with the aerial poisoning industry science. Any competent scientist will always ask to see the contrary science, the science that opposes a particular point of view. A competent scientist will ask “How am I wrong?”
Our environmental scientists are too insecure to appeal for contrary science. They don’t want to become a Mike Meads, they want to continue to house and feed their families so they must remain in the shadows exactly where their paymasters want them to be. It also raises ugly questions when considering the “Reassessment of 1080” exercise undertaken by the then Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) in 2007.
At no stage did the ERMA reassessment committee ask to see the contrary science. This failure in itself shows that the reassessment committee was not competent to undertake the scientific review because it did not understand how science has to work to be reliable.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) has made numerous public statements supporting the aerial poisoning industry but not once has she called to see the contrary science nor has she alluded to its absence as being a major flaw in the science or as a threat to the environment.
For such a powerful public servant to be unaware of how true science works bodes ill will for our environment.
Parliamentarians such as Nick Smith (Currently Minister for the Environment) have frequently stated publicly that “the science is clear” when the science is NOT clear.
The science is definitely not clear and until we get the all-important contrary science we will not achieve the necessary scientific balance and the truth will not be known.
ERMA (now the Environmental Protection Authority, EPA), the PCE and Nick Smith are all firmly lodged on the side of our equivalent of the tobacco industry.
In 1953 they would have been advocating strongly for the tobacco industry in the absence of the contrary science that was yet to come.
It is not just tobacco. Remember DDT, Dioxin, Agent Orange, Thalidomide, Asbestos, and many hundreds of other human and environmental health risks which we had been told were safe, but have since had the glaring light of truth beamed onto them by the application of contrary science.
An excellent recent example of how contrary science works is the discovery that the rate of expansion of the universe is increasing.
The very brave scientist who discovered this was ridiculed by the scientific community because his finding was in direct opposition to the established ‘truth’ that the rate of expansion was decreasing.
Other scientists set out to disprove his findings only to discover that the controversial results he had produced were true. It is now universally accepted that the rate of expansion is growing but it took the production of contrary science to reach this point. Without contrary science there is no ‘truth’.
This is what we are missing.
ARE WE EVER LIKELY TO GET CONTRARY SCIENCE PRODUCED IN NZ?
Too many people have taken too strong a stance supporting aerial poisoning operations over our countryside.
Too many people believe what they have been told by the publicly funded aerial poisoning industry.
Too many people and the poisoning organisations themselves face being proved wrong and the embarrassment that would entail.
However the main reason is “follow the money”.
The aerial poisoning industry has been given eye-watering amounts of public money every year for years to undertake their campaigns and this has created bureaucracies and vested interests which have unlimited funds at their disposal to actively lobby for the continuation of the status quo.
Remember that aerial poisoning has been widespread for over 30 years in this country and yet each year the artificially created ‘crisis’ facing our native species gets worse. The lobby opposed to aerial poisoning lacks resources and are unlikely to receive public funding to produce their science and prepare mass marketing campaigns.
The lobby opposed to aerial poisoning does not have the funds to hire truly independent
overseas scientists to undertake contrary science. The lobby opposed to aerial poisoning do not have access to forested areas to undertake research and the permission needed to do so will almost certainly be denied by the aerial poisoning industry.
WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
With our poisoning campaigns the population of New Zealand is in a similar state to the population of Germany even as the allies prepared to cross the Rhine and invade that country at the end of the Second World War.
The German population had been fed so much propaganda from controlled government sources that they still believed they were winning.
Similarly in Japan.
Even though their cities were being bombed out of existence the population was controlled by so much state propaganda that they still believed the war was going well for them even in the face of the glaringly obvious.
They had been brainwashed.
So has New Zealand’s general population with regard to widespread poisoning operations.
The vast majority of us believe what we are told to believe by State sources.
We have not been given the ‘for’ and ‘against’ science for us to make up our own minds.
We have been told how to think.
If you ask a group of children if it is wise to spread a deadly poison over vast areas of our
land they would easily conclude that it is foolish yet we have aerial poisoning organisations which advocate for and carry out such operations.
Isn’t it sad that children have more simple common sense than a whole raft of government and near-government organisations.
It will be these same children who will more than likely be adding aerial poisoning to the list of DDT, Dioxin, Agent Orange, Thalidomide, Asbestos, Mercury, Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, Nicotine, and hundreds of others in their turn when the truth becomes known. Isn’t it also sad that we are not smart enough so we can do that for our kids now?
Grateful thanks to Graham Sperry of the New Zealand Wildlands Biodiversity Management
Society, and an anonymous reviewer, for valuable comments on the drafts of this document.