Monthly Archives: November 2010

the asshole paradox: salmon theory parade… (we’re getting close folks)

We might be getting so close to the true reason for salmon declines…  I can almost smell it.

throes of death on Stellaquo --- by Lisa Loewen

It’s as strong as a decaying humpy in the noon day soon; or thousands of humpies rotting in the noon day fall sun.

This is groundbreaking, revolutionary, cutting edge, best of the best practices, and ‘benchmark’ of all benchmarks, the immeasurable measurable, the objective objective and strategic strategy…

Maybe we should stop the Cohen Commission, save some time and money, and get down to work on fixing the great salmon killer:

The asshole paradox…

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The Globe and Mail ran a Mark Hume article today:

Anger, conflict helped shape salmon policy, inquiry told

…A panel of retired and current senior officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans described Monday, for the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, how the wild salmon policy was hammered out in a series of intense discussions between 2001 and 2005.

Officials said there was not only conflict between outside stakeholders and DFO, but also internally between departmental scientists and fisheries managers.

…A series of e-mails obtained by The Globe and Mail show that DFO officials often bristled at criticism they were getting from NGOs while the policy was being developed.

In one communication, Mr. Chamut describes conservationists, who were in discussions with DFO in shaping the policy, as “assholes.”

(It’s quite odd this… I can think of a few politicians that have been removed from their posts due to comments less harsh than this. Yet, public service employees may not be held to the same standard…?)

Sadly, the “asshole” statement is the history of salmon ‘management’ over the last century or so — ever more so in the last fifty years or so, and heating up substantially in the last two decades. It is a mirror image of so many fisheries around the world that exploded in growth over the last half century — too many fisherfolks; not enough fish

…and apparently too many assholes criticizing the processes dealing with these issues.

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See here’s part of  the asshole paradox: Simply by owning up to the fact of being an asshole, you are well on your way to becoming an ex-asshole.

I was one of those “assholes” that did work for NGOs that criticized the Wild Salmon Policy.

I still criticize it… it’s a bunch of nice words on paper with very little budget to be implemented with any real meaning. It’s full of bumpf and bafflegab — says a lot without saying much at all. The issues that salmon face (or any threatened ecosystems) will not be solved by techno-scientific empty-terms parading on paper as ‘solutions’.


(whewee, thank ghad, I feel better now… maybe I’m on my way to becoming an ex-asshole)


And, yet… this view of from within the federal ministry tasked with looking after wild salmon is prevalent — Anyone from outside of the organization that criticizes its work… is an asshole. Or even someone from outside of one’s department… is an asshole)

Not with everyone in the organization, not by any sense of the imagination. There are many great folks within DFO — however any institution that has a history of labeling critics as “assholes”… will have a hard time breaking that institutional history.

(case in point, I think my name might have been followed by “what an asshole…” at meetings over the last while where I’ve attempted to ask some hard, honest questions of the federal ministry responsible for looking after wild salmon)

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Does it not amaze you how kids nursery rhymes  and schoolground taunting remains very much the same over time…?

e.g., “sticks and stones will break my bones…”

It’s an institutional culture.

Does it not amaze you that the antics within the House of Commons, our national governing institution, remains very much the same over time… you know… the “hear, hear” and “mr. speaker…” — and that it does not operate much different than an elementary school playground?

“what a bunch of assholes… we don’t need to listen to them… we know what we’re doing here… we know best…”

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And, so what do you think happens with those working outside of DFO looking in and being critical?

“oh those assholes… there goes frigging DFO again on their strategic, objective, benchmarking, best practicing policy…”

And thus the paradox:

All of those outside of DFO, criticizing DFO material — are assholes.

All of those inside of DFO, producing DFO material — are assholes.

My only question then is… what does that make retired ex-DFO people? (such as the one’s testifying at the Cohen commission this week)

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Well, at least if everyone would admit they’re an asshole… then we could have a crapload of people on their way to becoming ex-assholes.

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So what is the great theory that solves the great mystery of salmon disappearances (and reappearances)?

All us assholes.

everything is Marketing…and death by PowerPoint…

I’ve read this ‘marketing statement in a few places… the death one, I made up somewhat… and there is a lot of truth to both — including the wild salmon world.

At the beginning of this past week I sat through two days of presentations from the Department of Fisheries and Ocean on fisheries catch monitoring including: First Nation fisheries, commercial and recreational/sport. (One of my recommendations to presenters was to visit Garr Reynold’s blog Presentation Zen and some of the work of Nancy Duarte… I also recommend Edward Tufte’s work and books on how to present statistical and quantitative information)

Part of the reason for this is:

everything is marketing


marketing is everything

Seth Godin has a decent post on the issue from January this year:

In between frames

Scott McCloud’s classic book on comics explains a lot more than comics.

