Who has the facts? Who has the half-facts? Who has the zombie-facts?

When it comes to salmon farming on the BC coast, is it any wonder that the average citizen in BC (that takes any interest) might be suffering from post traumatic information overload as the battlefield of naysayers and yaysayers lags on…

How to choose? How to choose?

Who has the facts? Who has the half-facts? Who has the zombie-facts?

Yesterday, CBC.ca ran an article:


Closed-pen salmon farm launches in B.C.

B.C.’s first closed, floating salmon-farming tank — touted as a greener alternative to traditional open-net pens — has been installed off Vancouver Island…

…Traditional net pens used for salmon farming in B.C. are open to the ocean and have been criticized for damaging the marine environment. Fisheries scientists have found evidence that salmon farms transmit parasites and pathogens such as sea lice to wild salmon, leading researchers and environmental groups to call for closed-pen farming.

In addition, waste from open-net pens is released directly into local waters and is not always carried away by tides and currents as was anticipated…

Yet, if you go to the new bcsalmonfacts.ca website put out by BC salmon farmers they quote from another study that suggests:

Overall, the results of this study reveal that while a shift to closed-containment technologies may reduce the set of proximate ecological impacts typically associated with conventional salmonid farming, their increased use may also result in substantially increased contributions to several other environmental impacts of global concern, including global warming, acidification, and abiotic resource use.

Although closed-containment systems are currently being described and promoted as environmentally-friendly alternatives to net-pen farming, results of this study suggest that there is an environmental cost associated with employing this technology which should be considered in any further evaluation of their environmental performance

And then the apparent Fish farming Xpert site: “Canada’s biggest bath tub hits the water”:

Canada: a project dubbed as “closed containment” and “environmentally friendly”, aimed at producing salmon at high densities gets it start outside Campbell River.”

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Back to CBC.ca (for example) and the list of related articles looks like this:

B.C. salmon deaths may be linked to virus
Pacific salmon not affected by lice: study
Fish-farm sea lice more widespread than thought
Fish farming projects in B.C. get funding boost
B.C. fish farming expansion frozen until December

There’s more back and forth then at the Australian Open tennis grand slam. Average citizens sitting there watching flaming cocktails thrown back and forth, back and forth.

The media?… well they simply report the headlines of what the multitude of studies are saying and absolutely love this conflict of studies, scientists, advocates, and so on. It’s great news; great press.

How is anyone sitting somewhere in the middle on this issue — which is a big middle, as the gap between the two sides is about as big as the great open ocean trenches — supposed to be able to read some information here, read some information there, do some reflection, ask some questions, and make up their own mind?

It’s certainly possible, however for average folks busy with their families and work lives… the bickering and lobbing of cocktails back and forth probably gets a little tiring. It certainly does for myself, I just happen to have an almost lifelong interest in salmon and therefore read what I can, ponder, ask some questions, and so on.

And, thus my disappointment at the stretching of apparent facts, cherry-picking ideas, and Spin-cycle currently being engaged in by the bcsalmonfacts.ca campaign. (This isn’t to say that I haven’t had my disappointment at the other side for certain tactics or propensity for Spin either… this is just the topic of today)

At the same time anyone is welcome to opinions anytime… One might simply hope that there is some backing to the opinion, or at least an openness to listen to the opposite perspective on that opinion (and there is to some degree in that ‘facts’ campaign thus far — however it is a risk, and the worm can is open).

When some folks start claiming to have the “truth” — the “facts” — well, then I immediately get a sense there may not be much difference then apparent religious prophets, turned TV evangelists, trying to sell folks on the purple Kool-Aid (and donations to their 30,000 sq ft church, and highest in the county jesus statue outside).

Certain ‘scripture’ and phrases from apparent sacred texts, are twisted and turned — words and ideas are shaped to fit what it is that they are selling. Scientific reports are cherry-picked to get an idea across — meanwhile another scientific report that directly refutes the first is conveniently not mentioned, or forgotten, or has the methodology questioned, or personal credibility attacks mounted against authors, and so on.

For example, follow some of the responses from the bcsalmonfacts.ca folks on their website and one can start to see a curious mix of ideas starting to surface. There are comparisons between hatchery practices and salmon farming, used in conjunction with concerns of the ‘carrying capacity of the ocean’ (as if this was something anyone or group could actually measure with any accuracy whatsoever — we can’t even get the weather right after a few days with any level of accuracy).

There is the odd justification for open-pen salmon farming because farmed salmon have better feed conversion rates than cows, pigs and chickens. This is then stretched to suggest that since wild salmon can consume 10x their weight in fish that this then makes farming salmon more responsible and efficient than the wild.

Not to forget the fact that the graphs on yesterday’s post showed that one of the growing components of feed for farmed salmon is poultry… chickens.

