Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Fisheries and Science in the Headlines

Last week, a group of scientists were very successful in getting their study on fisheries reported broadly throughout the world's media. See, for example, Collapse of All Wild Fisheries Predicted in 45 Years.

Anyone who knows me knows that I care a lot about the state of fisheries, both fresh and saltwater. I value fisheries for recreation and for food, as well as for their overall role in a healthy ecosystem.

But I cannot support the headline claim of this recent study. A story in the Seattle Times ,"Will seafood nets be empty? Grim outlook draws skeptics," tears it apart particularly well, showing first the graph that supposedly supports the prediction of complete collapse in 45 years. It looks like the authors were not content to simply project a trend forward, they actually projected a nonlinear trend forward -- a nonlinear trend with increasing negative slope!! Even worse, one of the authors accidentally included the Seattle Times in an email meant for someone else. Quoting from the ST article:

"In a note to colleagues that was mistakenly sent to The Seattle Times, Worm wrote that the projection could act as a "news hook to get people's attention."

"One reason why nobody cares about marine biodiversity is that there seemed no clear end in sight," he continued. "...
Well, it's time to wake up — IF the current trend continues we will see drastic consequences in our own lifetime."

I know how nice it is to get one's research results written up well in the national media. But doing bad science to get people's attention is really sad.

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