A key part of his thesis is that comic books work because the action takes place between the frames. Our imagination fills in the gaps between what happened in that frame and this frame, which means that we’re as much involved as the illustrator and author are in telling the story.

Marketing, it turns out, works precisely the same way.

Marketing is what happens in between the overt acts of the marketer. Yes you made a package and yes you designed a uniform and yes you ran an ad… but the consumer’s take on what you did is driven by what happened out of the corner of her eye, in the dead spaces, in the moments when you let your guard down.

Marketing is what happens when you’re not trying, when you’re being transparent and when there’s no script in place.

It’s not marketing when everything goes right on the flight to Chicago. It’s marketing when your people don’t respond after losing the guitar that got checked.

It’s not marketing when I use your product as intended. It’s marketing when my friend and I are talking about how the thing we bought from you changed us.

It’s not marketing when the smiling waitress appears with the soup. It’s marketing when we hear two waiters muttering to each other behind the serving station.

Consumers are too smart for the frames. It’s the in-between frame stuff that matters. And yet marketers spend 103% of our time on the frames.

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See, it’s not just public service workers that succumb to the “death by PowerPoint” disease; I was audience to another dreadful PowerPoint presentation on Wens this past week following two days of fisheries meetings. This presentation was on literacy in Canada. The sad part is that some of the stats within the presentation were rather stunning — the presentation itself, however… was absolutely dreadful.

It was jammed full of graphs from Microsoft Excel (about as much creativity as a block of concrete) and slides so full of ‘bullets’ they looked like beer cans dead by a fence post at a rural redneck protest against Canada’s long gun registry.

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To give you an idea of some of the stunners… over 9 million Canadians have literacy levels of Level 1 and 2 — on a 5-Level scale. Level 3 is the level suggested to be the minimum to function effectively in today’s society — and about equivalent to a high school graduate.

One of the industries with the biggest gaps between what is required for literacy skills, and what is actually present in the workforce:


(now that’s a scary thought).

Worse yet… research suggests that 98% of nurses do not have the literacy skills required for their often highly technical jobs.

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Here’s the challenge:        you  can have some of the best, most alarming, most important, statistics and information ever…     However, if you can not present them well (e.g. the “frames” as Godin calls them), or in a unique way that cuts through the buzz of today’s Information Age… you and your info will be lost in the noise of today’s society. You won’t even make it to the space in between the frames… other than folks suggesting “man… did you stay awake for that PowerPoint presentation…”

(And trust me, spending hours agonizing on the little bullet point animation tricks — e.g. “checkerboard from right”, “flash from left” and so on and so on — only make it worse.

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How does this fit in the salmon world?

Well… everyone is so busy trying to prove their own statistics (see post on salmon science and Ikea effect for dangers of this), or arguments, or “best practices”, or “strategic frameworks” or “statistical models” for saving salmon — and thus many seem to have forgotten the: “in-between frames stuff.”

An other big part of the “in-between stuff” (you know, it’s like how coffee breaks and lunch time are always the most productive components of workshops or conferences) is that the frames that corral the “in-between” should be seriously innovative, seriously different, and just plain… less serious.

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The combination of PowerPoint — or overhead slides in general — and a speaker to provide narrative, is an excellent tool; it’s an opportunity. However, like the great yin and yang, it’s also a frigging crutch.

Some PowerPoint presentations are so bad these days that i’d almost prefer if people put their entire presentation in tiny print and asked me to read it and ask questions when I was done.

PowerPoint hell by N. American leading salmon scientist

Case in point from a keynote speaker, who is also a leading North American salmon scientist, at a conference this past March with delegates from all around the Pacific Rim.

Death by PowerPoint… double ‘p’ homicide…

Collaboration: the key to social change

Now here’s a thought:

Collaboration the key to social change

“It’s not technology or money that’s lacking but a culture of collaboration,” Richard Alvarez, president and CEO of Canada Health Infoway told The Globe and Mail recently.

…Wicked problems are complex and deeply rooted and they involve many stakeholders in government, business and the community. No single actor, no matter how much money and clout it has, can overcome such problems. Instead, all the stakeholders must make common cause, contributing skills, influence and resources that can make social transformation unfold.

