“The best available science” calls for an ethically managed economy

BY:A. Jake Benecke| October 21, 2019
“The best available science” calls for an ethically managed economy

As someone who has worked in fisheries science for several years, I have seen firsthand the importance of these resources to society as a whole and to individuals. People care about these resources for many different reasons, whether they are avid anglers, environmentalists, or have a financial stake in them. I care about fishing for all three reasons, which is why I have devoted my life to ensuring the sustainable management of these resources as a fisheries scientist.

Although anglers, commercial fishermen, and environmentalists all have a similar interest in conservation, I have heard each group try to convince me the other is evil and will cause the collapse of the ecosystem. I have spoken with environmental activists who are angry about some state regulation allowing fishing in a particular area or with a particular method. I have spoken to recreational anglers who have told me that the commercial fishermen are catching all the fish and destroying habitat. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall the commercial fishermen I’ve spoken to having anything negative to say about anyone but maybe these individuals were just more polite than most. Either way, I’m certainly happy that we have a system in this country which allows us to hear from all of these various groups and then make decisions based on the best available science about how to allocate resources to meet the needs of each group.

The phrase “best available science” is one you will hear frequently if you are tuned into fisheries science or resource management in general. This phrase was introduced to me when I first entered this field as a sort of guiding moral principle, giving weight to hard facts and science in decision making over the economic interests or emotional urges of stakeholders. But there is an underlying implication introduced by the inclusion of the word “available” which I did not truly understand until a few years later. What the word implies is that, while we may not have every bit of data we would like, we still have an obligation to make decisions about these resources that have an impact on society and the individuals who utilize them in their daily life. Luckily fisheries scientists are a pretty motivated and intelligent group of individuals who go to great efforts to provide as much information to managers as we can. Unfortunately, fisheries resources are impacted by factors beyond what managers can control (even if they aren’t beyond what scientists can observe).

Climate change is not an issue about which science has limited data. There is an overwhelming consensus, within the scientific community, that climate change is both real and the result of human activities. Despite this consensus and an enormous amount of data, it has proven impossible to enact the changes needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change. This is because there is no guiding moral ethos such as “by the best available science” for economic decisions in America. Instead, “profit at any cost” rules supreme.

This “profit at any cost” ethos is why a select few wealthy individuals are allowed to profit from the burning of fossil fuels at the expense of the rest of society. These select few, seeking to protect their profits, have launched a propaganda war which first sought to deny the existence of climate change and then to deny that we are the cause. This propaganda war, aimed at working-class Americans, attempts to undermine the credibility of scientific and governmental institutions. It is not hard to see what the result of this propaganda war has been in our society. People are more polarized than ever before, and hard facts are disregarded as lies that threaten our way of life. When sound reason is met with deliberate deceit, no amount of additional data will sway the other party. The only remaining option is to remove the profiteers from power and take democratic control of the economic system of this country. We must apply the ethos “by the best available science” to the management of the economy as is done in fisheries management to ensure a sustainable future for all.


Image: Nick Rahaim, “Troubleshooting.” CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


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