The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Are Invasive Species a Threat?

Ronald Bailey writes an article in Reason. Not a promising source, I admit.

The article is sort of species libertarianism. It suggests that the global mixing around of species is not reducing local biodiversity. The "nothing but kudzu" (Great Lakes version: "nothing but purple loosestrife") fear is dismissed. While the article only manages some dubious spin re introduced animal species, it explicitly claims that introduced plants are on the whole, harmless. "There is no evidence that even a single long term resident species has been driven to extinction, or even extirpated within a single U.S. state, because of competition from an introduced plant species,” Bailey claims.

Well, tell it to the folks at Lake Caddo, is one easy answer. Species don't go extinct easily, but that doesn't mean landscapes can't be ruined.

On the other hand, much of what Bailey says makes intuitive sense to me. The species are all going to get swapped around anyway. There's only so much we can do to protect unique isolated island ecologies. Beyind that, why even try to keep species out? Why I wonder why we don't just stand back and let the species fight it all out. Once climate change kicks in in earnest it's going to be all invasive species, sometimes deliberately introduced. It will be that or nothing, I guess.

I am not making a claim here. I'm asking a question. I asked this question back in the sci.environment days "Hawaii sure doesn't look biologically impoverished" was my politically incorrect utterance. Of course, a fellow (named Alan McGowan) was so horrified at this question that he considered me an agent of the rapacious corporate sector, which people who hate me nowadays may find a headscratcher.

But I never got good answers to these things, and I'm sure, among my readers, there are as good answers as they get.

What, after all, does "ecological services" mean and why can't exotic species provide them?

It's likely I'm terribly ignorant to ask these questions, and I'm not sure I believe Bailey, but, like many intelligent people coming into climate change, I haven't seen an answer I find satsifying.

So where's the IPCC of wildlife ecology?

Update: Received in email:
Please accept my apologies for emailing you directly, but I was trying
to comment on your blog posting regarding the Ron Bailey article, but
Blogger failed me three times.

I am thus emailing you what I wrote, in case you find it of interest
(and also because I hate to have put in the time for nought,
particularly when I should have been working!).

Many thanks, M

Alright, a little bit on plants.

First, if this is the guy I am thinking of, I am a bit dubious based
on what I have heard him say in the past (although I haven't read the
article yet). I remember a talk at my alma mater back in 2004 or so,
given by a chap who works for the Cato Institute and writes for
Reason. I think it might well have been Bailey. Anyway, I remember
asking him a question along the lines of: "what about humans depending
on ecosystems and biodiversity for various services?" (His talk, if I
remember correctly, was about conservation being a nice personal ethic
to have, but it is basically just another belief system). Anyway, to
answer me, he said, 'just look at New York, several million people
live there and they're just fine, and NY doesn't have much in the way
of biodiversity or ecosystem services.' (given the long interval since
then, I paraphrase). He moved on then to the next questioner, but I
remain gobsmacked that he suggested that New Yorkers can survive using
just the resources in their immediate environs, as if their drinking
supply doesn't come from well-forested catchments in the Catskills,
and their food from farmland all over the planet, etc.

Anyway, I say all that because it might give some indication that his
perspectives on ecological matters are rather simplistic. If it's the
same guy.

On to plants. First, I am not going to give you a documented
extinction, although I have heard that alien plants have caused the
extinction of several plants in South Africa's fynbos biome. If I had
more time I would try hunt down a few references.

Even if it hasn't yet, it is likely only a matter of time in the
aforementioned biome. Fynbos is one of the most endemic-rich biomes on
the planet. There are some species there that are known from only a
handful of very small localities, and there is an enormous invasive
plant problem there. Australian Acacias (such as cyclops, longifolia),
Pinus radiata, and Hakea sericea are a few of them, and they are rife.
Not only do they threaten to over-run the habitat of such isolated
endemics, but they also dramatically alter fire regimes, which in turn
plays havoc with the reproduction of numerous native species that
themselves depend on certain fire regimes for recruitment (this gets
very complicated, and is made messier by the problem of alien ants
(argentine ant) replacing native ants, which affects seed dispersal of
many species that makes the seed less able to survive fires).

So, there is that very real problem. Since many invasions are fairly
young (within the past 50 - 200 years, many of the ones I am familiar
coincide with introductions that occurred during the British empire in
the mid to late 1800s), they are just getting rolling. Just because
there isn't an abundance of documented extinctions doesn't mean they
aren't coming. Saying that an absence of extinctions means that aliens
plants won't cause them is kind of like saying that human population
growth is no worries because Ehrlich's prediction was wrong (which
ignores the fact that we are still expecting another 2-3 billion folks
to arrive in the next few decades).

Last point. Besides extinctions, alien plants cause other ecological
havoc. I return to South Africa, where they take their water resources
very seriously. They have an entire program aimed at removing alien
plants from watercourses (Australian acacias, again, plus Eucalypts)
because they tend to invade down watercourses and such up heaps of
runoff. Some calculations suggest that removing aliens might even
save them from having to build new dams to satisfy growing water
supply.

Etc. Anyway, I have certainly gone over my little of forebearance.
Hope this makes some sense.

Lyndon Estes


another:
Like Lyndon I also experience trouble with blogger that precludes me commenting on your site. I thought I'd send you a couple of links to paint a broader picture on the European perspective. Firstly I think you should visit the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat at the link below - they have lots of information that pertains to your question "Are Invasive Species a Threat?"

https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/nonnativespecies/home/index.cfm

A colleague of mine Helmut van Emden always maintains that you don't know how threatening an invasive species is until it has been present for seven years. That is the rough amount of time it takes for the local parasitoids and other potential natural enemies take to adapt to a novel species.

You may also want to get in touch with one of the authors of this paper:

How well do we understand the impacts of alien species on ecosystem services? A pan-European, cross-taxa assessment.
Montserrat Vilà et al 2010 Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Volume 8, Issue 3

http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/080083

The paper is paywalled but below is some text I culled from a now-defunct Science Daily article about it:

"Invasive species can disrupt natural and human-made ecosystems, throwing food webs out of balance and damaging the services they provide to people. Now scientists have begun to put a price tag on this damage. In a study published the week of April 20 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment e-view, ecologists have listed the invasive species that cause the most harm to environment and cost the most money to control.

...

Vilà and her colleagues produced a list of the top 10 invasive species in Europe by assessing which species had the most impacts in the most categories. Among the top invaders were Canada geese, zebra mussels, brook trout, the Bermuda buttercup and coypu, also known as nutria. Terrestrial vertebrates produced the widest range of impacts, often showing effects in all of the ecosystem service categories.

"Many terrestrial vertebrates are top predators, and their introduction causes cascading effects in the food web," Vilà says.

By contrast, terrestrial invertebrates such as insects and spiders had the narrowest range of effects, but wreaked the most financial havoc. Vilà points out that terrestrial invertebrates cause the most damage to crops and forests, sectors in which there are well-established methods to quantify the costs of food and lumber production. The authors estimate annual crop losses in the United Kingdom due to alien arthropods at €2.8 billion (about $3.7 billion); other studies say that the cost of eradicating the 30 most common weeds could be more than €150 million ($197 million).