Achieving social change requires a different set of operating values, according to Michael Edwards, author of Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World. These operating values are co-operation rather than competition, collective action more than individual effort, and patient, long-term support for systemic results over immediate results.

I couldn’t agree more…

The last several days I have been on the road. Monday and Tuesday were spent in a conference room with the curtains closed watching numerous PowerPoint Presentations by Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff. All of the presentations were focussed on fisheries catch monitoring — First Nation, commercial and recreational.

(with some irony the next two days of my trip involve literacy and community development — I’ll have a post soon with thoughts on the importance of the links between all of these)

The two day “workshop” was put together by a ‘committee’ of First Nations and DFO reps. Unfortunately, they may not have got the memo on the ‘operational values’ espoused above:  “co-operation rather than competition, collective action more than individual effort, and patient, long-term support for systemic results over immediate results.”

I don’t doubt that the intention for positive results was forgotten… just that some of the approaches are the same old, same old. For example, one of the first presentations was a ‘concept’ presentation. “Concept” in that there was nothing to share other than the concept of another DFO “strategic framework”. There were some “ideas thrown around” on how a “risk continuum might look like”.

Nothing concrete, nothing overly solid.

The issue I have, is not the fact that the presentation was about a forthcoming document, and was presented in the spirit of trying to let folks know about a “Draft” document coming out that would involve “consultation”.

The issue is that if there is a true spirit with the Department to truly engage in collaborative management, or joint management, or the scariest term “co-management”… then it can’t continue to write Draft documents and “strategic frameworks” behind closed doors and then suggest that they are “open for input”.

If collaboration is not present from the beginning — such as the moment pencil hits paper — then the ‘wicked complex deeply rooted problems’ (e.g. looking after wild salmon) will only continue to fester and knot themselves so tight that all circulation is choked off.

This is not to necessarily sound like another DFO-bashing rant, as I met some very good people that work within the organization with passion and fervor for the issues; it’s more to suggest that we can all do better.

We have to do better.

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As suggested above: everyone involved “must make common cause, contributing skills, influence and resources that can make social transformation unfold.”

As “collaborate” does mean: “To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.”

However that is made very difficult when the player with the majority of the sticks, balls, bats and financial resources lays the first foundation with no input from others and then says — “ok, now we’re ready for your input…”

Once words are on paper — and ‘risk continuums’ and ‘strategic frameworks’ and ‘cost-benefit analysis’ and so on — then positions are entrenched, defensive barricades have been erected, the artillery is ready to fire, and the momentum of the growing snowball rolling downhill is underway.

When there are power imbalances, resource imbalances, 150 years of not-so-good history, and some real barriers to empathy and understanding of other teams — then ‘common cause’ (e.g. the fish and all they support) and social transformations become even more difficult then they already are.

Salmon Theory Parade

Salmon Parade Float

In honor of the parade of theories on wild salmon, wild salmon declines, wild salmon inclines, salmon behavior and so on, and so on — I have added a new category to the blog “Theory Parade”.

salmon float

Here’s one of the floats in that parade — the low food supply float. This float in the parade is decorated with a lack of phytoplankton, a lack of volcanic ash, and a lack of North Pacific Gyre — however there is some El Nino on one side of the float and some La Nina on the other side, driving the float is the Pacific decadal oscillation, on the rear are some squid and mackerel, and on the front is a beautiful sparkling dead zone of ocean acidification.

As you can probably guess… this is more of a float for Halloween then Christmas.

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This headline out of the Vancouver Sun yesterday:

The theory here, in essence, that the chum from Goldstream (just north of Victoria, BC) went out to see in 2007 the same year that last year’s returning adult sockeye would have gone out as little gaffers.

Somehow between 2007 and 2008 — these theories (i.e. parade floats) suggest — the North Pacific shifted from a Saharan wasteland of salmon starvation to a Pacific Eden of dates of honey. Some suggest volcanic eruptions and ash deposited on the sea created a phytoplankton boom and thus the Pacific salmon Eden.

salmon parade

Further, thus, unless the Indonesian eruptions of late are depositing on the North Pacific, this year’s sockeye boom might only be a one off Thanksgiving Parade… we now return to a Saharan-like wasteland…





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Returning to Goldstream for a moment… the un-mentioned in the article is the great cost at which Goldstream Creek has any salmon in it whatsoever. See it has, as far as I understand, at least three dams on it — largely for drinking water and what not. Yet, millions of dollars have been spent on the bottom last kilometre or so of the stream to “restore” salmon habitat.


Also, as far as I understand, it was never really a huge salmon producer historically.

