Science and Public Policy
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Science and Public Policy

The Virtuous Corruption of Virtual Environmental Science

Aynsley Kellow

This book is an examination of a neglected form of scientific corruption – corruption by political attachment to noble causes.
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Chapter 2: The Political Ecology of Conservation Biology

Aynsley Kellow


Where we have strong emotions, we’re liable to fool ourselves. Carl Sagan The case of the khting vor provides an almost comical example of the operation, jointly, of consensus ‘science’ and the precautionary principle in international politics. One can find other examples where the ‘consensus science’ of international organizations leads to curious decisions. In its Global Environment Outlook 3 the UN Environment Program claimed that ‘dead zones’ had recently been appearing off the coasts of New Zealand, southeast Australia, Japan, China and South America. ‘Dead zones’ in the seas and oceans were thought to be caused by an excess of nutrients – mainly nitrogen – from agricultural fertilizers, vehicle and factory emissions and wastes. The resultant low levels of oxygen in the water make it difficult for fish and other marine creatures to survive. Two of these dead zones were off the coast of New Zealand. Surprisingly, one was off the coast of Fiordland, a remote wilderness area one would not think would be a source of nutrient run-off. Publication of the Year Book produced something of a mystery in New Zealand, because nobody seemed aware of any nutrient problems. Dr Janet Grieve, a biological oceanographer with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, was quoted by the Dominion Post newspaper as saying that she was not aware of any oxygen-starved zones off New Zealand that would fall into the ‘shock-horror’ category, and believed the report was somewhat misleading. The international deliberative processes followed by the arbiters of scientific...

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