salmon science… a body of “facts” and “truths”?

data gaps?

Science” : the intricate process of saying a lot with a variety of charts of graphs and concluding… well… not much at all…

Oddly enough, dictionary.com suggests that “science” is sometimes mistaken as “seance” .

A seance being some spiritual communing with the dead; a ‘sitting’ — (which is the actual French roots of the word).

And as such, a seance is also defined as: “a sitting of a society”.

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Now the definition of science suggests it is:

a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.

A fact: “Knowledge or information based on real occurrences.”

And truth: “Conformity to fact or actuality.”

Or: “A statement proven to be or accepted as true.”

And some suggest:“Perhaps the most general description is that the purpose of science is to produce useful models of reality”

Reality…?

Hmmmm.

So what happens when science and its practitioners enters the unknown?

Well…sometimes… it makes shit up

(…or models it with “expansion lines” and algorithms…).

Or… simply states all sorts of disclaimers, qualifiers, and other forms of political speak.

Or… gift wraps affirmative statements in crinkly, fancy ambiguity and obscurity with lovely bows of contradiction and inconsistency.

All of these sent priority post with a hefty invoice for reassurance.

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I’ve started reading through the various scientific and technical reports of the Cohen Commission into Fraser River sockeye declines. At least the ones I can find…

In August 2010, the Commission announced an “ambitious scientific research program to help the Commissioner understand the science behind the decline of Fraser River sockeye.”

After disbanding the initial pre-eminent scientists panel formed in the early days, the Commission announced 12 Research projects back in August 2010:

Project 1 – Diseases and parasites

Project 2 – Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 3 – Fraser River freshwater ecology and status of sockeye salmon Conservation Units

Project 4 – Marine ecology

Project 5 – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 6 – Data synthesis and cumulative impact analysis

Project 7 – Fraser River sockeye fisheries and fisheries management

Project 8 – Effects of predators on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon: literature compilation and analysis

Project 10 – Fraser River sockeye salmon production dynamics

Project 11 – Fraser River sockeye salmon: status of DFO science and management

Project 12 – Sockeye habitat analysis in the Lower Fraser River and the Strait of Georgia

Back at the time that these projects were announced and the pre-eminent science panel disbanded — the Commission was still on timelines to be wrapping up right now — May 2011. As such, the researchers were given very tight timelines: “In most cases, the researchers will provide the commission with a progress report by November 15, 2010 and a final report by January 31, 2011.”

In other words… science doesn’t only need to state facts and truths about reality… it needs to be fast.

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Now since then… the Commission has been extended a year; however the scientific reports were still rushed — and it shows in reading some of them.

(And if you suffer from insomnia… three of the  reports I’ve seen comes in at a pithy 120+ pages each… and when it doubt, and in a rush… list as many references as possible).

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Now that I’ve stirred up the scientific ire of a hypothesizing hornets nest…

Does this make sense to you?

This is from Project Report 12 – Fraser River Sockeye Habitat Use in the Lower Fraser and Strait of Georgia, which you have to dig out of Commission transcripts, it’s not available on the main webpage.

Our review and analysis involved compiling available data from various technical reports, primary literature and online sources of potential factors or measures related to human development and activities in the lower Fraser and Strait of Georgia.

A statistical analysis of the association of human activity and potential impacts on sockeye habitats and, in turn, on Fraser sockeye productivity was not possible in this review due to the limits on the nature and extent of data available for human activity and in particular the lack of quantitative information on sockeye habitats.

So, the information doesn’t really exist… this is confirmed further in the report:

An approach reliant on quantitative measures of changes in sockeye habitats was not possible for this report due to the lack of quantitative data available on the extent and quality of sockeye habitats across the lower Fraser River area, lower Fraser watersheds (Harrison, Chilliwack and Pitt Rivers) and the Strait of Georgia.

There you have it… the information is not there, not available, not collected and so on. Yet… yet… this ‘scientific’ report which maxes out at 60+ pages of report and another 50 pages of fluff, suggests:

Overall, the development of major projects and resource restoration efforts during the period 1990 – 2010 has resulted in a net gain of sockeye habitat and these gains have been substantially added to through efforts to restore historically lost or damaged fish habitats.

Ohhh… so there’s “lack of quantitative data available on the extent and quality of sockeye habitats across the lower Fraser River” yet the report then goes on to suggest that there was a “net gain of sockeye habitat” and goes on further:

Although the effectiveness of habitat compensation projects in the Fraser River appears to be improving, the need for an improved habitat science, monitoring and data management framework is clear and aspects of this need are consistent with recommendations made by others over the past decade or two.

So… no data on the habitat… but apparently that habitat is “improving”?

The habitat protection strategies used in the lower Fraser River and Strait of Georgia, appear to be effective at supporting sockeye habitat conservation. More broadly, a hypothesis that the declines in Fraser River sockeye production over the period 1990 – 2009 are the result of habitat impacts from project development is not supported by the net habitat gains that have occurred over the 1990 – 2010 period.

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How the heck does this work?

There’s not enough data on human activity and there’s not enough data on sockeye habitat; yet, these folks can conclude that all’s well… all’s good in the hood… habitat protection is working, and so on…

Where the heck is the systematic arrangement of “facts” and “truths” that are supposed to represent “science”?

And what did this report cost? Apologies to the writers of this report and the apparently ‘well-respected’ firm that authored this report… but this makes little sense…

(and how much work has this firm — Golder & Associates done for DFO over the years?)

2 thoughts on “salmon science… a body of “facts” and “truths”?

  1. Habitat helper

    The more general decline or slow loss of habitat over the last few decades that you observe but nobody measures, and hear about from pre-eminent experts, is probably overwhelming the minor gains mentioned in Cohen project 12. As you may know, very few projects are actually regulated by fish protection law compared to the much greater number and overwhelming scale of other planned, approved and legally undertaken projects. Land-use plans in all their many forms describe in detail the desired landscape changing activities that we know inadvertantly contribute to the a general decline of aquatic health. The inquiry could use some help in communicating the findings of these confusing and contradictory messages. Keep up the good work Salmonguy.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    many thanks for the comment H.H.
    yes… the great cumulative impacts that not too many folks want to enter the great cage with… including the Environmental Assessment process, which could very well be facing a gutting with the new majority… (so suggests a few twittering birds in the forest…).

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