Wolves masquerading as sheep: the fallout

29 10 2010


© New Zealand Films


Well, we’ve managed to stimulate quite a lively conversation after dropping the Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests regarding the questionable tactics employed by Alan Oxley and his industrial lobbyist organisations.

Mr. Oxley has responded with vitriol, hand-waving, red herrings and straw men, and failed to address even a single one of our accusations. I am particularly amused by his insinuation that we, the proven scientists, don’t know what science is – but that he does.

Below I reproduce Mr. Oxley’s reaction to our original letter, followed by our response.

I’ll let you, the reader, decide who is most reasonable.


There is too much pseudo-scientific hype today about environmentalism and forestry and not enough fact.

I put this double-barrelled question to the Group of 12 scientists who have rather laboriously wandered over the work of World Growth: What biodiversity is expressly protected by a global cessation of conversion of forest land to other purposes and how is that biodiversity scientifically measured? And let’s have some technical response, not political blather. Read the rest of this entry »

Wolves in sheep’s clothing: industrial lobbyists and the destruction of tropical forests

25 10 2010



As of this morning, a group of distinguished scientists (which I have had the honour of being invited to join) has released an Open Letter to be published in various media outlets worldwide. The letter addresses some of our major concerns over the misinterpretation of facts, and openly misleading statements, by proponents of deforestation in the Asian tropical region. Professor Bill Laurance, an old favourite on ConservationBytes.com, has led the charge and organised a most impressive and shocking list of assertions. I produce the letter below – I encourage all my readers to distribute it as far and wide as possible in the social media-verse.

An Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests

To whom it may concern:

As professional scientists employed by leading academic and research institutions, we are writing to alert the general public about some of the claims and practices being used by the World Growth Institute (WGI) and International Trade Strategies Global (ITS), and their affiliated leadership.

WGI and ITS operate in close association. ITS is owned by Alan Oxley, an Australian industrial lobbyist, former trade representative, and former Ambassador who also heads WGI. According to its website1, ITS also has “close associations” with several politically conservative US think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation.

In our personal view, WGI and ITS — which are frequently involved in promoting industrial logging and oil palm and wood pulp plantations internationally — have at times treaded a thin line between reality and a significant distortion of facts. Specifically, we assert that: Read the rest of this entry »

Yangtze River, colossal dams and famous scientists

23 10 2010


© CJA Bradshaw


Apologies for the silence over the last week – I’ve been a little preoccupied with some business in China. I’ll devote an entire post to my recent trip there (actually, I’m still there – Beijing to be precise), but I thought I’d just explain my absence and provide a little post to sate you until next week.

It’s worth mentioning that I had the enlightening experience of travelling down the Yangtze River between Chongqing and Sandouping last week – this is the area that was flooded by the world’s largest hydro-electric project, the Three Gorges Dam. This is my fourth trip to China and I’ve usually come away with the adjective ‘big’ describing pretty much everything I see here (big agriculture, big population, big pollution, big hotels, big cities…); however, in this case, ‘big’ doesn’t even come close. It’s bloody massive, and the ecological devastation (not to mention the 1.3 million people it displaced) is hard to describe in words. Sure, there are beautiful bits left (see the accompanying photo), but most of the damage is under water and along the banks of the mighty (and now, a lot mightier) Yangtze River. Read the rest of this entry »

Blog Action Day 2010 – Water neutrality and its biodiversity benefits

16 10 2010

In my little bid to participate in Change.org’s Blog Action Day 2010 – Water, I’ve re-hashed a post from 2008 on ‘water neutrality’. This will also benefit my recently joined readers, and re-invigorate a concept I don’t think has received nearly enough attention globally (or even in parched Australia where I live). So here we go:

The world’s freshwater ecosystems are in trouble. We’ve extracted, poisoned, polluted, damned and diverted a large proportion of the finite (and rather small!) amount of freshwater on the planet. Now, most people might immediately see the problem here from a selfish perspective – no clean, abundant water source = human disease, suffering and death. Definitely something to avoid, and a problem that all Australians are facing (i.e., it’s not just restricted to developing nations). Just look at the Murray-Darling problem.

In addition to affecting our own personal well-being, freshwater ecosystems are thought to support over 10000 fish species worldwide (see also a recent post on Africa’s freshwater biodiversity’s susceptibility to climate change), and the majority of amphibians and aquatic reptiles. Current estimates suggest that about 1/3 of all vertebrate biodiversity (in this case, number of species) is confined to freshwater. As an example, the Mekong River system alone is thought to support up to 1700 different species of fish.

So, what are some of the ways forward? The concept of ‘water neutrality’ is essentially the wet version of carbon neutrality. It basically means that water usage can be offset by interventions to improve freshwater habitats and supply. Read the rest of this entry »

September 2010 Issue of Conservation Letters out

13 10 2010

Conservation Lettersfifth issue (September) of Volume 3 is now out. Some good ones here.