The authors also describe the alien species generating the highest reported financial investment, including costs of monitoring, controlling and eradicating the invader, along with environmental education programs. Among the most expensive invaders were water hyacinth (€3.4 /$4.5 million), coypu (€2.8/$3.7 million) and a marine alga (€8.2/$10.9 million)."

Kind regards,
Chris S.
By the way, Blogger actively sucks. Do not start serious blogs here.

66 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

Ask Jim Bouldin.

Brian Hayes said...

@you: The species are all going to get swapped around anyway. There's only so much we can do to protect unique isolated island ecologies.

One minute a scientist. The next not. Once for evidence. The next opinion. There are equivalent others?

Kooiti MASUDA said...

I live in a country where people admire native kudzu and hate invasive ragweeds.

I remember that there is a biogeographer named Bailey (perhaps more than one), but apparently the critique is not that professional.

(As a physical climate scientist with some introductory-level knowledge of ecology) I think that there is a clear case for avoiding invasive herbaceous species if we can assume climate variation but not climate change. If the short-term environment is favorable to them, they spread and native species face risk of extinction. But they may not be adapted to the environment in the long run unlike the native species. So the ecosystem is likely to become more unstable (if the local species go extinct or severly damaged). (This logic applies to invasive species only, not all alien species.)

This logic may also be considered as a case for mitigation of climate change, for outbreaks of some invasive spacies seem inevitable.

But, if there is significant climate change, conservation of native ecosystems as a whole in place may become impossible. To keep ecosystem services, we may need to introduce non-native spieces which can adapt to the altered climate.

ScruffyDan said...

Right off the bat Ronald Bailey runs into trouble. Biodiversity is not defined by ecologists as species richness. That is but one component. Other are genetic diversity, and ecosystem diversity.

The other problem, is that bad things happen BEFORE species go extinct. And typically there are many factors that cause a species to become extinct or extirpated. Invasives might make things worse, without pushing a species to extinction.

A useful analogy of the problem of invasives (at least with this crowd)is sea level rise. Human civilization could exist quite happily with sea levels 5 meters above what they are today. But adapting to a rise of 5m would be very difficult.

The same is true with invasives. Ecosystems will adapt to invasives, but it will take time, during that time there will be an imbalance. This is generally seen as a bad thing, which tends to lower biodiversity even if species richness remains the same.

ScruffyDan said...

But now that I think about it, I think the focus on local might miss the point. Yes there are many new species on Hawaii because of us, but there are less endemic species. So on a global scale biodiversity (even using Bailey's limited definition) is lost.

A local ecosystem doesn't get better when species richness increases, so I am not sure I understand the point Bailey is making.

Marco said...

Not anything flora, but Bailey may look at how the introduction of rabbits (the real one's, not Eli) close to destroyed Australia's flora. Mitigation involved introducing a disease in the population, as hunting them down simply was not enough. I think Australia can be lucky that myxomatosis isn't (yet?) spreading to other species. Should we be worried? Perhaps: it is spread by mosquitos in Australia.

Tom Curtis said...

I was also going to suggest the example of rabbits, not to mention cane toads, foxes, and prickly pears as examples of invasive species that have caused wide spread ecological destruction in Australia. The list is not exhaustive.

On the other hand, Australia's native gecko's have long been driven from urban areas by the use of pesticides. Recently a new species of gecko, a Spanish invader, is taking their place. That is a development that, provisionally, I welcome as it returns the urban areas to a healthier ecosystem.

gravityloss said...

But clearly global species richness doesn't stay the same if invasive species make locals extinct?

I'm mystified.

At this moment humans are transporting species around at a huge rate, and, simplifying, as an end result everything will look the same in the future. Think American, African and Asian jungles for example.

guthrie said...

Well here in the UK, more specifically SCotland, the point about invasive species is not so much that they'll drive local species to extinction (Although they may help do that as they add another pressure to said native species) but that they'll damage ecosystems functions and lead to simplificaiton and / or other side effects.
Specifically, the biggest threats I know of, apart from bracken which is even more complex so I won't go into it here, are japanese knotweed and giant hogweed. Giant Hogweed is scary stuff when you first meet it. It can grow to 5 metres tall with leaves a metre wide, and it sheds thousands of seeds which remain viable for 6 or 7 years. When it gets established, every other plant dies out since its leaves deny them sunlight. I came across such a spreading bunch of plants a few years ago. By the time I'd finished applying a machete (not really reccomended due to their poisonous sap, which makes them a health hazard and another problem with them) and pesticide (roundup) there was a 5 by 6 metre bare patch of ground with nothing growing on it except the stumps of these plants. Over the next few years i had to return to apply roundup to make sure the seedlings died off, and found that local plants re-colonised it successfully, thus restoring the local ecosystem of a bunch of plants instead of one.
The Japanese knotweed is worse. What I'd like would be a great big radiative steriliser, so as to guarantee killing every little bit of it. If you don't, it reproduces itself. Fortunately only the female (I htink) variety was introduced, so it has to spread piecemeal. If they'd introduced both sexes we'd be fucked. So what it does is grow, usually by river banks, occupying all the available space and again simplifying the ecosystem, taking over from all the local plants. It has no poisonous sap, but is very hard to kill, you can't just spray it with roundup the way you can with giant hogweed. Plus its roots get into houses and break stuff.

The issue with the above two horrors is that outside their local ecosystem they don't have natural predators on them, so can replicate indefinitely. Thus requiring increasing amounts of money spend on controlling them. Would you rather spend a million quid on a school or new tractors or on exterminating invasive plant species?

Basically, leaving species to fight it out is fucking stupid, since we know roughly what our current ecosystems do, but would have no idea what the future ones would do. It also demands more adaptation - we know that tree roots will damage houses, and can plan/ deal with it as necessary, why add the foundation damage possibilities of uncontrolled knotweed to the mix?

More on invasive species here:
http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/10/04/the-aliens-are-coming/

According to it, a report finds that invasive species cause damage equal to something like 5% of the world economy. Thats a shedload of money, and even if you halve it or quarter it, thats still far more money than is sensible, wouldn't you agree?

EliRabett said...

You need to import Jeff Harvey from Deltoid

Hank Roberts said...

As with much else:

---> Rate Of Change <---

Duh.

I manage -- everyone needs a hobby -- some acres of wildland for wildlife habitat, bought decades ago after the first wildfire in half a century (Smoky Bear had been letting fuel build up all that time).

I went to Usenet for advice and got my start with help from Portugese and Spanish land managers who told me they had no doubt global warming was happening, saw fires increasing and erosion a growing problem, and were working out ways to manage with the change -- terracing, discouraging invasives, restoring tree canopy to shade out fast fuels. This was in the late 1980s.

They got that right.

The key is to _discourage_ and _deter_ invasives for several years, long enough that the natives get reestablished.

The tactic used by European/Asian annuals, in the North American environment, is the problem.

The European/Asian plants thrive on the flush of minerals right after a fire. They germinate in fall as well as spring. They spread a wide and very shallow root system and intercept every drop of dew. They are ripening seeds while the North American plants are just getting going.

And they burn. And they burn hot and fast and pop their seeds in all directions as the flame front passes. And behind the fire there is a smooth charred black layer of soot covered with little bright green seeds.