One of the studies linked to by one of the bcsalmonfacts.ca responses (Not All Salmon Are Created Equal: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Global Salmon Farming Systems) to one of my comments suggests that in Canada, the composition of “animal derived meals and oils” (as separate from fish meal and oils) is approximately 20%. That suggests farmed salmon are being fed about 20% or so of ground up chicken — doesn’t it?

Oh, is that wild chickens then?

Or, are those the same inefficient chickens that farmed salmon ‘feed to meat conversion rates’ are compared to?

_ _ _ _ _

These blending of ideas and theories and hypotheses are all fine and dandy as opinion, and stretching and turning things like silly putty to fit your ideas…

But “facts”?

When you take the plunge to say you have the “facts”, then you should probably  tread carefully and responsibly and make sure you “stick to the facts, mam”.

You don’t have the “facts” when you simply quote from one scientific study and not another that refutes the same idea. These are selective facts, because the ‘fact’ is that there are disputed ‘facts’. (in a sense that’s what the legal system is — isn’t it… advocating positions to determine the “facts”? and many are familiar with how that system can be manipulated from time to time.)

You don’t have the “facts” when you start conveniently twisting some information and not others to fit what many might label a bias perspective. (I expect to get called on the same tactics)

It also seems a bit slippery when one fact might very well be a ‘fact’: like ‘salmon swim in the water’ and then right beside that state a little more slippery fact that is actually the subject of much debate.

Is that ‘transparency’ or simply baking a ‘fact’-cake from a variety of half-fact ingredients?

And I mean this for all sides.

How slippery should we allow the facts slide to be?

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Here is a thought from Mr. Orwell from his 1946 essay: Politics and the English Language that I included in a post this summer following the announcement of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement: Orwell’s sections of a “prefabricated henhouse”).

It seems fitting in a few ways:

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

_ _ _ _

Pre-fabricated henhouses; fact-cake made from chicken scratch and half-facts; bumpf-filled pie… all sort of the same thing…

Who really has the facts?

8 thoughts on “Who has the facts? Who has the half-facts? Who has the zombie-facts?

  1. Annie

    An excerpt from the Environmental Assessment Office in BC article on fish health. An exotic disease need not come from another country. Pathogens do not recognize political boundaries. Even within the same country, movement of pathogens between close geographic locations but different watersheds may allow for the introduction of a new disease causing organism. For example, the pattern of spread of whirling disease in the United States follows watershed boundaries rather than state lines (Horsch, 1987). Similarily, the description of the biogeography of Gyrodactylus salaris suggests that the belief that Norway (as defined by political boundaries) was once free of the parasite did not consider the biological and geological history of the region (Halvorsen and Hartvigsen, 1989).

  2. GJW

    Yes indeed, you are using the same fact-twisting tactics you accuse others of doing. But that is your perogative, this is your blog and you can opine however you want.

    But your tone seems to be that you don’t think salmon farmers should provide their side of the story. And it’s fallacious to assume that just because the facts presented at bcsalmonfacts.ca lead to different conclusions than those the opponents of salmon farms choose to present.

    Because that’s what it’s all about. Facts are facts. It’s how they are presented that matters. Salmon farmers don’t believe the facts that show the positive side of their industry have been fairly presented in the media and to the public, so they are taking it on themselves to do it. That is their agenda.

    The opponents of salmon farms hate them for a variety of reasons. They present facts that support their case, and leave out the ones that don’t. That is their agenda.

    And the media is not unbiased. Everyone has a bias. Some are pro, some are against. It’s the media’s job to report fairly, despite those biases. Some do it well, others don’t.

    It is up to the reader/viewer to understand all these biases, look at the facts from all sides and draw their own conclusions accordingly.

    Your attempts to befuddle the issue do not help, but that is your opinion.

  3. GJW

    Missed a sentence above… should read “And it’s fallacious to assume that just because the facts presented at bcsalmonfacts.ca lead to different conclusions than those the opponents of salmon farms choose to present that they are not valid.”

  4. salmon guy Post author

    fair enough GJW, appreciate the comment.
    I’m not sure i’ve stated any ‘facts’ or suggest that the salmon farmers shouldn’t have a chance to tell their side of the story — otherwise i wouldn’t even engage with their website or spend this long typing posts on the matter.

    you’re exactly right: facts are facts. And therefore, when they get twisted around or spun in a certain way they become half-facts. Unfortunately, that appears to be the case with this campaign from the salmon farmers.

    it could be conducted sooo much differently, and with such a different tone that would garner them much more social license… my opinion, yes… however, I don’t think these campaign tactics do anyone any favors anywhere. They largely don’t add to constructive discussion, they further “befuddle” the issue by only sharing some of the information. Like anything don’t say you’re “transparent” if you’re only half-transparent.

    The intention of the posts here has been more to ask some critical questions, as it’s my humble opinion that that is what might actually lead to constructive discussion. I’m not necessarily one to ‘blame’ the media, or ‘blame’ the critics, or ‘blame’ the NGOs, or ‘blame’ the salmon farmers. Every individual has their own responsibility to look into issues that interest them, or make them form opinions, and then take action to inform that opinion. Ask questions, think critically and so on.