CJA Bradshaw

The importance of being serious in science

11 10 2010

CJA Bradshaw1,2

1The Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

2South Australian Research and Development Institute, Henley Beach, South Australia, Australia


The rising influence of the conservative voice in science politics (Prick et al. 1981; Wanker, Apcin, Jennerjahn & Waibel 1998) compels the modern empiricist to conduct experimentation, publication and general science communication in an entirely open and highly professional manner (Pain 1996). However, scientists having not yet established a solid reputation for objective excellence (Loser, Jennings, Strauss & Sandig 1998), might find this approach challenging. Of course, scientific mentoring (God, Gumm & Stump 2001; Lancelot et al. 2005) has assisted bringing younger scientists to the fore of public science debates (Odour 1996), even though their ability to convince public dissenters (Yob et al. 2001) might appear futile (Russell & Waste 1998) without employing unconventional communication tools.

To measure a scientist’s capacity to address misinformation (Wrong, Norden & Feest 1994) quickly, efficiently and wittily, here I present a novel analysis measuring the degree of humour employed by scientists as a function of years elapsed since obtaining a PhD. I hypothesise that the use of humour will decrease with age.


I used the ISI® Web of Science search tool to compare 153,496 scientists’ output and impact scores (assessed using the m-index; Crap et al. 1995). I then manually assigned an entirely subjective measure of comedic content for each paper’s title and abstract, summing over each author’s publication list. This, the Subjective Humour Index Tally (S.H.I.T) was then regressed against the number of years elapsed since PhD. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Biology Students’ Wonder Wiki

8 10 2010


© H Grebe


After the last full day of Supercharge Your Science in Townsville a few weeks ago, the other presenters and I, plus a few keen punters, headed to the pub for a few well-earned beers. There I had the distinct pleasure of meeting up again with Piero Visconti, a PhD candidate at James Cook University and in the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (we had met previously in July at the International Congress for Conservation Biology in Edmonton).

Piero, in his typically Italian exuberance, was excited to tell me about a Society for Conservation Biology initiative especially geared toward conservation biology students. I said I had never heard of the idea, so suggested Piero write a little post for ConservationBytes.com telling the world about it. Piero has come through with the goods, and so I give you the conservation biology students’ wiki:

About a year ago in Prague at the European Congress of Conservation Biology, a group of students met informally to discuss what the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) could do to help students during their career. The group came up with a bunch of good ideas, but one especially turned out to be a great success: a wiki for conservation biology students.

This wiki would be accessible and open to everyone’s contribution. It would host anything from upcoming events, scholarship offers, grant notices, jobs adverts, advice on writing abstracts, presentations for conferences…etc., etc. The idea there was that a wiki would be a great way to provide students with a continuous and interactive experience with their peers.

Also, there are plenty of useful resources out there for conservation biology students; they just need to be organised into a single, easy-to-access and open website. Finally, with international SCB conferences occurring every two years from 2011, the SCB needed a fast and interactive media platform to stay in touch with its student members and listen to their requests. Read the rest of this entry »

More rain forest regeneration opportunities

5 10 2010

Last November I wrote about an exciting conservation research endeavour (see ‘How to restore a tropical rain forest‘)  in which I am involved called the Thiaki Rain Forest Regeneration Project taking place as we speak in the hinterland of north Queensland’s Atherton Tableland. I personally have done next to nothing on the project yet (UQ’s Margie Mayfield is leading the charge), so I can’t really update you on all the nitty-gritty of our progress. Regardless, I can say that some of the planting tests have been done, the species have been chosen and are growing happily in the nursery reading for planting in January 2011, and the baseline biodiversity assessments are well under way.

Well, prior to our Supercharge Your Science extravaganza in Cairns and Townsville a few weeks ago, I visited Penny & Noel at Thiaki for a catch up, a discussion of what’s been happening and what’s about to happen. It was a great weekend (the family came along too) with good food, wine, ticks and leeches (biodiversity in action), and I’m getting more and more excited about what this project will deliver over the coming years.

In the meantime, a couple of ‘opportunities’ have arisen; in other words – we need some good PhD students to tackle some outstanding issues with the project. Read the rest of this entry »

The balancing act of conservation

1 10 2010

Image via Wikipedia

Navjot Sodhi & Paul Ehrlich‘s book, Conservation Biology for All, has just been reviewed in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. I’ve blogged about the book before and our contributing chapter (The conservation biologist’s toolbox), so I’ll just copy the very supportive review here by Rosie Trevelyan.

Conservation Biology for All is a textbook that aims to be a one-stop shop for conservation education. The book is packed with information, is wide ranging, and includes most emerging issues that come under the umbrella of conservation biology today. Sodhi and Ehrlich have brought together a total of 75 experts from many disciplines to provide a smorgasbord of up-to-date conservation concepts and case studies. Leading conservation biologists contribute to every chapter either as authors of the main text or of the boxes that give real life examples of the conservation issue being covered. The boxes add hugely to the information included in each chapter, and many are well worth returning to on their own. Read the rest of this entry »