In Europe and Asia this works out -- or did before climate started changing -- because they're part of ecosystems; things eat them, things outcompete them.

In North America they get established and crowd out everything else, take all the water, take all the minerals from the last fire, flourish in dense stands -- and they burn. They burn very efficiently, before the native plants have gotten their seed ripe the next summer.

Natives use the same method -- knobcone pine for example will also take over areas after fire.

Invasives are problems because they invade ecosystems and degrade them to monocultures.

http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/31300

"... Cheatgrass and red brome have greatly affected fire frequency and intensity, which has been detrimental to native shrubs and other perennials in these systems. Red brome may have had an even greater impact, in that it has readily invaded non-disturbed areas, has had great impact on fire sensitive shrub species, and, to this point, we have not identified adapted species native or non-native for rehabilitating burned areas. Introduction of cheatgrass and red brome in the West has wreaked ecological havoc on the areas they have invaded and will continue to affect structure, function, and management of these areas well into the future. This paper will detail the history and ecology of these two highly invasive species...."

http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/medusahead.shtml

http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/graminoid/taecap/all.html

"Medusahead and cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), another invasive non-native species, overlap in distribution and habitat requirements. Each can replace other herbaceous vegetation and share dominance with the other. ... It has invaded seral communities in eastern Oregon and Idaho and replaced cheatgrass as the dominant alien grass [57]. It has invaded fields, dry roadsides, and disturbed sagebrush slopes in British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California [26,58,60]. ..."

sites with sparse native plants are more susceptible to medusahead invasion than more diverse low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula) or woodland/low sagebrush communities. If the more diverse communities are degraded to a "low" seral state, medusahead can invade and occupy the site."

Yes, eventually, these will settle into a revised ecosystem.

No, it's not working out well in the short (decades) run.

Nick Palmer said...

I would have thought that ultimately an ecosystem, local or planet wide, exposed to invasive species/destabilising conditions, will eventually stabilise at a new (and different) order. That order may or may not be as good for humanity as the current one. Are we feeling lucky?

The interim period between now and then will undoubtedly operate in a chaotic way with ecological booms and busts, famines and gluts, plagues and scarcities. Even if the new ecological order eventually stabilises at a more human friendly level than today, the chances are that getting there will be very uncomfortable, if not terminal, for our current civilisation.

Denialists sometimes claim that increasing CO2 and/or warming will be good for us as we get back to some particular "optimum" climate they quote from the past. They may be right but the same argument as above applies. Getting from where we are now to where we will end up will likely be very disruptive.

Kooiti MASUDA said...

Something like IPCC, "Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services" has been organized by UNEP.

Rich Puchalsky said...

Alan McGowan was right about you being clueless about this then, and I'm surprised that you're still clueless about it. And you're sort of aggressively clueless. It's your responsibility to learn basic things before opining about them in the guise of asking questions.

I'll try to translate a few of your statements into global-climate-change-ese. "The invasive species are all going to get swapped around anyways. There's only so much we can do" is precisely the same as "People are going to burn all the coal anyways, so why do anything about it."

The confusion between how invasive species work in ecosystems and how highly coevolved specialist species work, so that one is pretty much as good as the other, is just like "What does it matter if it gets hotter? We'll adapt, and anyways people like hotter climates."

The aggressively asking where the IPCC is, before having done anything to understand even the grade-school-level science popularizations, is, well, just like the climate change sceptics who ask where the IPCC is.

Rich Puchalsky said...

Let me rephrase this in an even more basic way. The fact that you can ask this reveals the basic problem with your whole public education project.

Consider an ordinary, non-scientist's reaction to the science around climate change. They don't have the time or expertise to evaluate the evidence. So they pretty much have to take it on trust that the consensus of a scientific field, supported against strong public challenges over decades, is right.

This is exactly what you aren't willing to do. You are apparently on the right side with regard to global climate change because you have the expertise to understand it. With a field that you don't have the expertise to understand, like conservation biology, you grant no such trust. In fact, you sound like a typical global climate change sceptic, thinking that your uneducated opinion is valuable because you have an intuition about it, and completely devaluing the consensus of the people who have actually studied the field.

I have no idea how you expect the public to become educated about science as presented in the way that you want it to be presented when that doesn't work even on you. We're talking about something that it's literally taking you more than a decade not to learn. Why should you expect someone without even your background to do any better?

byron smith said...

On the other hand, much of what Lomborg says makes intuitive sense to me. The climate is all going to get swapped around anyway. There's only so much we can do to protect the Holocene stability. Beyond that, why even try to keep climate stable? Why I wonder why we don't just stand back and let the climate variations fight it all out.

I agree with the comments from Rich, ScruffyDan, Guthrie and Tom. Serious people who know this stuff in detail are very, very worried. Check out this report (which is basically the biodiversity equivalent of the IPCC and has a whole section on invasive species).

Steve L said...

I used to think that because nature abhors a vacuum, then everything must be pretty much full. But it's now apparent to me that sometimes you can introduce species without limiting the indigenous flora/fauna.
I think you're right that climate change affects the calculus of whether introductions are good or bad. In such cases, though, you have to remember that introducing a species to fill some niche that's been vacated by an extinction can maintain ecosystem structure and function; introducing a 'redundant' species prior to that extinction may hasten or even cause the extinction of indigenous or endemic species. This puts at odds the values of conservation of biodiversity and conservation of ecosystem function.
I noted in a previous thread that there seems to be growing support for the latter over the former, and I'm saddened that the legacy of evolution can be cast aside so easily. Pragmatically. It's happening within ecology, too, as the science transitions from cataloging pieces to studying castes. Aldo Leopold said intelligent tinkering meant keeping all the pieces, but we still don't know what all the pieces are. I understand the trend in ecological sciences (it probably reflects a maturing science, in fact), and I understand the trend in conservation. Nevertheless I think it's sad.

Gareth said...

Anyone interested in the impact of invasive species on biodiversity would do well to consider the New Zealand experience. In the days before humans, we had a big green flightless parrot that thought it was a rabbit. Then rats and cats drove it to the edge of extinction. It only survives thanks to sterling efforts to maintain pest free status on a couple of offshore islands. So then we introduced rabbits... And to the eat the rabbits we thought it would be a good idea to introduce stoats. The stoats much preferred birds eggs, and so the native birdlife got hammered -- and so on.

And there's much more in the NZ experience that could be instructive for the interested...

adelady said...

And remember those other introductions. Possums into new Zealand and koalas onto offshore Oz islands where they'd never been before. Why were they introduced? For the fur trade.

Once the shooting and trapping stopped, the populations and the trouble really got going.

Sam said...

All this talk of invasive species puts me in mind of the mack-daddy of all invasive species: homo sapiens. The most eye-opening part of reading Guns, Germs, and Steel to me was the picture of humans walking around in North America after the last Ice Age let them in, slaughtering ground sloths, horses, and camels for food. And doing so just by walking up to them and killing them, the poor buggers with no idea what was about to hit them. I don't have a lot of sentimentality about this, but it is wild to think of all of the bird and mammal species that we extirpated in the name of our next dinner. As you sow, so shall you reap. We are creating the conditions that are enabling for invasive species to find their new niches with no competitors or adapted defense, much as when our species got out of Africa, we had generations of birds and mammals to eat at our relative whim.

