[NOTE [by Lorne Gunter]: The scientists who set out to damage the fish-farming industry are not government funded, they are foundation funded. I even say so in my column. I have no idea what the headline writer was thinking.]
Fish-farming study reeks to high heaven: Government-funded scientists do their darndest to damage another industry
Sunday 18 January 2004, p. A12
Here we go again.
The recent "study" that alleged to show farmed salmon (as opposed to wild salmon) was so toxic it was unsafe to eat more than once every other month or so, is yet another example of the misuse of science in the name of some political cause or other.
We've seen it with global warming and second-hand smoke, with the efficacy of gun control and the hazards of private health care and with the alleged need for more family planning freedom to control human population. Again and again, political activists stake out a policy position, then attempt to justify it by backfilling scientific "evidence" that supports their desired policy end.
This work is frequently paid for by governments with agendas that need the veneer of scientific credibility.
Many scientists are only too happy to oblige. Not intentionally, of course. Politically, most scientists are liberal, to the extent they think politically. This means they have no fear of government, indeed they view it as mostly benign, a force for good in human affairs. So when a generous government comes calling with a problem that needs investigation, it is more than coincidence, but less than conspiracy, that many scientists come up with solutions that involve more tax revenue and power for government.
Call it a common mindset: One hand washes the other without recognizing the symbiosis of their relationship.
The Kyoto accords, smoking bans, gun licensing and public health care are all solutions that require governments to expand. They also permit politicians to appear concerned, engaged and progressive and special interest groups to meddle in other people's lives. Is it any wonder, then, that governments fund research that backs up the argument that what the world needs now is more government?
But the motives of government-funded scientists are seldom questioned, even by people in my line of work. Government is seen as wanting only what is good for "the people," what is in the "public interest," what fosters the "common good" and scientists are detached, objective observers. To oppose them is to oppose the angels and everyone wants to be on the side of the angels.
But increasingly, huge private trusts and foundations are also funding politicized science. That is the case in the farmed salmon study, which was underwritten by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a $5-billion organization set up nearly 50 years ago to honour the memory of J. Howard Pew, an oil magnate.
Howard Pew would, no doubt, be aghast at the radical, leftist uses to which his fortune is being put today. "The Trusts," as they are known, are chest deep in UN efforts to reduce Third World population and control the Earth's environment.[*] They aid those who seek to discredit free markets and the traditional family and a whole host of other trendy (but pernicious) causes.
In the case of the salmon study, Pew may well have funded the contamination work to assist the environmentalists it also funds who are seeking to end salmon farming. This is not how science is supposed to work, but it is increasingly how it is employed.
For the better part of a decade now, environmentalists have sought an end to aquaculture. They have insisted that the fish inside fish farms -- essentially giant pens or nets that float on the water's surface and extend down five to 10 metres -- are mutant, even dangerous new species. If any escape, as some undoubtedly will, their genes will infest the natural, wild populations and alter them until the "true species" can no longer survive in the wild and die off, or until the mutant new species destroy other plant and animal species.
Since seafood has become increasingly popular in the last decade or two, fish farming has become lucrative. Its rapid expansion in coastal areas has helped create new jobs for forestry workers and miners thrown out of work in those same areas over the same period by many of the same environmentalists who earlier successfully attacked the forestry and mining industries.
(It is possible to argue that environmentalism is the end product of post-modern urban society because of its seeming hatred for people who work the land and its seeming ignorance of what work must be done to feed, clothe and house big-city environmentalists. But that is for another time.)
Anyway, the key to understanding the charge that farmed salmon are too dangerous to eat lies in understanding that benefactors, such as Pew and researchers who oppose fish farming, know that if they can't close down fish farming democratically, a good health scare will drive consumers away and accomplish the same end by throwing fish farmers out of business.
To achieve the policy goals, the authors of the salmon "study" played games with their numbers. Instead of reporting farmed salmon as containing just 50 parts per billion of PCB -- one-fortieth of the 2,000 ppb considered safe by Canadian and American health officials -- the anti-farming researchers reported PCB concentrations in parts per trillion, which at 50,000 ppt seems a much scarier level than just 50 ppb.
Farmed salmon is safe. But if you can be made to doubt its safety with a trumped-up study, the enviros don't mind.
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post
Activists use science to scare us
MIAMI HERALD, 28 February 2004