About a decade or so ago I was on a ‘field visit’ to Goldstream as part of a “restoration”/”reclamation” conference. This was the time when millions upon millions of dollars was being poured into stream restoration and rehab; the time of the great Forest Renewal program; and other various slush funds.

cash cow... cash salmon?

There was some decent work done around BC at that time — however there were also some great gravy train — cash cow pet projects as well. One of them being Goldstream.

I asked the question, while touring the million dollar projects, is there a relation between the stream a mere miles from the urban Provincial capital and the amount of money being spent on a stream that will never be “restored” unless the dams are torn down…?

ohhh, the dirty looks — or “stink eye” as we call it around our house.

watching Chum at Goldstream

Sure, one could front the argument that the number of people that walk the trails of Goldstream, learning about salmon and habitat rehab, that this makes it all worth it…

It’s a similar argument that suggests that the “salmon in the classroom” project, whereby elementary kids raise salmon in classroom aquariums, is an excellent opportunity to teach about ecology, salmon life histories and so on. And, that when those kids release those baby salmon into the streams in buckets and then a few years later watch the adults return — is also a great learning opportunity.

However, is it also such a wise idea to teach our youth that the simple solution to ecology is technology?

Or, that to “restore” streams we simply need to get professional engineers involved and spend millions of dollars on heavy equipment and highly engineered habitat structures?

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The real story around B.C. this year is that the bumper sockeye return to the Fraser River is largely an exception. Furthermore, that bumper is mainly just to the lower and lower-mid Fraser (e.g. the Adams River run probably comprises as much as 60-70% of the total Fraser sockeye return this year). There are no records up here in the Upper Fraser river for sockeye or any other salmon — or sturgeon for that fact.

About the only ‘record’ I’ve heard from other areas, is a good return of steelhead to the Skeena River — some theorizing that its because there was such a limited gillnet commercial fishery at the Skeena mouth this year (one of least species-selective methods of fishing).

Sure there were some decent salmon runs here and there — but when a stream such as Goldstream with its millions of dollars in human-made habitat structures and hatchery released chum, has a near record low run — or at least the bare minimum escapement to support the future (e.g. 4500 adults) — then we are far from out of the woods.

(worse yet, we sure as hell don’t have a breadcrumb trail like Hansel and Gretel to follow to get ourselves out of the deep dark woods).

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somewhat more disturbing to me is statements such as this from the Vancouver Sun article:

Dick Beamish, senior scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s Pacific Biological Station, said returns at Goldstream are below the numbers expected, but chum runs around the Strait of Georgia were expected to be down this year…

… The good news is that, even if no more fish turn up, the 4,500 that have already spawned are enough to sustain the run.

“That is a sufficient number of fish to meet conservation goals for this year,” Beamish said.

No offence intended to Mr. Beamish — however its these sort of statements made with such certainty that may very well have got us into this position in the first place.

How can we be so sure that the “conservation goals” are being met… when we don’t even know what has caused the crash of so many salmon runs over the last decade?

How do we know that “conservation goals” are being met and that 4500 adult chum spawning in Goldstream is enough to ‘maintain’ the run when we have no idea what the baby salmon from these adults are going to have to face in the North Pacific (or Salish Sea for that fact) when they migrate out?

Well… the only thing we have is past knowledge. What has happened historically.

That’s great… but it’s only half the story.

In an age of such uncertainty — with things like climate change, shifting ocean currents, rapid ocean acidification, erupting volcanoes potentially fertilizing oceans, and the like — how can we run around making comments with such certainty that:

“The good news is that, even if no more fish turn up, the [whatever number] that have already spawned are enough to sustain the run.”

We just don’t know.

How do we, thus, then look after salmon in a time of such uncertainty and potential for rapid changes? Well… it’s called the precautionary approach.

With a whole lot of weight on the PRE and the CAUTION.

Meanwhile… the theory parade continues…

human knowledge growth and generation? “Sea of facts” delays Commission.

The Globe and Mail has a fancy graphic from the paper yesterday suggesting:

“The generation of human knowledge continues to increase at a logarithmic scale, doubling between 2008 and 2010.”

Globe and Mail culture graphic

Reminds me of the work of Edward Tufte. It’s a somewhat clever graphic; presenting information in an interesting way — e.g., it’s not some flippin PowerPoint slide with bullet points.  However, as I looked closer the title and quote is rather misleading.

