To: Scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
From: Uncle Joe
Subject: The Scientific Method
Dear scientific friends from away,
I am not a scientist, although I did get pretty good grades in high school biology and chemistry.
I am an old newspaper guy who learned my trade from elderly mentors who sipped cold beers at the loading dock after the giant presses rolled out the last edition.
One of the questions I asked them was about verification. How do you know it is OK to rely on the information you get from a source? When should you accept it? When should you check it out? They all laughed and said, almost in unison, “If your mother says she loves you, check it. Then work from there.”
That saying is almost universal in the old newspaper world, supposedly originating in the old Chicago City News Bureau, which served as a hard knocks boot camp for aspiring reporters. Their teachings to rookie police reporters are sound advice to today’s scientific community.
The other day, your public relations folks at the Sea Watch program urged the nation’s stores and restaurants to avoid Maine lobsters because they allegedly harmed right whales.
Your pronouncement raised a big stink in our neighborhood as it threatens the livelihood of our lobster fishing friends who harvest lobsters in order to feed their families.
So, as your assertions threaten our local economy, let me ask you a question or two.
How did your marine scientists determine that our local lobstermen and their gear harm right whales?
Could you please point me to the sources explaining that claim?
Did the world marine scientific community spend years doing a series of studies? Did your scientists author papers in scientific journals? Were these papers peer reviewed and tested for accuracy? Did they send investigators to check out the Maine lobster industry?
Is not that the way science works?
Your 73-page report has no direct evidence linking Maine lobster fishers and their gear to right whale injury and/or mortality.
In our neighborhood, marine scientists at the Bigelow Lab for Ocean Science are careful with data. I know investigators like Dr. Barney Balch spent years sailing and measuring the Gulf of Maine waters and its inhabitants large and small. When he says the Gulf is warming, I believe him, for I know he can back up his claims with data. And he published these findings in academic journals.
Did your scientists gather data to bolster your claims? Did they submit their findings in academic journals? Did the journals accept and feature these papers? Or are your warnings based upon suppositions and theories as most of our local politicians claim?
The other day, Sen. Angus King said your investigators never met a lobsterman and never even set foot on a lobster boat. In fact, he says your investigators were never in Maine at all.
I am sure you want to protect whales. So do I.
So do our friendly watermen. Some make a living taking tourists out on the ocean to watch the majestic creatures roll along as they follow the food chain to the north.
I only know one person not enamored by whales. He owns an island where, after a stormy night, a 50-foot long, very dead, humpbacked whale was deposited on the shore. Mother Nature left the carcass on the rocks not far from his summer cottage. It was a mess that was resolved only with a lot of headaches, hard work, and a boost from Mother Nature.
Note, for the record, he is still a fan of whales but will admit, when questioned, that he favors the live ones, rather than their dead cousins.
The other day, Sen. King, usually a quiet pensive fellow, got right frosted when he and Gov. Janet Mills stood in front of a gaggle of TV cameras and attacked your scientific study.
In fact, he called it a “supposition wrapped in an assumption inside a conjecture.”
“What in the hell are these people thinking,” he said. “These people are trying to put this industry out of business.”
He said you based your recommendation upon a possibility, a conjecture, a hunch claiming that it is not the act of a responsible scientific institution.
Now, I expect Sen. King, Sen. Susan Collins, Gov. Mills, our congressional delegation, and even their political opponents to back up our local lobstermen.
However, their arguments raise serious questions about the way you practice your profession. So, let this old scribbler offer you a bit of advice.
Remember to always check your findings before you send out the press release.
In the words of the old-time newspaper trade, “If your mother says she loves you, check it.”