Common Sense Added to Endangered Species List

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

As Anthony Watts highlighted, the recent paper in Nature (paywalled, reported here) on extinctions agreed with the main conclusion that I had established in my post “Where Are The Corpses“. The conclusion was that the “species/area relationship” as currently used doesn’t work to predict extinctions, and thus there is no “Sixth Wave of Extinctions” going on.

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This example of an imaginary “wave of extinctions” once again highlights the difficulties of over-credulous scientists as well as the public. The consensus of scientific and public opinion has been that we are in the middle of a mythical “sixth wave” of extinction. In fact, this consensus was much more far-reaching than the claimed consensus regarding climate science … and just as wrong. Sadly, the “Sixth Wave of Extinction” meme is likely to be very hard to kill.

Figure 1. Another alarmist hockeystick. This is the most common graph that comes up on Google Images for “rate of extinction”. I cannot find any attribution for the graph. I do note that we haven’t seen the hundreds of extinctions claimed by whoever made the graph, and that the person who made the graph can’t spell “extinct”. But the graph is hugely popular, replicated on blog after blog.

One web site where this Fig. 1 image is found titles the thread “Bigger Threat Than Global Warming: Mass Species Extinction” … it is good that we have a new measurement standard for threats, because “Terrorism Threat Level Orange” sounds so last decade. And since we already have been informed that global warming is a bigger threat than terrorism, we now have a complete multi-level threat scale — mass extinction > global warming > terrorism. I also like how no animals went extinct from 1700 to 1900. But I digress … here’s the real historical extinction picture since the year 1500, from my post cited above;

Figure 2. Mammal and Bird Extinctions. All causes, all locations. 17 year Gaussian average. The first recorded extinctions resulted from introduced species during the first wave of European exploration of the Western Hemisphere, mostly on Caribbean Islands. The second wave of extinctions is coincident with the spread of various colonial empires (and their concomitant introduced cats, rabbits, diseases, mongooses, rifles, rats, dogs, etc) through the 18th and 19th and into the 20th centuries.

I have pleaded for common sense in this question by asking, where are the corpses of all of these supposedly extinct species? I looked high and low for birds or mammals that had gone extinct through habitat reduction. I found none. I searched the Red List. I searched the CREO list. I started investigating this question of extinctions at the end of 2001, as a result of E. O. Wilson, Stuart Pimm, and other co-authors publishing their extinction claims (pdf) in December 2001 as a rebuttal to Lomborg’s “The Skeptical Environmentalist”.

By March 2002 I had written and privately circulated what eventually (with much interesting research and analysis omitted) became my 2010 WUWT blog post on extinction, “Where Are The Corpses”. By dint of burning gallons of midnight oil (organic CO2-free oil, I might add), it took me three months, while working full-time at a day job, to establish from the actual extinction records that Wilson was wrong. I tried to get the results of my analysis published in 2004 with no success. And fair enough, my submission was not in the best of shape. If I were the editor I might have turned me down. Although the ideas were all there, the problem was I didn’t speak the scientific dialect of Journalese all that well back then. Still don’t, for that matter. But all along I have said that the huge, overblown extinction numbers were a fantasy. And almost a decade later, the latest study in Nature agrees.

There are several lessons that I draw from all of this. I sometimes divide lessons into three piles—the good, the bad, and the interesting. First, the good. Science eventually is self-correcting. The claim that 27,000 species are going extinct every year and the “Sixth Wave of Extinctions” will end up in the trash-bin of alarmist scientific claims.

Next, the bad news. The self-correction is way, way too slow. The claim of extraordinary extinctions was made by E. O. Wilson in 1992. It’s 20 years later, and the process of throwing out the garbage is just begun. C’mon, folks, this the 21st century. We need to become much more skeptical overall. The self-correction process of science needs to start moving faster. We can no longer afford the delays occasioned by the blind acceptance of incorrect theories. Scientists these days are nowhere near suspicious enough. And there’s more bad news.

Once again, we have a “scientific consensus” which is based on heartfelt emotion rather than actual data. I see Wilson’s claim as the source of all of this. In 1992, he said that some 27,000 species were going extinct each year. When I read that, my Urban Legend Alarm started ringing loud enough for Helen Keller to notice. I said “No way that can be right, the number’s way too big” … and it appears I was correct.

Unfortunately, this claim fit right in with the environmentalists reasonable desire to minimize clear-cutting of tropical forests. Confirmation bias raised its ugly head, and as a result the extinction numbers were never examined. Instead, the bogus claim immediately found its way onto bumper stickers and T-shirts and rainforest campaigns.

