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Roger Payne.
Photo: Iain Kerr

December 14, 2001
"Is Scientific Whaling Motivated by Curiosity?"
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The thing that bothers me so much about Japan's scam called "Scientific Whaling" is that it is such a gross distortion of science—a transparent lie—a public lie (and people hate to be lied to). Lies always increase the liar's burden more than they can ever lighten it.

Let us try to get a better perspective about what is going on by bringing the equivalent of scientific whaling up on land. Suppose you came from the imaginary country of Kazan and you worked for a logging company with a dreadful history of irresponsible forestry that, along with its competitors, had reduced several species of valuable timber trees to remnant populations and brought others close to extinction. Just the way the whalers did with whales. Suppose that your country was a member of the ILC—the International Lumberman's Commission—a parallel to the IWC, and that the International Whaling Commission, was established to oversee the orderly development of lumbering. And suppose that a moratorium on cutting the remaining forests of several endangered species of trees had been passed by an overwhelming majority of the member nations of the ILC. How could you get around this law so as to go right ahead cutting down those protected trees?

Well... if, as there is in the laws of the International Whaling Commission, there was also a provision of the ILC that allowed countries to issue permits to their own scientists to procure specimen trees for scientific research you might seize on that and institute a program of "Scientific Logging."

Alight with scientific zeal, you could attend ILC meetings and present your "Scientific Logging" proposal to its Scientific Committee for review. For the sake of argument let us say that you hit on the ruse of studying the succession of forest tree species that grew up after a clear-cut, and that you were pushing this nonsense hard, even though there were (and you knew it) already far more comprehensive published studies available that involved far larger areas and far larger numbers of trees of the same species than you would ever dare ask for permission to cut down now (just as there are far longer, larger, and more comprehensive studies on the same questions Japan is so diligently "Researching" on whales).

To keep this example parallel with the scientific whaling case, let us also assume that you insisted on participating in the review of your own proposals the way the whalers do (rather than recusing yourself from the Committee of the ILC during discussion of your proposal). But that in spite of this extraordinary behavior, your proposal got rejected anyway. You would then have to watch as the Scientific Committee recommended to the full commission that your government not issue you a permit to do your "Scientific Logging". And you would keep on watching as the full commission followed that recommendation, and formally urged your government not to give your scientific logging project a permit.

But you would not have been defeated. You would go home, and urge your government to ignore the International Logging Commission's recommendation (using, by the way, the same "scientific" arguments rejected by the ILC's Scientific Committee to support your case), and your government would probably approve your application (after all, your political representatives are too involved in other matters to know that the science you propose is both unnecessary and deeply flawed). Triumphant—and with permit in hand—you would hire crews, sharpen the chainsaws, fuel up the log skidders, and head back to the forest to cut down the very trees the rest of the world had united to spare. And furthermore… you would justify this act by saying that the scientists who disagreed with your science were using flawed arguments, even though, of course, the other scientists on the Scientific Committee of the International Logging Commission had far more collective experience than you and your fellow scientists did. And when the criticism for what you were getting away with by rubbing the name of science in the mud got tough, you would play the racism card, accusing others that they were "Kazan Bashing".

Time would pass, and as your "ever-so-important research" ground on, you would discover some trivial point about forest succession that had been omitted (as probably being to irrelevant) from other far more comprehensive studies of forest succession, and you would then tout it loudly to the press.

But in the meantime you would have to face your most difficult decision so far: what to do with all those pesky logs littering your "study site"? There would be no point in letting them rot. So you'd sell them, I suppose, even though you know that by doing so you would demonstrate, conclusively, that right from the start the whole point of your Scientific Logging project was to keep right on selling logs.

But what the Hell, you're getting your way, and making lots of money. And you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that you're just following Kazan's tradition—taking what you want without regard for the rest of the world's opinion. And anyway, you've lived your whole life as a citizen of a country with the worst environmental record on earth—so why worry?

And you don't. You just decide you wont. You just go ahead, steamrolling over world opinion. And every time you get the chance to do so, you score the United States for steamrolling over world opinion, failing to realize that when you opt to follow their example you become... well... no better than they are.

But you need to be able to answer one more question and this one is the most difficult of all: when you claim that your scientific whaling is motivated by scientific curiosity alone how seriously do you think the rest of the world will take your claim?

Let me help you answer that question: Scientific Logging fools no one, just as Scientific Whaling fools no one. It is obvious to everyone who isn't brain dead that any country that puts into effect such an outrageous program does so solely so it can continue to harvest a protected resource. But here the analogy with whales breaks down, because protected resources in the sea, as opposed to those like timber on land, are the patrimony of all humanity—not the private property of the Kazanese, or the Japanese, or the citizens of some country whose corrupt officials have sold off their forests to the Kazanese (or the Japanese) for personal gain).

This is Roger Payne, speaking to you from land, where all I can see is clearcuts... that stretch to the horizon in all directions.

(c) 2001 Written by Roger Payne

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