First, looking at the graphic one is led to believe that using Facebook, texting, downloading music, and using a “smart” phone represents knowledge generation. If that’s the case then present-day teenagers have got to be the most incredible ‘generators of knowledge’ in the history of the human race… And that workplaces and classrooms must seriously re-consider the practice of banning these practices and devices.

Secondly, “market penetration” as represented by the big yellow circle is a good indicator of ‘human knowledge’?

Then I guess McDonald’s with its billions and billions served is one incredible source of human knowledge — or Nike, or Starbucks…

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If sending my wife a text message: “c u at strbx 15 min… need a buzz lol” is ‘knowledge generation’… then, houston, we might have a problem.

Or someone posting pictures on Facebook of some weekend drunken debauchery… hmmm.

There is some debate about what “knowledge” is — go to Wikipedia, for example. Some common dictionary definitions suggest:

1. The state or fact of knowing.
2. Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study.
3. The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned.

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It does bring me back to salmon issues and, for example, the struggles of the Cohen Commission in sorting through the mass of documents and such related just to Fraser River sockeye. Apparently emails and other correspondence are part of the struggle, meeting minutes and agendas, and so on and so on.

Mark Hume reports in the Globe and Mail yesterday:

Sea of facts delays salmon probe

A $15-million federal inquiry into the management of salmon on the West Coast has been forced into a two-week adjournment to give legal counsel time to digest the huge volume of technical material being disclosed…

…The surprise delay came after the more than 20 lawyers representing participants met with commission counsel to discuss concerns about the volume of scientific documents being filed.

Is all of this ‘activity’ in relation to salmon considered knowledge generation?

Does the great paper shuffle (hard-copy and digital) represent: “Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study”?

And why just the “scientific documents”?

One of the most interesting components of Justice Bruce Cohen’s terms of reference as he summarizes in his interim report:

“to investigate and make findings of fact regarding … the causes for the decline,” the current state of stocks; and the long-term projections for those stocks;

I am not a lawyer, but I understand “findings of fact” to be a legal term. In a quick online search, this definition seems to fit:

Findings Of Fact is the decision, opinion or observation arrived by a judge or jury on the issues related to the facts that are submitted for a decision of the court. The finding of facts ultimately influence the judgment.

Wow… OK.

Fair enough, Justice Cohen can only make “findings of fact” based on what’s put before him and his team. Furthermore, that Justice Cohen’s “findings of fact” will be a key component of his determining “the causes for the decline, the current state of stocks; and the long-term projections for those stocks.”

For myself, that simply highlights the importance of making sure that many more folks — other than experts, government managers, and scientists — that have “knowledge” of salmon, for example are in “the state or fact of knowing”, or have “familiarity, awareness or understanding gained through experience or study”, or have a “sum or range of knowledge of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned” about salmon — need to better inform Justice Cohen’s “findings of fact.”

Plus, there needs to a good solid effort to separate the wheat from the chaff…

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What a curious thing… that something as hotly debated as determining why salmon have declined, actual status of stocks, and long term projections has to be defined (as a finding of fact) within the quasi-legal realm of a judicial inquiry — and within an 18-month period. (at a cost of a mere $15 million or so).

(In comparison, I’d be curious to hear what it cost DFO to devise, write, re-write, consult and implement the Wild Salmon Policy?… something that continues to fail miserably, be underfunded, low priority, etc.)

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And finally… if human knowledge is apparently increasing at a logarithmic scale… shouldn’t we be getting smarter?

Salmon science and the “Ikea effect”.

So here’s a thought… have you heard of the “Ikea effect”?

I came across this idea and term in two different places. First, on a great weblog by Jonah Lehrer called Frontal Cortex, which is now hosted by Wired magazine – the post is: Why making dinner is a good idea (he also has a great post today on precognition). I also came across it in a Harvard Business Review from 2009: When Labor Leads to Love.

HBR List 2009 logoLabor is not just a meaningful experience – it’s also a marketable one. When instant cake mixes were introduced, in the1950s, housewives were initially resistant: The mixes were too easy, suggesting that their labor was undervalued. When manufacturers changed the recipe to require the addition of an egg, adoption rose dramatically. Ironically, increasing the labor involved – making the task more arduous – led to greater liking.

Research conducted with my colleagues Daniel Mochon, of Yale University, and Dan Ariely, of Duke University, shows that labor enhances affection for its results. When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations. We call this phenomenon the IKEA effect, in honor of the wildly successful Swedish manufacturer whose products typically arrive with some assembly required.

In one of our studies we asked people to fold origami and then to bid on their own creations along with other people’s. They were consistently willing to pay more for their own origami. In fact, they were so enamored of their amateurish creations that they valued them as highly as origami made by experts.