Now, I grew up in the middle of the forest, with no neighbors for miles, and I love the forest. So don’t get me wrong. The problem was not the environmentalists’ legitimate desire to properly protect or  manage the forest.

The problem was the bogus claim of thousands of extinctions, a claim that unfortunately fit too perfectly into the reasonable desire to stop wantonly clear-cutting the rainforest. Here at last was the magic bullet, the way to the public’s consciousness (and wallet). It fit so well that nobody wanted to listen to their own urban legend alarms. Nobody wanted to be the one to say “27,000 extinctions a year since 1992 … that’s half a million species that are supposed to be dead … how come we haven’t seen any of them yet?”. So as in the CO2 debacle, the environmental movement once again, and from the best of motives, threw its not inconsiderably weight behind bogus science.

That’s the good and the bad, now for the interesting part. How does such a consensus persist? Generally, by special pleading. If you can’t argue the pig, you argue the squeal.

For example, one of the main exponents of the species/area consensus on extinctions is Dr. Stuart Pimm. He was one of the authors of the attack on The Skeptical Environmentalist that I mentioned above. He was also courageous enough to comment on this issue on the thread Anthony started that I cited above, and that gets my respect. I like to see a man who is willing to publicly stand up for his ideas.

Dr. Pimm says that his studies have shown that the species area relationship is actually borne out by the evidence. In his comment to that thread, he lays out his explanation in one of my favorite ways, the “thought experiment”, as follows:

Imagine destruction that wipes out 95% of the habitat in an area metaphorically “overnight”. How many species have disappeared “the following morning”? The paper tells you. It is not many, just those wholly restricted to the 95% (and absent from the 5% where they would survive). The important question is …

How many of additional species living lonely lives in their isolated patches (the 5%) would become extinct eventually because their population sizes are too small to be viable? A different species-area curve applies — the one for islands, which are isolated. It is a much larger number of extinctions, of course, and the one used in the studies mentioned above that find such compelling agreement between predicted against observed extinctions.

That sounds right … if his species/area relationship theory is correct. Some species would go extinct immediately. The rest would follow an exponential decay from that time to when they reach their new equilibrium. So we’d see an immediate effect, then a decreasing number of extinctions as the years went by until the final equilibrium was reached. If his theory is correct.

But when I read Dr. Pimm’s actual work, I don’t find the names of actual species that have gone extinct from habitat reduction. I don’t find “compelling agreement between predicted against observed extinctions”. Instead, I find things like this example, from “Timeline Between Deforestation and Bird Extinction in Tropical Forest Fragments” :

Our previous work employs the familiar, empirical relationship between the size of an area, A, and the number of species it contains, S, to predict how many species should eventually be lost when forest area is reduced. We have two cases studies: the Atlantic Forest region of South America (Brooks & Balmford 1996) and the islands of Southeast Asia (Brooks et al. 1997). The global survey of Collar et al. (1994) includes lists of the bird species threatened with extinction in these regions. The predicted numbers of species lost from deforestation closely match these independently compiled totals of threatened species. This match suggests that these threatened species will indeed become extinct in due course and thus that we can predict the eventual species losses.

Note that the “species/area relationship” being applied to extinctions is described as the “familiar, empirical relationship”. This is an indication of the strength of the consensus regarding the claimed relationship.

OK. What’s wrong with the logic in Dr. Pimm’s paragraph?

His logic goes as follows. Having noticed that there have not been any bird extinctions from habitat reduction, he explains this by saying that the birds are “destined for extinction”. His species/area relationship predicts a certain number of extinctions. He finds that according to the Red List, about that same number of birds are “threatened with extinction”. This, he says, shows that his estimates are very reasonable, supporting the idea that the species/area relationship is correct.

There are two problems with that. The first is a problem with the evidence. Even if we assume a fairly long period until the calculated number of species goes extinct, the cutting of the tropical forests has been going on for many decades now. Plus as Dr. Pimm says, some species, perhaps not a lot but certainly some, should have gone extinct immediately. So from those two effects, we should have seen some bird and mammal extinctions by now. But we haven’t seen those predicted extinctions from habitat reduction. This makes his claim very doubtful from the start.

So that’s a problem with the evidence. I go through the actual numbers in “Where Are The Corpses?“. By now, if we really were in the midst of the “Sixth Wave of Extinctions”, someone should be able to point to dozens of bird and mammal species that have gone extinct from habitat reduction even if the extinctions occur very slowly. So the evidence doesn’t support his claim.

