Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Scientific Uncertainty and the Politics of Whaling

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Scientific Uncertainty and the Politics of Whaling

Article excerpt

Review: Scientific Uncertainty and the Politics of Whaling By Michael Heazle Reviewed by Ryder W. Miller San Francisco, USA Michael Heazle. Scientific Uncertainty and the Politics of Whaling. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006. 240 pp. ISBN: 0-295-98605-0 (trade cloth) Acid free paper. US$60.00.

Michael Heazle, a Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute at Griffith University in Australia, chronicles the history of whaling in the Antarctic oceans. The concept of "scientific truth" is on trial in this detailed and intricate history with scientists of the past not being able to convince the whaling industry that they needed to curtail their hunting in order to maintain sustainability of the blue, fin and humpback whale stocks. Whales were once abundant in the Antarctic oceans, but extensive hunting led to a collapse of the whaling stocks and a "sea change" in the treatment of scientific advice. Before the collapse, the claim of a lack of "scientific certainty" benefited the whaling industry which did not heed the warning of the scientists who were not deemed to have convincing evidence that whale hunting would lead to the demise of the whaling stocks. After the collapse, the burden of proof fell on the whaling industry, which had to argue that hunting would not lead to further damage to the whale populations. Sustainability efforts were also bolstered by the "precautionary principle" which weighed on the side of protecting the whales.

Heazle, writing from the perspective of an observer, rather than an involved or idealistic scientist, asks: "To what ends do governments and non governmental organizations use empirical scientific methods and why?" (Page 32) He argues that "The actions of the IWC's [International Whaling Commission] members at the 1964 meeting in Sandefjord clearly illustrate what this study is attempting to demonstrate: that the treatment of scientific advice by policy makers in the IWC (and in other wildlife and environmental regimes) is determined almost entirely by how well it fits with individual priorities, rather than the extent (contrived, imagined, or otherwise) to which a piece of scientific research may or may not be said to accurately describe and explain reality. …

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