Finally, the IKEA effect has broader implications for organizational dynamics: It contributes to the sunk cost effect, whereby managers continue to devote resources to (sometimes failing) projects in which they have invested their labor, and to the not-invented-here syndrome, whereby they discount good ideas developed elsewhere in favor of their (sometimes inferior) internally developed ideas. Managers should keep in mind that ideas they have come to love because they invested their own labor in them may not be as highly valued by their coworkers – or their customers.

Lehrer on his blog discusses other studies on the Ikea effect:

It turns out that the Ikea effect also applies to food, at least in mice. The experiment was simple: Mice were trained to push levers to get one of two rewards. If they pressed lever A, they got a delicious drop of sugar water. If they pressed lever B, they got a different tasting drop of sugar water. (This reward was made with polycose, not sucrose.)

The scientists then started to play mind games with the mice, as they gradually increased the amount of effort required to get one of the sweet rewards. Although the mice only had to press the lever a single time to get the sugar water at the start of the experiment, by the end they were required to press the lever 15 times.

Here’s where things get interesting: When the test was over and the mice were allowed to relax in their home cage, they showed an overwhelming preference for whichever reward they’d worked harder to obtain. More lever presses led to tastier water. (The scientists measured these preferences in a variety of ways, including an analysis of “licking microstructure”. Preferred foods lead to a faster rate of initial licking and longer duration of “licking bursts.”)

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I received an email today announcing another Salmon Think Tank:

Salmon Think Tank

The Ups and Downs of Fraser River Sockeye” – Public Presentation, hosted by SFU December 6, 2010.

The public presentation is a follow-up to: “An invitational think tank of independent scientists” being hosted on Dec. 2/3.

On the SFU website, are lists of “associated resources” that are already accessible. Quite a curious list. For those on the “A” list of the invited independents… it includes nine separate reports.

Three on volcanic ash — the latest and greatest theory to enter the media realm — one on the damaging effects of algae in the ocean, a couple of syntheses from earlier conferences (easy night time reading…) and one from Dr. Carl Walters titled “where have all the sockeye gone?” which consists of a few points that will be sure to stir controversy.

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The number of theories surrounding salmon declines and salmon inclines (such as this year) is more numerous then all the bolts in an IKEA kitchen set that one must build themselves.

As suggested above: “Labor is not just a meaningful experience – it’s also a marketable one.”

So is science. Marketing is actually quite a key component of science – always has been, always will.

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“When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that some of the science backing the great salmon debate is “poorly-made” — like my homemade bookshelves made from scrap wood and old bricks — but maybe more that: “managers continue to devote resources to (sometimes failing) projects in which they have invested their labor, and to the not-invented-here syndrome, whereby they discount good ideas developed elsewhere in favor of their (sometimes inferior) internally developed ideas.”

Or, maybe:

“When the test was over and the mice were allowed to relax in their home cage, they showed an overwhelming preference for whichever reward they’d worked harder to obtain.”

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See, I am curious whether the Cohen Commission will endeavor (or has) to look far past the Fraser River and even the faltering management regime here in Canada that has the specific responsibility to care for salmon.

As I repeat repeatedly… humans are the cause for salmon declines; the death of a thousands cuts — almost all exacted by us. The Fraser River flows through the most populated areas of BC — an ever-growing population — yet still not at the density of other places that Pacific salmon roam.

So where is the seeking information from places like Japan and Korea where wild runs of Pacific salmon have been virtually eliminated? Or the outer reaches of Russia where Pacific salmon still thrive? Or Alaska, or just north of Los Angeles where the historic range of Pacific salmon reaches its southern zenith?

Sure there’s a limit to the reach of research and the mandate of the Commission — but what about these “Think Tanks”?

The challenge is exploring the breadth of the thinking. The nice thing with my salmon think tank above is that it has glass walls and once can actually observe outside of the box — unfortunately, I think many of the great gatherings these days to “think salmon” result in a few too many theories on how to build the IKEA dresser within a confined, curtained-in tank. (…need to keep it dark so everyone can see the PowerPoint better…)

This is a perplexing issue — salmon that is. More confusing then if IKEA sent out entire homebuilding kits that one had to assemble…

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If you’d like further “IKEA effect” — you may need to watch this video… I do wonder if this might somewhat mirror how Justice Cohen feels these days about the salmon debate that he finds himself mired in.

please be forewarned with the standard… this video does contain scenes of coarse language…

here’s something to consider…

I came across this on Garr Reynold’s blog: Presentation Zen (a website, blog, and author that should be required reading for everyone and anyone who uses PowerPoint and gives presentations — especially those who work for government agencies).