    That’s the missing piece in all of this. Too many folks on either side making the assumption that average folks are ‘too dumb’ to understand the ‘facts’. It’s a pretty silly way to approach things. As once folks become a little more knowledgeable about something, the moment they feel that an organization or individual is trying to mislead them by spinning things in a potentially unethical manner (e.g. politicians have a long history of this) or only sharing half the ‘facts’… then they become cynical and somewhat disconnected.

    ‘somebody please just give me a balanced perspective…’ is a common-enough phrase.
    And that sure as hell isn’t going to come from the mass media. The mass media has its bias as well… the bulk of the mass media is owned by public corporations that have their mission and their objectives and shareholders to answer to. And thus, it becomes a matter sometimes of sifting through the mass media, independent media, independent individuals, and a variety of organizations on all sides.

    Throw all that in the blender, a little reflection, a little action, a little critical thinking… and you end up with an informed citizen smoothie.

    If I felt I was befuddling the issue, I’d have to question my motives… my motive is to ask some critical questions, and often of any side of the equation.
    And like anything, folks can choose to read and engage… or not.
    I still really, really enjoy the process and once that stops then the blog posts will probably stop…

    thanks again, I do appreciate the comments and opinions.

  5. GJW

    Again, I do appreciate and enjoy your blog. Thanks for that last comment. I do agree that talking down to the audience does no one any good, any both sides have been guilty of that on some levels.

    I also agree that people need to look at all sides and decide for themselves.

    I don’t really see the salmon farmers as spinning facts though. For years they’ve said little while people opposed to the industry present facts in a way to make them look as awful as possible. Now they are speaking up and saying, “that’s not true, this is why.”

    Are they presenting facts in a light favourable to their industry? Of course. Is that spin? Or just presenting their side of the story? But they are also acknowledging that things weren’t perfect in the past, acknowledging that their activities do have impacts and that they are always trying to improve.

    Anyway, thanks for blogging and generating discussion about this!

  6. Will Soltau

    Good one Salmon Guy!Thought provoking blog post for sure. Some just sit on the fence like a chicken. Salmon can’t sit on fences so maybe that’s why the issues is so charged.
    Everyone has an opinion/hypothesis. Some do research to try and prove their hypothesis. When the results of their research get published in scientific journals who reads it? The media reports it. Most folks don’t read the scientific journals they read the media.
    Others don’t bother with the research, they just do the media, especially if they have big advertising budgets. Oil and tobacco come to mind. Some call it greenwashing.
    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that some are collaborating to find solutions and not just butting heads in the media over “facts”. Check out our website. It’s in my reply info, if you’re interested to know more PM me. I don’t want to come across as a shameless self-promoter in my first try so am leaving out of this reply.

  7. Priscilla Judd

    Here is another take on “facts” !
    There is a Federal Commission going on right now – the Commission will produce a legal document based on “facts” taken from testimony and information supplied by people, lawyers, corporations, groups, scientists etc…

    The “facts” will be information selected by the Commission. There is no obligation on the part of the Commission decision makers to follow any particular logical theory or scientific argument.

    Facts are information that the Commission chooses to select. Any facts not argued, answered or responded to by the opponents (as in tennis) will be considered a “point” of fact as stated by the presenter.

    Can you follow what I’m saying?

    So lots of “facts” (even if they are only opinions) presented by the Salmon Farmers, DFO and public submissions become valid in the judicial proceeding if not pointedly rejected (volleyed back) by the opponents.

    That is why it is very important for me me to view the salmon issues with common sense. Any scientific argument will be refuted by a challenge to prove the science – impossible in a complex environment – in fact, scientific studies are often overlooked when a Tribunal or Commission produces their “facts” or “reasons” for a decision.

    For people who are new to the judicial process that surrounds the protection of farming – my suggestion is to take very seriously what is being said by DFO, Salmon Farmers and scientists – find the grain of truth in what ever is being said (there is always a grain of truth) then use common sense to respond to the point that you don’t want taken as a fact – put that in the record (please).

    Stop wasting time – there is work to do – the boring testimony is there for a reason – be smart – the salmon farmers have given you their “facts” that can win their case. You have been given a present – recognize it and address it.

    Do not sleep through the DFO testimony – do not laugh at the farmer’s “facts” – parse out the information in their argument that can and should be refuted – if you are asleep those facts will become the “facts” in record – available for selection by the Cohen Commission.

    Been there – done that – so get smart – facts are not physical – Facts are not any real thing – “facts” in law are bits of information selected from a stack of information to be used by those who are appointed to select them.

    That’s what bullshit bingo is about – why it persists – why we need to understand the use of it. So let’s get to work to protect the environment.

    Agree to the grain of truth – refute the refutable facts – use common sense. Be quick – be thorough – there is no time for tennis.

    Great discussion – thanks muchly!

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