March 24, 2007
featuring Brian Doherty
Series 1: Q and A With Steve Milloy
Continued from page 1...
What's the real deal on evolution? Twenty years ago on "Cosmos," Carl Sagan said it wasn't a "theory" but a "law." My Christian friends tell me it's a theory shot full of errors. And my scientist friends tell me it's provable in the everyday world.
Explanations of human evolution are not likely to move beyond the stage of hypothesis or conjecture. There is no scientific way - i.e., no experiment or other means of reliable study - for explaining how humans developed. Without a valid scientific method for proving a hypothesis, no indisputable explanation can exist.
The process of evolution can be scientifically demonstrated in some lower life forms, but this is a far cry from explaining how humans developed.
That said, some sort of evolutionary process seems most likely in my opinion. But there will probably always be enough uncertainty in any explanation of human evolution to give critics plenty of room for doubt.
Lead has been banned for use in waterfowl hunting in North America for some time now. Could you comment on the scientific basis for the toxicity of lead and the effectiveness of the ban on increasing waterfowl populations?
Lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting nationwide in 1991. A study published last summer in the Journal of Wildlife Management claims the ban has been a tremendous boon for North American waterfowl. The study reported the ban reduced lead poisoning deaths of Mississippi Flyway mallards by 64 percent, while overall ingestion of toxic pellets declined by 78 percent over previous levels.
The report concluded that by significantly reducing lead shot ingestion in waterfowl, the ban prevented the lead poisoning deaths of approximately 1.4 million ducks in the 1997 fall flight of 90 million ducks. In addition, the researchers state that approximately 462,000 to 615,000 acres of breeding habitat would have been required to produce the same number of birds that potentially were saved by nontoxic shot regulations that year.
I have not reviewed this study, but am typically wary of such "feel good" studies that seem so eager to validate government regulation.
Wildlife studies are very difficult to do because scientists have little control over study conditions. I would guess that these researchers might have extrapolated the results from a very small sample to the whole duck population. I will try to get a copy of this study and examine the reported results.
What due diligence is required in proving a species is a species, and why isn't extraordinary diligence required when land is being seized? What is the downside risk to an alleged scientist when land has been seized and then the species is found not to be distinct? I'm thinking of what happened in San Diego, when the California gnatcatcher was discovered to be identical to the millions of Mexican gnatcatchers living 10 miles away.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for identifying endangered species. As is the case with most wildlife study, it's squishy-soft, value-judgment laden, and ripe for abuse. Whether a government scientist who commits fraud or is incompetent is disciplined -- either formally or informally -- depends on the political environment. I have yet to see scientific misconduct or gross incompetence taken seriously by the federal government.