So to re-phrase the question that you titled this post with: "Are homo sapiens a threat?" The answer is definitely yes, but not a threat to the overall future of life on earth, more a threat to the life quality (or existence) of future generations of living things _as we know them now_. It will be a silly waste of the beautiful biosphere that we have to do what we are proceeding to do, but it won't be the first time we've done it, and probably not the last. Along with the loss of beauty of some species never to return, we can mourn the lack of interest, concern, attention-span, and vision that most of our well-off species brings to the greater biome that produced us. For those people living closer to the edge of simple survival, fear is the great destroyer of beauty and vision, and there is no greater fear than the thought that your prior meal might have been your last. Those with the means to have a better concept for the future than our previous wanton species destructions are failing their potential badly. 'Let the species sort it out among themselves' is a vapid dead end of an argument that speaks volumes about the barren points of view that value nature as no more than a handmaiden of endless human population growth and materialism.

Brian Hayes said...

'There's only so much we can do.' Bent on fixing Curry isn't science nor politics. Swapping science for creed. Weeks without reports. Look at that now. See what's come? Thoughts pushing as if, and then, but if... isn't ecology wonderful? Intuitive, maybe. Before you know it, rabbits.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks all for the responses. Thanks especially to Brian Hayes first posting for presenting the McGowan point of view so saliently. Thanks also to Rich Puchalsky for picking up this long-lost ball.

Indeed, Rich's points are very much what I am thinking about when I issue this science. I know more ecology than most (took an undergrad class pass/fail at Northwestern in the 70s) and much less than real experts do.

I can see plainly that monocultures emerge; unresisted kudzu in America is a firghtening thing. Fortunately it is rare, but I am sure it would be as unappealing to a Japanese as anyone else.

Hank's essay about fire regimes was extremely interesting and a deep response to my shallow question.

I wish to point out that the article focused on invasive plants. I and I guess most readers know about rabbits in Australia, snakes in Hawaii, rats on Easter Island. (we do know a little bit)

The main point of the article is about plants.

But I am also asking the even more horrifyingly correct question. Do species have rights? How many species can we afford to lose? What is the right triage strategy?

Does it really make sense to send trucks full of guys in wader boots to pluck all the purple loosestrife as it shows its head? Or should we just accept it as part of the environment?

What does science say? What do ethics say? How does science inform society? How well is society doing on this problem now?

Experts are scared, but the world seems to keep going. How much trust should we put into the experts?

These are not bad questions from me directed to ecologists, and not bad questions from, say, engineers, directed at us.


"One minute a scientist. The next not. Once for evidence. The next opinion." is wrong.

One way for communities where I have tight networks of trust. Another way for where the evidence and the social connections are weaker.

It is interesting that UNEP is trying to construct a consensus document on biodiversity. Does this mean that IPCC is regarded as successful?

Puchalsky asks exactly the right
question:

====

This is exactly what you aren't willing to do. You are apparently on the right side with regard to global climate change because you have the expertise to understand it. With a field that you don't have the expertise to understand, like conservation biology, you grant no such trust. In fact, you sound like a typical global climate change sceptic, thinking that your uneducated opinion is valuable because you have an intuition about it, and completely devaluing the consensus of the people who have actually studied the field.

I have no idea how you expect the public to become educated about science as presented in the way that you want it to be presented when that doesn't work even on you. We're talking about something that it's literally taking you more than a decade not to learn. Why should you expect someone without even your background to do any better?

====

Despite the harsh tone, this is exactly right.

I am aware that this is exactly what I am doing. This gives me some grounds for sympathy for those outside climate science trying to get some sense of what happens in it.

How to counter exactly this impulse is exactly what climate science has utterly failed to do. And on this key point, AMac, McIntyre, Curry are correct. They get a lot else wrong, but their demand for better seems to me to come form an honest, inquisitive place.

Rich Puchalsky said...

"How to counter exactly this impulse is exactly what climate science has utterly failed to do."

Wait, hold on. Since when is it climate science's duty to counter the impulse towards this kind of skepticism?

I'll unpack that a bit more. First, it's an individual's duty to not be naively skeptical about scientific consensus. I'm surprised that you did it. Informed skepticism is what science runs on, but it would be foolish to say "Oh, that expanding universe stuff -- I don't understand it, but my intuition is that the universe isn't moving or expanding or anything. Has anyone put together an IPCC-like document that says otherwise?" No one person can understand particle physics and climate science and conservation biology and archeology well enough to evaluate all of them, so you take those that you can't on trust.

But let's say that you're not interested in individuals, but in people as a mass. All right, then it's still not climate science's problem. It's a political problem.

Climate science has been saying the same thing, in policy terms, for the last couple of decades at least. Why can't it overcome this kind of skepticism? Because there are organized interests that do not want it to be overcome. That's why flat earthers and people who don't believe in the theory of relativity are considered to be kooks, while it is respectable to be a climate change sceptic. It's why it's respectable for you to be a conservation biology skeptic -- someone paid a hack to turn out propaganda in Reason, and that made it a respectable opinion for you to turn your intuition loose on.

The people who have tried to deal with these politically have had an uninterrupted record of failure within the U.S. So you could very well ask why they've failed. But your attempt to depoliticize it -- to make it climate science's responsibility -- doesn't get you anywhere near the right ballpark.

Michael Tobis said...

Rich, I am very willing to believe that the Reason article is wrong. I certainly can imagine that the same type of social dynamics (starting with much better-funded think talks to come up with the raw materials) is at work here. But I can also imagine that people with a strong tendency for biophilia believe that there is an ethical question at stake where I don't entirely accept their ethics. So I would like the experts to provide me with the pieces of the argument in a well ordered way, so that I can reason about it as a person in the awkward position, along with anyone else who hasn't gone altogether teabaggy, of balancing the timeless and the timely.

This is exact;y the purpose of IPCC. I think WG I has performed admirably if not impeccably. I am far less convinced about WG II and WG III, wherein it is less clear that a consensus exists.

I am asking a substantive question. Is it worth manually plucking the purple loosestrife? How do we decide? How much do we spend?

What reasoning is behind it? How do I establish that the people so convinced of it share my ethics? What are the risks of delay? Of abdication?

The scientific establishment, just like the commercial system, is utterly focussed on the problems of the past: science, on getting new information, commerce, on increasing production. Neither has much interest in making the best possible use of what we have now.

So yes, of course climate science should not take the communication disaster upon ourselves too far. It is impressive that we have done as well as we did.

But we can do better at structuring arguments accessibly, and providing real access to our reasoning. And we should. Blaming us for the recent failure is silly, but denying us the means to do better is sillier.

Rich Puchalsky said...

You can't even ask the question "Is it worth manually picking the purple loosestrife" unless you are willing to accept the basic consensus of the field. It's like asking "Is it worth trying to sequester carbon from coal-burning power plants." Sure, you can ask, and you'll get a range of different, informed answers, people explaining their costs and reasoning in various ways. But if you don't accept basic climate science, there's no way anyone can even start. How can you examine costs and balances if someone doesn't believe that carbon in the atmosphere even involves a cost? That's basically what you're doing with the whole "invasive species seem pretty much just as good as specialist ones" thing.