This is an excellent animation and discussion by Sir Ken Robinson at the Royal Society of the Arts in London of the challenges that the education system imparts. This is a smaller snippet of a one hour presentation.

It’s brilliant for its style of presentation — however, there’s also some excellent material to ponder.

The discussion around kindergarten kids thoughts on how many uses for a paper clip is rather illuminating for discussions surrounding wild salmon. Apparently as kids get older their creativity gets stifled; as they become more “educated” they become less creative.

Is this something to ponder in the great hallowed halls of pre-eminent experts and scientists…?

Pacific salmon: death of a thousand cuts…?

In relation to posts this past week and the plea from lawyers at the Cohen Commission into the decline of Fraser sockeye for a ‘conference’ to discuss the paper load…

salmon threats

I looked around online and came up with some potential solutions:

simplify 101?

I'm tired of clutter...

aka: garbage bags








Hey… maybe that could be the name of the conference —

Cohen Commission: Clutter free & Clearly organized

(Alliteration at its finest…)

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On a separate note… I appreciated this post from Godin’s blog:

The bright line of small differences

Is there a schism between the folks who love color tattoos and those that like black & white ones? Or the fans of the original Star Trek who hate the folks who like the far inferior newer Star Trek models?

Freud noticed it too.

Here’s why it happens:

First, you have to care. When people care about a brand or a cause or an idea, it’s likely that have other things in common. And the caring causes them to invest attention. Once they’ve done that, they can’t help but notice that others don’t see things the way they do. We ignore the great unwashed and reserve our disdain for those like us, that care like us, but don’t see things as we do.

The really good news is that the tribe cares. If you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing of value. In fact, the squabbling among people who care is the first sign you’re on to something.

Hmmm… squabbling and salmon… those don’t go hand in hand – do they?

Cohen Commission buried in paper: and you’re surprised? How did Einstein define “insanity”?

Upper Fraser fall salmon rally

This article from Wednesday’s Globe and Mail:

Cohen commission: Sockeye inquiry swamped by documents

Lawyers representing participants in the federal Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River say they are being overwhelmed by an avalanche of information.

Nearly 130,000 documents are currently on a software management program known as Ringtail, and new material is being added almost daily – leading some of the 21 lawyers in attendance to call for a conference on how to deal with the work load.

My first response to this, as you might have guessed, is the subject line of this post.

Here we are with about six months to go in the Commission and folks are surprised by the paper load?

Welcome to the land of bureaucratic behemoths.

(And as a side note… remember that time when the Information Age along with the digital age was touted as the great end to paper…?)

Many folks must have seen this coming… must have…

I would think that predictions on paper load prior to the Commission starting (you know… like… pre-Commission forecasts) would have been far more accurate than actual salmon pre-season forecasts. As I’ve pointed out before the “Integrated Fisheries Management Plans” (IFMP) are very wieldy, heavy, lengthy documents. In a recent post I commented on Conservative MP John Cummins’ comment on the actual weight of Justice Cohen’s interim report… well… DFO’s yearly salmon management plans outweigh Justice Cohen’s report by a good 2 to 1.

As pointed out in earlier posts as well, there are close to 100 people within DFO listed as contacts within the IFMPs. There is a 2010 South Coast and a North Coast Salmon IFMP and both weigh in at well over 200 pages. Added to this, just go look at DFO’s “2010 Consultation Calendar“. These are serious paper-producing-productions.

Add in the vast amount of emails, meeting minutes, reports and so on that serve as the backdrop to these plans… and eghad…

Now, add in the fact that Justice Cohen is looking at over 20 reports, reviews, inquiries, etc. over the last 20 years and all of the paper that surrounds those. And has asked for 12 internal reports from “experts”. Up to 300+ public submissions. Multiple public forums and site visits. Over 20 groups and individuals granted “standing” in the Commission.  And the tag line that this is the salmon inquiry to end all salmon inquiries…

Do you know that most-feared phrase shouted in the mountains:


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Maybe all of this was seen coming; however, I get the distinct impression it was not – otherwise why the panic now?

From the outside looking in, I could see the document avalanche coming as clearly as most folks know it rains on the BC coast. The part that bothers me… months into the process (and now officially a year since the Commission was formed), “some of the 21 lawyers in attendance … call for a conference on how to deal with the work load.”