(Let me digress a moment and request that people not say “but what about the quagga, it’s extinct”, or “you left that noble bird, the nimble-fingered purse-snatcher, off the list of bird extinctions”. CREO says the quagga is extant under a valid species name, but that’s not the point. I don’t wish to be sidetracked into debating the reality of one or two extinctions. According to Wilson we should have seen dozens and dozens of bird and mammal extinctions by now. Unless you know where those missing dozens and dozens of extinctions are, I don’t want to debate whether I should have included the extinction of the double-breasted seersucker. End of digression.)

Those are problems with the evidence. But what’s wrong with Dr. Pimm’s logic?

The problem with the logic is a bit more subtle. If you go to the Red List, yes, you will find that those birds he mentions are indeed listed as being threatened with extinction. So at first blush, it seems this supports his “species/area relationship” claim.

But why does the Red List say those birds are threatened with extinction?

Well … in most instances, because of loss of habitat … which they say leads to the grave threat of extinction because that is what’s predicted by the species/area relationship. 

So Dr. Pimm’s logic is perfectly circular. As long as we accept that there is a mathematical relationship (species/area) between habitat reduction and extinctions, we can show that there is a mathematical relationship between habitat reduction and extinctions. We just declare species that have lost habitat as “Threatened With Extinction”, and presto! We now have the evidence to support the “species/area relationship”.

And since in the 21st century there is hardly a bird or mammal species which has not lost habitat, this allows the placing of more and more species onto the “threatened” lists. It also allows the putative cause called “habitat reduction” to be added to virtually any animal on the Red List … but there’s a huge problem.

The dang creatures just refuse to oblige by going extinct as Drs. Wilson and Pimm have been predicting for lo these many years. They won’t die, the cheeky beggars. Rather impolite of the birds and mammals, I’d say.

Finally, let me use this example to encourage people to use their common sense, to consider the “reasonableness” of the numbers that they encounter. The reality of the 21st century is that we need to run with our “bad number detectors” set to maximum gain. When someone claims that 27,000 species are going extinct every year, think about that number. Does it make sense? Does it seem to be a reasonable size? Extrapolate it out, that’s a quarter million species claimed to be going extinct per decade, a half million species since Wilson made the prediction. Is it reasonable that the world lost a half million species … but nobody can come up with any corpses?

Here is the rude truth about bird and mammal extinctions. Life is incredibly resilient. Once it gets started, it’s a bitch to stop. Almost all of the bird and mammal extinctions were the result of one species (specifically including humans) actively and tenaciously hunting another species to extinction. Most of the time this was an introduced species (specifically including Europeans during the waves of conquest and empire). The main extinction threat to mammals and birds around the planet has never been habitat reduction. It is species-on-species predation in its infinite variety. It was introduced brown tree snakes eating native birds in Guam, and humans hunting the Carolina Parakeets for their feathers to supply the millinery trade in New York.

And these days, of course, it is the “bushmeat” trade that is a huge threat to many African bird and mammal species, including rare and endangered primates. The idea that those species are threatened because of “habitat reduction” or “climate change” is a huge misdirection that obscures the real problems, which are the same problems as always … human predation and introduced species.

My regards to all,

w.

NOTES OF NOTE:

• While I strongly advocate checking to see if numbers are reasonable, “reasonableness” is not in itself something to stand on. It is simply one part of the “smell test”. And the smell test can’t falsify anything. But it certainly can indicate where to take a hard mathematical or observational look to find out why the number seems so far out of range.

• I grew up in the forest. I live in the forest now. When I look out from my back deck I see nothing but redwoods and oaks and bay laurel, with a tiny triangle of ocean glimmering in the distance. I believe in protecting and managing and harvesting and preserving the forests. In addition, biodiversity is always of value to an ecosystem, increasing its stability, adaptability, and longevity. This article is about extinctions, not about whether the forest should be properly protected, harvested, and managed.

• I see that my previous comments have made it into the Wall Street Journal.

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Latitude

Thanks Willis
Now aren’t you glad European Starlings and English Sparrows aren’t endangered………….

jereny

The Economist front page and magazine is devoted to man-made planet change. They propose to call a new geologic time – the Anthropocene.
This time, they and their largest shareholder “The Rothschilds” appear to have outdone themselves on alarmist bull crap.
Total garbage with worryingly fascist overtones.

Peter S

PITA?
This surely is a hoax!

