Ignoring science in politics

Nearly two years ago the Australian government passed a law banning the “super trawler” FV Abel Tasman from fishing in Australian waters. The ban will expire later this year. The campaign against the FV Abel Tasman was mounted by a coalition of fishing and conservation lobbies, strange bedfellows, but surprisingly effective.

Opposition focused on the size of the vessel, rather than the size of the quota. Politicians and activists ignored work by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority when it didn’t support their argument; the debate was not based on scientific evidence.

Casual disregard for the scientific method was widespread.

The Tasmanian Greens created a business survey to show that the super trawler was a bad idea. The report starts with the following disclaimer “This report discusses the findings from a qualitative survey conducted by the Office of the Tasmanian Greens MPs of 33 small business operators in Tasmania” and does not give any reason why this is a valid addition to what should be a scientific debate. This from the party whose climate policy is “based on reputable scientific measurements and mathematical modelling“.

The Tasmanian Liberals don’t even use a sham report to justify their position: “We won’t do anything to jeopardise the recreational fishing industry” Dr Vanessa Goodwin, Tasmanian Liberal politician. Which sounds great, until you realise that it implies they know more about managing fisheries than the scientists who are responsible for managing fisheries.

This is a very parochial issue, but it serves as an example of how quickly public debate can shift from fact based discussion to emotive knee-jerk reactions. Rather than being used as a means to discuss the ethics and sustainability of trawling in general, the campaign used emotive arguments to denigrate the work of Australian fisheries scientists.

If we won’t use science to help formulate policy, what’s the point of funding scientific research?

Next time you sign a petition or send an angry letter take a moment to think it through. Ask yourself if you’ve really considered the issue.

Some further reading:

If you’re interested in this issue in particular, here are some pages that might interest you.

http://www.afma.gov.au/2012/08/super-trawler-faqs-3/

http://www.marineconservation.org.au/data/pdf/SuperTrawlerFactSheet.pdf

http://theconversation.com/one-fish-two-fish-red-fish-blue-fish-science-doesnt-support-the-super-trawler-9143

http://www.news.com.au/finance/labor-to-ban-super-trawler-abel-tasman-from-australian-waters/story-e6frfm1i-1226471683034

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/size-matters-when-youre-off-fishing/story-fn3dxiwe-1226472082708

http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/news/oceans/top-10-facts-about-super-trawlers/

http://www.news.com.au/finance/labor-to-ban-super-trawler-abel-tasman-from-australian-waters/story-e6frfm1i-1226471683034

And finally, a letter from the company that sought to use the FV Abel Tasman: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/the-federal-governments-banning-of-the-super-trawler-abel-tasman-is-a-flawed-action/story-fndo471r-1226474796925

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