And I think that the IPCC is a record of failure, including WG I. Did it convince anyone who wasn't already convinced by the existing consensus? It's an attempt, when confronted by a straightforward political problem, to just pile up the facts in a supposedly more and more unimpeachable way, like a runaway immune system that can't find a virus so it just keeps on reacting more and more. Your desire to have scientists provide "real access to [their] reasoning" is just more of the same. Provide all the access that you want; it won't help. Only when the field doesn't need an IPCC will the problem be on the way to being solved, just as no one tells astrophysicists that they'd better come up with a consensus document for their field and by the way they need to provide all of their telescope-pointing code to skeptics.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, Curry is busily trying to identify the mainstream as dogmatic.

I fully understand your answer by analogy, but even so I find it unsatisfactory. Is there nothing we can learn from this quandary?

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Rich, I both agree with you and disagree with you. The IPCC was envisioned as a scientific assessment of the state of climate science as a whole. Think of it as a very large literature review. The problem I see with the IPCC process is that the writing of the SPM . This is a distinctly political process and the changes to the scientific assessment caused by the SPM process have to be incorporated into the reports of the various working groups. I don't think that the IPCC documents were ever intended to be “persuasive” documents, rather they are just an assessment of the state of the science.

I tend to agree with your point about the “when we don't need an IPCC”. When the IPCC is no longer needed the vast majority of policy makers will have accepted the scientific consensus and science will no longer have to be defended against ignorant attacks. That would be a good thing.

Back to the invasive species argument. Out here in Montana Spotted Knapweed is exhibit A. It produces prodigious amounts of seed, exudes toxins which drive out other species and limits the value of rangeland for grazing. It destroys the ecosystem services offered and is clearly economically destructive.

During the 1970's I worked with my father gathering data for his Master's. This work centered around comparing biodiversity, and especially bird usage, of natural and human modified ecosystems. The two study areas were separated by less than a quarter mile yet the usage by birds was vastly different. The principle difference? Plant species diversity. Just like human modified systems (although you could argue that invasive species constitute human modification) invasive species tend to simplify and limit the ecosystems services offered in the areas they infest. Extinction is not the main issue, it is the changes in the services which the ecosystem can provide.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Rich, I both agree with you and disagree with you. The IPCC was envisioned as a scientific assessment of the state of climate science as a whole. Think of it as a very large literature review. The problem I see with the IPCC process is that the writing of the SPM . This is a distinctly political process and the changes to the scientific assessment caused by the SPM process have to be incorporated into the reports of the various working groups. I don't think that the IPCC documents were ever intended to be “persuasive” documents, rather they are just an assessment of the state of the science.

I tend to agree with your point about the “when we don't need an IPCC”. When the IPCC is no longer needed the vast majority of policy makers will have accepted the scientific consensus and science will no longer have to be defended against ignorant attacks. That would be a good thing.

Back to the invasive species argument. Out here in Montana Spotted Knapweed is exhibit A. It produces prodigious amounts of seed, exudes toxins which drive out other species and limits the value of rangeland for grazing. It destroys the ecosystem services offered and is clearly economically destructive.

During the 1970's I worked with my father gathering data for his Master's. This work centered around comparing biodiversity, and especially bird usage, of natural and human modified ecosystems. The two study areas were separated by less than a quarter mile yet the usage by birds was vastly different. The principle difference? Plant species diversity. Just like human modified systems (although you could argue that invasive species constitute human modification) invasive species tend to simplify and limit the ecosystems services offered in the areas they infest. Extinction is not the main issue, it is the changes in the services which the ecosystem can provide.

Michael Tobis said...

The point is not persuasion; that is definitely outside the IPCC remit.

The point is accessibility and credibility; it needs to both display the evidence impartially and be trusted as doing so impartially.

That was the intent, anyway.

But IPCC reports, it does not explain. This may be the problem.

byron smith said...

@Rich:
And I think that the IPCC is a record of failure, including WG I. Did it convince anyone who wasn't already convinced by the existing consensus?
The IPCC reports (esp WG I) played a significant role in convincing me. I only started to look into the science a couple of years ago. Prior to that, I would have been about 70-80% convinced (and so was already sympathetic, though with hesitations due to vague knowledge of sceptic objections), but the AR4 report (along with other summary reports by major reputable institutions) helped to ground my ethical reflections on the significance of the risks involved through giving me a much greater appreciation for the depth and breadth of scientific investigation into the threats.

I agree that climate science is treated very differently to astrophysics, but that is to be expected when a moral argument is being made for society to alter radically its modes of industry and even its self-conceptions and goals as a result of climate change and ecological degradation. Astrophysics is not generally the basis for policy decisions with trillions of dollars/pounds/yuan/etc. at stake.

Given the complexity of the science, the potential for deadly serious feedbacks still only partially understood, the balancing of various policy responses and the need for some level of international co-operation and co-ordination based on our best current knowledge, I don't expect the IPCC to become redundant even in a world where there is overwhelming political support for climate action.

@Michael: Patterson's curse is one example I'm familiar with of an invasive plant that has wreaked significant damage to Australian agriculture (it is a weed toxic to grazing animals) and where investment in scientific control has had major economic benefits: "The most recent economic analysis however, suggests that biological control has already brought nearly $1.2 B in benefits to Australia by reducing the amount of Paterson's curse the pasture. The investment of funding to research into biological of Paterson's curse has already reaped a benefit cost ratio of 52:1."

Sam said...

"What does science say? What do ethics say? How does science inform society? How well is society doing on this problem now?"

"Experts are scared, but the world seems to keep going. How much trust should we put into the experts?"

I think the questions are ill-formed, both for invasive species and for climate change. In no scenario in either species competition or climate change will the earth stop spinning, or will all life be wiped out. Experts are only 'scared' that something bad will happen to something they value. This is all a question of values, and that is where the discussions tend to go off of the rails. Without an agreed-upon set of values relative to the natural world and the likelihood of a sustainable existence for future generations, there is no ground for tradeoffs and policy decision-making. So to answer a question like you posed, one would first have to understand what you (or a given group) value in order to understand what ethical behavior would be given a set of costs and benefits. You make reference to people who experience 'biophilia' - that reflects a value, and their decisions and advocacy spring from that place. If you do not share those values, perhaps only caring about clean water and food availability, then you might well make different choices. The projection of values onto policy discussions without their explication is part of the problem with the IPCC process - policy recommendations and tradeoffs with implicit assumptions about what values are being supported often lead to conflict. As I was trying to get at in my last post, if economics becomes the ultimate arbiter of all questions, then the implicit assumption is that economic growth is valued more highly than most other considerations. If that is true, then all natural systems (including climate) have to be valued economically, as that is the default metric of value. As Monbiot points out , this approach traps discussion in a values paradigm that could easily lead to the conclusion that we just sit back and let the species fight it out. Or let the climate morph until we are certain that the economic losses of BAU outweigh action. It is a barren approach to human interaction with the biosphere, but one that does enable quantitative decision-making as long as the input assumptions are correct. What RPJ does with his 'iron law' is to highlight this values conflict clearly, though not explicitly, and certainly not quantitatively.