Theo Goodwin

Willis,
You often produce brilliant work but this one is right at the top of the charts. It shows that commonsense is the handmaiden to science and without it science is lost. In addition, you help a whole host of non-scientists to see that the very best in the business, such as E. O. Wilson, can sign onto claims that are presented as supported by science but that have no support in empirical evidence and depend on circular reasoning.
That is the situation in so-called climate science today. The so-called theories are tautologies and the so-called empirical evidence is non-existent. We need a new principle along the lines of “Buyer Beware, ” maybe “Learner Beware.” The saddest part of being an educator today is that scepticism has been driven from the classroom, at least for the first two years of college, and replaced with a canned political correctness that has the appeal of Muzak. The Alinskyites have been so very successful.
By the way, the number one threat to song birds is The Ordinary House Cat, at least in urban, suburban, and similar areas. I think all the politically correct own a house cat. I cannot see one in the wild without feeling a pang for the birds.

Human predation and introduced species. Well, yeah, I guess. I coulda thoughta that too, ya know.
Seriously now, congratulations on your simple, elegant and brilliant argument, Mr Eschenbach, and thanks for the “oh, yeah!” moment and the hours of upcoming mind-candy munching!

Thank you so much Willis. I am privileged to live in the country surrounded by bird friends – Australian magpies and butcherbirds, who have adopted us into their families and show us their nests each year – even tell us where they will be nesting next year! For me the real tragedy is the senseless damage to the lives of real, actual animals, who I know from experience can feel all the same emotions that we do, who can form ‘theories of minds’ and communicate complex ideas across the species barrier into the minds of humans. (See http://windehearts.org for some of these stories.)
One of the most horrific websites I came across was that of the European Environment agency. I was appalled by its callous mathematisation of the deaths from wind farms, in the end ‘justified’ – as of course they had to do – because they concluded “no species would become extinct”. The sheer icy-heartedness of these so-called defenders of the environment shocked me. As you rightly point out, the extinction question and a false theory about it are massive red herrings preventing most people from understanding or counteracting the real threats to wildlife. Just as these faux environmentalists have no heart when it comes to real, actual suffering animals, they also have no heart concerning the many poor in the third world and the poor, indeed, in the west, who will suffer from the effects of their carbon taxes and trading schemes. As long as the bulk effect (species, groups, etc.) works out, they don’t care about individuals. And that’s very wrong.

Oops, that was meant to be http://wingedhearts.org .

Peter S says:
June 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm

PITA?
This surely is a hoax!

Oh no – as a publicity stunt after the Million Man March several years ago in Washington DC, PITA announced the Million Microbe March. If was very sad. The day before the march someone accidentally autoclaved the petri dish.

Pirran

In a previous life, I was a Technical Editor on an International Medical Journal and I swiftly learned to live by the following maxim:
“Trust the Scientific Method, not the Scientist”
As you concluded, over time the legitimate position will usually be resolved, but in the short to medium term individual scientists and researchers are as corrupt, bitchy, self-serving and back-stabbing as any other academic. I learned to avoid referring certain authors to certain peer-reviewers because I knew they would be rejected out of hand for purely ad hominem motives. Particular departments within particular institutions were always suspect because of their habit of “salami-slicing” data to create multiple submissions to multiple journals in order to produce the greatest number of publications, irrespective of (usually worthless) merit.
We ignore the immediate, narcissistic agendas of individual scientists (tenure, excessive publication, personal vendettas, pure ego) at our peril. I wonder how many trillions will have been wasted before AGW is finally put to bed because of this.

LearDog

Willis – well written argued analysis, amazing stuff. The body count – where is it? Gotta love the “They won’t die, the cheeky beggars. Rather impolite of the birds and mammals, I’d say”.
Conversely – the opposite argument on ‘evolution’ should be true as well…..where are all of the NEW species – particularly in light of the ‘survival of the fittest’ meme? We should see all SORTS of failed or temporaryily advantaged evolutionary experiments around us – yet, they don’t seem to exist…. ?
To be devil’s advocate.

