Abi Queen 
Member since Jun 1, 2014


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Re: “A Birder Takes a Fall

I was part of a group from Petrolia who participated extensively in the MLPA process here on the North Coast. This article provokes mixed feelings based on that experience: on the one hand, there’s a sense of, “see, we’re not crazy, there was bad science here,” and on the other hand, there’s a renewal of that same old sense of frustrated powerlessness against the absolute power of the science team.

For the citizens who helped create the new Marine Protected Areas, wrestling with the soi-disant science was both Herculean and Kafkaesque. Even with clear data it would have been an epic challenge, but gradually it became clear that the data we were asked to use was pitted with elisions and smeared with error. We found ourselves working not with solid, reliable data but with shifting shadows. Certain empirically observable facts such as the existence of kelp or of large near-shore rocks were summarily refuted by the assertions of science team on which Levalley had a prominent role. At one meeting, an MLPA stakeholder from one of the Humboldt Bay management organizations gave a brief presentation about the problem of “floating rocks.” He displayed images of large near-shore rocks in areas that the MLPA’s scientists had categorized as not rocky. But their word was law: if the science said it was not rocky, then those mountains of rock jutting up above the waves were merely illusions born of our proletarian ignorance. I used to joke about the “invisible kelp” when we saw it bloom just beyond the breakers where we live. We, the citizens residing in the area, could see the stuff, but according to the science that dictated how we mapped the Marine Protected Areas, that kelp did not exist. They were right because they were scientists. There’s a nightmarish kind of irony to it: science ought to be all about empiricism, but this seemed to be nothing more than irrational elitism.

Perhaps Lavalley did conscientiously perform the survey work for the MLPA’s North Coast regional profile. Perhaps defrauding the local tribes was enough. But this seems unlikely, what with the federal conviction and little problems like floating rocks and invisible kelp. It sounds like his colleagues in the scientific community are standing by him. It may be overly optimistic to hope that in the future, democratic legislative processes like the MLPA process will be guided by empirical facts (like rocks) rather than by a biased preference for elite opinions.

Science and empiricism are the bedrock of our culture’s liberal values (liberal in the Lockean, non-partisan sense). Maybe our scientists should take some more history classes.

23 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Abi Queen on 06/01/2014 at 8:01 AM

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