So, is economic value to be the metric to assess our actions on invasive species in each case? If not, what other values will we use to assess the current state of invasive species policy?

Sam said...
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Michael Tobis said...

quadruplicate posting pruned

Michael Tobis said...

Sam, I had no problem until "The projection of values onto policy discussions without their explication is part of the problem with the IPCC process - policy recommendations and tradeoffs with implicit assumptions about what values are being supported often lead to conflict. "

This may well be true of those of us who advocate immediate and vigorous policy action, but the assertion that it is true of the core IPCC product is just that - a notion.

I agree that the case that almost any ethical system will support immediate and vigorous policy action could be better supported. That is what I, among others, am trying to do.

RPJr's iron law is made of rust.

Otherwise I agree with the thrust of your argument. The ethical principles need to be made explicit, and shown to be anything but extraordinary.

And indeed, Friedman-style economics is a key piece of intellectual armor that the delayers have. Only if you accept that all decisions MUST be subject to a discount rate, essentially, that nothing is sacred, does the decision become a close call in the way Lomborg argues.

Ed Darrell said...

There are quick answers.

Cheat grass, also known as Russian brome, was introduced to the western U.S. It outcompetes local grasses, so it reduces grazing grasses for native species and for introduced species such as cattle and sheep.

It also poses a much greater fire hazard, since it dries out much more completely in the last summer.

Increased fire hazard, reduced plants, reduced grazing . . . this Bailey guy doesn't know his burro from a burrow with regard to biology, nor especially botany, does he.

The economic impact of destructive exotics is enormous. Look up any of these:

o Canadian thistle
o Tamarisk, or salt cedar
o Argentine fire ant
o zebra mussel
o hydrilla
o European carp
o Asian carp

Soil conservation is not just "another view." It is the salvation of civilizations. But, if one has no particular desire to preserve western civilization, Bailey's view of how to destroy it is as valid as any other.

Ed Darrell said...

Invasive species no problem? Not if you enjoyed the Irish potato famine, no.

Did Bailey seriously fail high school history?

Sam said...

Michael,

on the whole I am in agreement with you about the IPCC documents - I overstated my assertion. They were some of the source material that I read when studying the climate change issues, and I found them fairly objective, systematic, and persuasive as to the existence of significant risk of human suffering from climate change. However, the affair around Climategate unsurprisingly reveals that there are biases behind the process, and I fault no one directly for that, since I empathize with the frustration of seeing a problem clearly, and also seeing the needed corrective actions delayed. As a quick examples of a value judgment leaking into IPCC documents, the FAR in Figure SPM.7, Under Food impacts, states "Complex, localized negative impacts on..." The term 'negative' has a value judgment implied. You might respond "But who would disagree?" Not me, but there is an example of implicit values in an IPCC work product. Another example is found in the Polar Regions section of Table SPM.2: "Detrimental impacts would include those on infrastructure and traditional indigenous ways of life" I might agree that the impacts, whatever they are explicated as in the longer document, are 'detrimental' but others may not. This might seem overly pedantic, but it is the point of attack from some on the IPCC process. The document (to me) would be just as convincing without those terms included, and in most cases seemed able to avoid terms such as the above.

I only reference the 'iron law' as being a 'simple' statement of the conflict between valuing economic growth and valuing vigorous action on climate change. I have spoken out strongly about what I think the weaknesses of the formulation are, as well as against overstatement of its applicability. However, unless the competing values can be stated clearly and somewhat quantified, the back-and-forth will continued, muddled as usual. I thought some of your questions regarding invasive species conflated similar issues (policy making vs scientific assessment), and wanted to use it as an example for the need to start from values, assess impacts on those values from a phenomenon, and then to develop policies tested against metrics that reflected the values. Without the first step, I think the policy-making can become bogged down in confusion and rhetoric. The deniers are wrong on the science, which really only leaves the policy-making tradeoffs to be dealt with. If the values conflicts can be negotiated, perhaps faster decarbonization (and invasive species mitigation) progress is possible.

Michael Tobis said...

I don't think potato blight counts as an invasive plant nor that potatoes count as an endangered species.

I realize the topic is related, but the claim is simply that invasive plants do not negatively impact biodiversity.

Michael Tobis said...

Sam, yes but.

One of the keys to the debate is that the main effort is to discredit WG I, with the idea that if climate change itself goes away, there's nopthing to worry about.

The sleight of hand is nowhere more evident than in the attacks on "IPCC" via WG II. I was quite unimpressed with the WG II report even leaving aside the Himalaya glacier error which I did not notice. There is little doubt that the impacts community is very broad and less mature than physical climatology.

It's similar to the "Mann hid a decline in a graphic, therefore data was hidden or destroyed". It's guilt by association, and a lot of guilt for some minor misdemeanors.

My main hobby horse is that the public and the political sector should understand key matters well enough to make reasoned decisions based on their ethic. In particular everybody is worked up about well-established WG I issues.

While there's a vast plenty to debate about in WG II and WG III turf, the information out of WG I has been more or less stable and well-founded for almost two decades now. The fact that we're still arguing at that level is no fault of the IPCC nor the community of physical climatologists.

Some people really don't want us discussing how our values should affect our policies. But I agree that this is the territory where we should be arguing.

Rich Puchalsky said...

"I fully understand your answer by analogy, but even so I find it unsatisfactory. Is there nothing we can learn from this quandary?"

That you can't escape from politics. Anthropogenic global climate change is a political problem, not a scientific one. I'm referring here to e.g. your previously stated reluctance to talk about there being two sides, and your statements about how damaging that is. Well, it may be preferable to discourage rhetoric about there being sides if you're trying to get everyone to come together to act on a common problem. (See how well that is working for Obama?) But analytically, it's worthless. Worse than worthless, it actively obscures what's going on.

To the first order of importance, the reason that we can't do anything about climate change has everything to do with the many-orders-of-magnitude difference in the respective budgets of ExxonMobil vs. Greenpeace. It has nothing to do with science or the communication thereof.

I mean, look at Bailey, since this started with his article. He writes about how he was never paid off by ExxonMobil in this article. It's really kind of amusing. His described trajectory careers from one corporate-funded think tank to another, from one corporate cultivated sceptic scientist to another, and all the while he asserts that he did nothing wrong because no bags of money changed hands. And then finally he congratulates himself on giving up on scientific skepticism just before the worst hacks like Easterbrook supposedly did. Leaving him free to go on to other, more currently rewarding forms of skepticism like the biodiversity article that fooled you. Exxon basically created an entire alternate universe for Bailey that he could traverse with the smug satisfaction that he wasn't corrupt.

Sam said...

Michael,

Well, there is little enough to do with those who dispute or do not understand the science, except keep stating the truth. I consider those uninteresting arguments, and also consider them eminently winnable, as scientific truth eventually wins out. Flat-earthers will dwindle in importance.

The policy debate among those who accept the science (large carbon tax and energy shift advocates vs the small-ball Lomborgs and Pielkes of the world) will continue to increase in importance as the decarbonization rates get harder to achieve for stabilization.