What did folks expect?

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So now, this process — largely the realm of “pre-eminent experts”, scientists, lawyers, and administrators — is bogged down in paper; will most likely be asking for more time and resources and money; more lawyers; and more “experts”.


Pondering this, and shaking my head, I opened up a book by Canadian essayist, thinker, and writer John Ralston Saul. I remembered that he has written quite a bit on these issues.  I don’t agree with all of his ideas – however he has some pretty good points on our loss of common sense, intuition, imagination, ethics and so on.

In his 1995 Massey Lectures – The Unconscious Civilization — as summarized on the website and on the back of the book cover Ralston Saul suggests:

OUR SOCIETY […] is only superficially based on the individual and democracy. Increasingly it is conformist and corporatist, a society in which legitimacy lies with specialist or interest groups and decisions are made through constant negotiations between these groups.

The paradox of our situation is that knowledge has not made us conscious. Instead, we have sought refuge in a world of illusion where language is cut off from reality.

That’s kind of been my fundamental point and criticism of the Commission — and “salmon management” in general. The Commission is largely the realm of experts, “pre-eminent scientists”, and lawyers. Sure there’s the opportunity for public submissions and individuals were given 10 minutes at public sessions — however, how are these ‘weighted’ in Justice Cohen’s process?

Thus far they are itemized and tallied in a spreadsheet — very corporate…

With the avalanche of documents, how is Justice Cohen or his team of lawyers (who are to ‘represent’ the public) going to investigate each individual citizen’s submission? And how do these play into the “findings of fact”?

Cohen’s terms of reference state that he must: “investigate and make independent findings of fact regarding… the causes for the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon… and… the current state of Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks and the long term projections for those stocks.”

At a fundamental level, “findings of fact” in the complex ecosystem that salmon inhabit is about as realistic as predicting earthquakes or the exact time and place where hurricanes will hit — a year ahead of time.

Justice Cohen, suggests in the recent interim report that:

The overall aim of this commission is to respect the conservation of the sockeye salmon stock and to encourage broad co-operation among the stakeholders.

And, thus, just as Ralston Saul suggests: “legitimacy lies with specialist or interest groups and decisions are made through constant negotiations between these groups”. Is this not, at its simplest, what the Cohen Commission is all about?

This is about “stakeholders” negotiating — e.g. the specialists (scientists, DFO managers, statisticians, lawyers etc.), interest groups (enviros, Rio Tinto, salmon farmers, fisherfolks granted “standing”) —  or as Justice Cohen suggests: “encouraging broad cooperation.”

I, personally, applied for ‘standing’ within the Cohen Commission — I was denied.

I was not surprised — it did, however, confirm my suspicions of the process, as well as its effectiveness and chances for success in the end (however the hell we, collectively, define success).

And so, returning to Ralston Saul’s suggestion that: “our society is only superficially based on the individual and democracy.” I might have to agree on various levels.

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Near the end of Ralston Saul’s 1995 lecture he suggests:

One of our greatest needs today is to find ways, even simple mechanisms, that will help us, the citizenry, to get into the public debate in such a manner as to duplicate the conscious understanding of the jury. We are not going to defeat or overthrow or even abandon the corporatist structure, in spite of its failures. This is a system that continually grows stronger while the society it controls grows weaker.

It is therefore a matter of inserting the citizen as citizen into the system in whatever way we can. And then letting the mechanisms of criticism combined with high levels of involvement take effect.

And, so, where does the everyday citizen get into salmon system and influence how we look after salmon?

As a volunteer, a steward, a streamkeeper, or otherwise.

Fall 2010 -- Upper Fraser River

And then when a process such as the Cohen Commission or twenty other or so processes over the last 25 years occurs — the citizen is relegated to writing a letter and maybe a 10-minute presentation (in limited locations through a limited time) — And… counting on a team of lawyers to represent citizens, as a group, interests and concerns. (not that I intend any disrespect to those folks tasked with this responsibility).

Back in January, I had a post — “Judicial inquiry? here we go again (Version 10.0)“. In that post, I suggested maybe a review of how we look after salmon on the west coast of North America should be done in a similar fashion as the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform which completed its work in 2004. There was a process that empowered average joe and jills to effect change — not reams of specialists, lawyers, and corporately structured processes seeking to find “solutions”.

What number is this inquiry/investigation into salmon-related issues in the past two decades? Oh right… twenty-something; fifth inquiry of sorts (that’s on the same pace as Olympics).

Wasn’t it Einstein that suggested the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?