1DandyTroll

27 000 per year?
so during the last 100 years, 2 700 000 have perished. That’s about 1 million more than some say is known to exist. Or a fourth of, what some “scientist” say is, the estimated number in existence.
I call it hippies trying to turn themselves into human bongs for trying to blow smoke up their own ar….
Firstly, they know squat all of the number of polar bears in existence.
Secondly, only a couple of percentages is known about the seas.
Thirdly, formerly dead ones are found to be very much alive and kicking every year.
Fourthly, they find new ones, never before known to the western stupendous bureaucrosociety every year, which numbers in the more than ten thousand some years.
Call me a tad bit oddish, but how can they conclusively say a specie is completely dead, even for all of their’s intent and purposes?
Some species dies off, that’s a fact of life. Is that bad?
Sa[ber] tooth tigres? Ok, going by the number of tigers, they would probably not cause much problems as long as people sta[ye]d at a distance.
Mammoth? The greatest sin of our ancestors according to some deranged hippies, that man offed all the mammoths, of course there’s no actual proof of it, but they believe it. But how many would want free roaming herds of mammoths in Europe and Russia, Mongolia, Ukraine, and China? The producers of tiger tanks would have been happy though to be the only guns big enough to learn the “stupid” animals to keep within their designated area . . .
If man was so great a hunter to off all the mammoths and sable tooth tigers, how come deers, moos’, and rabbits are still around? Sparrows, we hunt with nets, and have done so for a couple of thousands of years, but they’re still around. Bats and rats? Whales and seals? Dolphins? Sharks?
For several hundred years human kind has offed millions and millions of a limited set of animals, yet those animals are still around, but human kind gets blamed for “offing” critters nobody ever frakking hunted.
Could it be because when you push a plant around it grows ever stronger, but if you don’t care for it, it dies.

pat

jereny –
r u talking about this?
17 May: Independent UK: AFP: Extreme makeover: are humans reshaping Earth?
A growing number of scientists, some gathered at a one-day symposium this past week at the British Geological Society in London, say “yes”.
One among them, chemistry Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, has even suggested a new name: the Anthropocene…
An analogous fate could await humans if temperatures climb by five or six degrees Celsius, which climate scientists say could happen within a century…
Since Crutzen coined the term a decade ago, the Anthropocene has been eagerly adopted by scientists across a broad spectrum of disciplines.
“It triggered the realisation that we were in an entirely new era of planet Earth,” said Will Steffen, head of Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute…
For now, the man in the hot seat is University of Leicester professor Jan Zalasiewicz, who heads the group of geologists tasked with recommending whether the Anthropocene should be added to the 150-odd eons, eras, periods, epochs and ages into which the last 3.6 billion years of Earth’s history has been officially divided…
Evidence of abrupt change – on a geological time scale – wrought by human hands would seem to be overwhelming.
The burning of fossil fuels has altered the composition of the atmosphere, pushing the concentration of carbon dioxide to levels unseen at least for 800,000 years, perhaps for three million…
There have been five such wipeouts over the last half billion years, and most scientists agree that we have now entered the sixth, with species disappearing at 100 to 1,000 times the so-called “background” rate…
“We are sculpting the surface of the Earth,” said James Syvitski, a professor at the University of Colorado, pointing to two centuries of industrial-scale mining, damming, deforestation and agriculture.
Thousands of dams built since the mid-19th century have “completely altered the planet’s terrestrial plumbing,” he said.
By one key measure, at least, we already have: the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere – measured in parts per million – remained in a narrow range of 260 to 285 for nearly 12,000 years. Today is stands at 390 ppm, and is sure to rise considerably higher in coming decades…BLAH BLAH BLAH
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/extreme-makeover-are-humans-reshaping-earth-2285150.html
care to pick this apart, Willis?

DR

Is that like Pita bread?
PETA in Michigan did offer money to a school system in my area to help save animals from extinction (tic)
http://is.gd/P3g3RC

tim maguire

But does a lack of mass extinction among birds and mammals answer the issue? Granted, most of us care most about these, but there are plenty of other fish in the sea, bugs in the canopy, etc. My guess is the people talking about a 6th wave of extinction are including many more creatures than are counted in your studies.

DR

P.S.
My son is wearing his PETA t-shirt to school tomorrow (true) 🙂
People Eating Tasty Animals.

“This time, they [The Economist] and their largest shareholder ‘The Rothschilds’ appear to have outdone themselves on alarmist bull crap.” (jereny, June 1, 2011 at 5:29 pm )
Indeed?
“The Financial Times Limited, which is a Pearson subsidiary, owns 50% of the share capital of The Economist Group but does not have a controlling interest. The bulk of the remaining 50% is owned by individuals including members of the Rothschild banking family of England. ” (Wikipedia)
And,
“Current members of the board of directors of the Economist Group are: Helen Alexander CBE, Sir David Bell, Rona Fairhead, John Gardiner, Philip Mengel, John Micklethwait, Nigel Morris, Simon Robertson, Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, and Chris Stibbs….Current trustees of the company are: Lord Renwick of Clifton, Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, and Clayton Brendish. Former trustees include Lord Alexander of Weedon.(Ibid.)
What? Those sinister Rothschilds seem to be a lost in a gaggle of Foresters, Coddenhams, Bottomleys and Micklewaiths! Times they are a-changing; a couple of minutes on Wiki, a little second-grade math, and “poof!” goes again an age-old canard. Well, probably not as far as nitwits are concerned, but that’s the way it goes.