Regarding the budget of Exxon being a first-order determinant of policy - it is undoubtedly true. Exxon's corporate values are in direct conflict with increasing decarbonization, and they can buy more senators than Greenpeace. So we must work to bring their values into alignment with increasing decarbonization. Consumers and corporations are quite good at responding to their incentives. It will be easier to bring the values of utilities into line with decarbonization than it will oil companies, however, so perhaps this is good news.

Michael Tobis said...

Sam raises an interesting point, which ties into why I resist demonization of petroleum industry or particular corporations.

Some people in any energy corporation understand that they are in the energy business, not the carbon business. By demonizing the entire community (a community to which I myself have social ties) we ensure that the balance of financial influence remains as asymmetric as ever.

Corporations are capable of understanding that sound regulation can as easily be in their interests as anarchy.

The problem is not the corporate structure, it is the corporate culture. Not the Exxon ledger, but the copies of the Wall Street Journal's lies in their boardroom.

The enemy, in my opinion, is Rupert Murdoch, not Exxon. It's about misinformation, not about malice. Corporations are not so stupid as to want to destroy the world. No world, no return on shareholder investment, after all. Corporations are, however, stupid enough to take
the wrong ideas seriously.

It is a battle of ideas.

Rich Puchalsky said...

"The enemy, in my opinion, is Rupert Murdoch, not Exxon. It's about misinformation, not about malice."

That's nonsensical. Exxon used Murdoch's networks to spread the lies that Exxon itself authored, as part of the usual horse-trading that goes on among right-wing groups. The idea that they are innocent victims of their own misinformation is just not serious. Unless you mean the general beliefs about market fundamentalism, which Exxon and Murdoch have a joint interest in spreading.

Also unserious is the bit about them "destroying the world." No one is saying that we're going to have a runaway greenhouse effect a la Venus. No one is saying that human life is going to cease. Therefore the incentives for major Exxon stockholders and management are, under rational self-interest, all in favor of global warming. The problems that they and their families will face as individuals are far outweighed by the additional wealth that they will gain as individuals. Even if the wealth of society shrinks, overall, they will end up owning a much larger piece of a smaller pie.

The idea that by being nice to Exxon they may see the light is delusive. Technology is going to go on, and they are going to fall, because they aren't an energy company -- they can only do oil. Resisting them and hastening their fall is an important part of what we have to do.

Brian Hayes said...

Fine folks here. Thank you. The muddle of values is outright slog, I think, likely mediated as much by shock & suffering than by promulgating vision. I'm asserting it's the scientific reports that do the yeoman work, the massive learning where motive takes root. Increasing and defending models and accuracy is the true challenge. I'm grateful for that very dedicated work; voting it up. I'm merely wee nervous about distraction along the lines of fixing voices here and there. The receptive do not battle.

Brian Hayes said...

Oh phooey. Signed on to post this snippet but forgot:

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen

Andy S said...

Do you teach at UT because your questions on invasive species are the same as a good friend of mine who does.

Global diversity waxes and wanes according to the division and separation of its land masses. There is good evidence that Pangea resulted in lower biodiversity. Evolution produces more types of life when they are physically unable to interact with one another for several reasons.

Different creatures are created to fill the same biochemical/physical niche through random mutations when evolution occurs on separate continents or on the same one where the populations are kept separate by some physical barrier. To breach that barrier means the loss of this redundancy.

Coevolution of defense and competition systems occurs amongst interacting species. Species brought new to the battlefield often have an evolved set of systems for which their new neighbors have no defense. The overkill hypothesis (homo sapien colonization of the continents and islands) would point to hundreds if not thousands of species of animals and plants made exinct by this action alone.

As to examples: European honeybee has caused the loss of native N American pollinators and probably a bird species - the Carolina Parakeet.

Hawaii - many, many species of birds and plants are extinct because of new species introductions, esp. humans but also pigs, rats and mosquitos. Over half of the birds for example with the colonization of Polynesians, many not directly by man, but by the animals brought along.

It isn't that exinctions from introduced biota are rare, but the documentation of it is relative to its frequency.

Preventing the global biota from moving around isn't that hard. It can be done. The connection is tenuous and even hundreds of years of constant ship travel has allowed only a tiny fraction of the earth's species to hop continents successfully.

adelady said...

Byron. There are differing views about some invasive pest plants. Remember that "Paterson's Curse" was known in South Australia as "Salvation Jane" - because it kept the cattle alive through the low pasture season. (I actually remember the taste of affected milk - very strange.)

It is being eradicated but there are occasional patches of brilliant purple on hillsides in the mid-north in spring.

byron smith said...

Yes, I'm aware it has two popular names (any idea why the positive one is mainly associated with SA?). Nonetheless, it is toxic, particularly to horses (and also to humans via honey, as well as pigs, cattle and to a lesser extent, goats and sheep). Interestingly, it is also generally only able to become established through the actions of other introduced species (rabbits, cattle and horses) in disturbing native vegetation.

Jim Bouldin said...

It's difficult to tell what your main question(s) is/are. This is no simple topic, to be addressed in a paragraph. If you want the extremely simple bottom line, Kooiti hit it on the head: invasives, like any ecological forcing agent, are (by def of that term) destabilizing, and decreased stability combined with high complexity = high system unpredictability. Sam's points about defining values are also absolutely critical to any biodiversity discussion.

The ecological equivalent of the IPCC assessment reports is the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). And fully as important.

Michael Tobis said...

> Jim Bouldin has left a new comment on your post "Are Invasive Species a Threat?":

It's difficult to tell what your main question(s) is/are. This is no simple topic, to be addressed in a paragraph.

Outsider questions are like that. I thank you for your patience.


invasives, like any ecological
forcing agent, are (by def of that term) destabilizing, and decreased
stability combined with high complexity = high system unpredictability.


Makes sense. Indeed, a point to make better on our side of the aisle. The bigger the forcing, the less reliable the prediction.

The ecological equivalent of the IPCC assessment reports is the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). And fully as important.

Thanks. I think I may have been very dimly aware of that. Again, one shouldn't take any knowledge for granted in one's listener.

Jim Bouldin said...

"Indeed, a point to make better on our side of the aisle. The bigger the forcing, the less reliable the prediction."

Absolutely. I'm a very big proponent of exactly that argument. It's nearly well enough addressed IMO.

btw I thought your questions were fine-they're likely shared by many. Just very difficult to answer simply.

Jim Bouldin said...

NOT nearly well enough addressed that is

Rich Puchalsky said...

"btw I thought your questions were fine-they're likely shared by many."

I didn't think they were fine. They are questions that are shared by many people who haven't looked into the issues at all. Not by people who have been involved in related issues in depth for more than a decade.

Again, this is an example of heuristics that must be adopted if science education is going to work not being adopted. It's not the biodiversity people's fault that they e.g. somehow didn't explain well or accessibly enough. They did. But their listener, in this case, didn't adopt the heuristic "trust the consensus of a scientific field unless you really know enough to evaluate it." As well as the heuristic "someone who has tried to deceive you in the past will try to deceive you in the future" in Bailey's case.

Michael Tobis said...

The latter heuristic was very much in force. I don't trust Bailey or Reason magazine. I'm torn about libertarian philosophy in theory; I see the appeal. In practice it usually is based on wishful thinking. There is a fellow called Tokyo Tom who occasionally shows up here who is exceptional in this regard.

Which consensus should I trust? There are consensus opinions among economists which I do not accept. The consensus opinions among chiropractors are of no interest to me.

Consensus is important and is the right place to start. I did start there. But there is nothing wrong with questioning a consensus; indeed science begins there. It's only rude when you dismiss it or try to replace it with fringe opinion. I simply raised the fringe opinion; I didn't advocate it.

There are many occasions when this conflation of asking questions and having bad faith actually bites back and reduces credibility.

I certainly appreciate Jim's taking the time to engage. Are you suggesting instead that he should have citicized me for raising Bailey's article even in a skeptical way? I strongly disagree.

Rich Puchalsky said...

"But there is nothing wrong with questioning a consensus; indeed science begins there."

Boilerplate crud. Science does not begin with people saying "Hey, the Earth doesn't move. I don't feel it moving! Those scientists must be all wrong."

I already made the distinction between informed and uninformed skepticism, while your statement above elides.

"It's only rude when you dismiss it or try to replace it with fringe opinion. I simply raised the fringe opinion; I didn't advocate it."

Nope, that's not how it works. Corporate propaganda on these matters, ever since tobacco, works by raising "reasonable doubt". That's exactly what you did. You said that you didn't trust Bailey, but you trusted him sufficiently to bring up his points as if they were points. That's how global climate change becomes something that is debated, in the public mind, rather than something that is settled.

As for whether Jim should have criticized instead of engaging, how should I know what he should do? In any case I'm here to criticize you, so we jointly have that covered. He might as well engage.

Jim Bouldin said...

Rich, if we get to the point where people have to be scared of asking their legitimate questions--or exactly how to phrase them so as to not piss off somebody or other--then we are already in real trouble. If somebody refuses to listen or learn, then we can walk away, but I think we all know that Michael's not in that category.

Rich Puchalsky said...

Jim, saying that we all know Michael's not in that category means that we know something about him as an individual. Yes, I agree with that -- otherwise I would be saying that this is a case of someone who refuses to listen and learn, because as Michael mentions, this is a continuation of questions that he first asked more than a decade ago.

So since I'm addressing a specific person here, it has to be recognized that I'm not roughing up a teenager asking questions for his or her science project. Or a college student working on a term paper. Or a journalist, G-d help us, cluelessly writing to deadline after a working lifetime of covering celebrities and sports and he said/she said political scandals.

Michael should know better than this by now. And it's instructive that he doesn't -- it has larger implications for the same kind of public education that he wants to do. And I don't think he's going to be scared off by me telling him that.

Michael Tobis said...

"it has larger implications for the same kind of public education that he wants to do. And I don't think he's going to be scared off by me telling him that."

I quite agree

"this is a continuation of questions that he first asked more than a decade ago."

Well, yes, but I haven't spent the past ten years looking at them! In fact, I was actively discouraged at the time by Alan calling me names. (I can't exactly recall if you helped.)

Let's note that we are losing; that short term thinking is triumphant, that nobody with any inclination to the long view has much of a plan.

So in this case I can do a reasonably good job of being the clueless outsider. I am interested in how my cluelessness is received.

Jim's approach is much better than Brian's.

"Nope, that's not how it works. Corporate propaganda on these matters, ever since tobacco, works by raising "reasonable doubt". That's exactly what you did. ... That's how global climate change becomes something that is debated, in the public mind, rather than something that is settled."

That's part of it. Part of it is also me being insulted for raising the question. It's hopelessly naive to assume that we had no hand at all in our humiliating defeat.

We do the opposition's recruiting for them. They tell us this. Yet we keep doing it anyway.

Luddite said...

I'm with Eli, Jeff H could probably summarise the principles of invasive species and their effects on local ecology and drive holes in the article big enough to get a bus through, all in one post.

It goes a lot further than invasives simply out-competing local natives (especially in human-disturbed environments). It's also the knock-on effects on multiple levels of heterotrophs (many of whose life-cycles depend, often critically, on particular plants doing particular things) and then those effects feeding back in various ways giving a net negative result (for instance, on flower pollination or fruit/ seed dispersal). Not to mention effects on lower-order heterotrophs affecting other organisms that depend on them, and so on and so on. Then there's effects of exotics on often delicately-poised fire regimes (eucalypts in California anyone? Melaleucas in the Florida Keys?), alterations to soil chemistry and soil water and soil fauna, reductions in soil seed bank, erosion (willows in inland Oz river systems) yada yada yada.

Yes things will eventually "settle" in some highly altered state, and I guess we'll just have to work with what's left.

Rich Puchalsky said...

"We do the opposition's recruiting for them. They tell us this. Yet we keep doing it anyway."

They tell us this out of the goodness of their hearts?

This is where the comment thread veers definitively away from the original subject, so I should let it go. But in brief, only really nonserious people take positions because someone was mean to them on a comment thread somewhere. Ressentiment is important, yes, but it only works as long as there is focussed propaganda keeping these nonserious people stirred up. And, of course, suppression works -- you don't think of it as intellectual bullying when you explain the science to some clueless skeptic, but functionally, that's really what you're doing, and the potential for ressentiment is there just as much as if someone did the whole process more quickly with an insult.

Even further off-thread, the way that industry keeps a coherent group of skeptics together isn't because we insult them, but because industry encourages them to create an alternate community. Look at the histories of prominent skeptics some day: it's all about them socializing to a greater and greater degree with people who reinforce the worldview.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

For all those who think that the climate system is complex, try studying ecology for a while. It will blow your mind.

Keystone species anyone?

adelady said...

Byron. Why SA was different? Because SA was even less suited to European style farming than the eastern states. And human stubbornness - we had that wonderful man Goyder who went out on a horse and worked out the crop carrying limitations of SA soils and rainfall. Need I point out that some people are still grumbling about not getting a good crop off land that was determined to be marginal more than 100 years ago. They still contest the "Goyder line".

As for cattle. Remember in the days before refrigeration, all farms and settlements ran dairy cattle with varying success. Mainly because the land and rainfall were too poor to sustain year round pasture. Saved! by Salvation Jane.

Hank Roberts said...

> deep answer

Once you get your hands dirty, it's the only kind.

Buy the book:

http://www.alibris.com/search/books/qwork/1862149/used/The%20Earth%20Manual%3A%20How%20to%20Work%20on%20Wild%20Land%20Without%20Taming%20It

Then find some place -- an empty lot, an overgrown or barren parcel somewhere. Buy it. Start trying to figure out what it used to be like and what it wants to become. Hire some biology grad students to come and make you a flora and fauna list for the place, visiting it off and on for whatever time they have available. Call your local college and ask, someone will be interested. Once you have their short list you won't be overwhelmed by the huge species lists and keys.

Then think, about MT's question. Think about what's trying to live there and what used to live there.

Discourage what you want less of--or want to take longer to spread. Encourage or leave alone what you want more of.

--> Rates of change <---

Read the book.

Everybody needs a hobby.

skanky said...

I don't know how available it is to non-UK residents, but episode 29 of this BBC R4 programme is on this exact subject:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00rt8qq