Al Gored

Great job again Willis. As a very long time student of wildlife and conservation history I thought your post “Where Are The Corpses“ was an excellent summary… though Obama may think it was about the Marines.
Your point about model based predictions – soooo familiar here – is dead on. The worst case I know of is in Canada, British Columbia, where COSEWIC, the federal body that determines such things, decided that a bird called the Williamson’s Sapsucker should be listed as ‘Endangered’ based on model projections of logging rates that were borderline absurd to begin with and then never happened. Still no change.
Gets better. That species, like MOST bird species listed as Endangered or Threatened in Canada, is at the extreme northern margins of its range and is doing just fine in the U.S. This use of political boundaries as well as the invention of alleged subspecies and ‘distinct geographic populations’ swell the listed numbers enormously. And for the public, the fact that most species and inventions on these ‘endangered’ species lists are not endangered or even close to that adds still more confusion.
Lots of reasons why this game is used. Can be used for all sorts of land use agendas and it creates lots of jobs for ‘researchers’ and lawyers. All they need this crisis the same way the AGW research-industrial complex needs the Planetary Fever.
Save the pikas!

Mike O

The big issue ignored by the extinction crowd is the fact that formerly farmed land is being reforested at a much higher rate than new forest is being cut! The NY Times of all places estimated that for every acre of rainforest cut, 50 acres of farmland were abandoned to return back to forest by people leaving the land and moving to the cities. They also stated that the biodiversity of these newly forested acres quickly moved back to equal that of the virgin state.

Willis Eschenbach

tim maguire says:
June 1, 2011 at 6:33 pm

But does a lack of mass extinction among birds and mammals answer the issue? Granted, most of us care most about these, but there are plenty of other fish in the sea, bugs in the canopy, etc. My guess is the people talking about a 6th wave of extinction are including many more creatures than are counted in your studies.

Yes, it does, because the species/area relationship is supposed to apply equally to all species. In fact, E. O. Wilson says that the larger species of birds and mammals are more prone to extinction, which makes sense given how hard it is to even locally exterminate something like mosquitoes. So we should have seen lots of bird and mammal extinctions … but on the continents (where the deforestation is taking place) we’ve seen almost none.
As I said, the calculations of how many bird and mammal species are available in “Where are the corpses?”.
w.

Physics Major

Sometimes science is so easy. You just make things up.

Jeremy

Peter Kovachev,
This is verbatim from The Economist Group website:
“The “A” special shares are held by individual shareholders including the Cadbury, Rothschild, Schroder and other family interests as well as a number of staff and former staff shareholders.
The “B” special shares are all held by The Financial Times Limited which holds 50% of the total share capital of the company excluding the trust shares.
The trust shares are held by trustees, whose consent is needed for certain corporate activities, including the transfer of “A” special and “B” special shares. The rights attaching to the trust shares provide for the continued independence of the ownership of the company and the editorial independence of The Economist. Apart from these rights, they do not include the right to vote, receive dividends or have any other economic interest in the company. The appointments of the editor of The Economist and of the chairman of the company are subject to the approval of the trustees.
The general management of the business of the company is under the control of the Board of directors. There are 13 seats allowable on the Board, seven of which may be appointed by holders of the “A” special shares and six by the holders of the “B” special shares. ”
If you read the annual report of The Economist Group then by virtue of Special A shares (the Rothschild’s have about 20% or 240,000 shares) they have heavy influence over the Board of Directors. Evelyn Rothschild was Chairman of the Board for 16 years (1972 to 1989). His wife is on the board now.
So who looks like the nitwit now?
No conspiracy theory here but for sure those in power/control will have influence on the direction of a company – even a news magazine. And I think there is no doubt that there must be some agenda behind all this alarmist nonsense – it could be as mundane as simply trying to compete with National Enquirer for sensationalist news and to attract readers but given the educated readership of The Economist, I suspect it is not that simple..

Chad Jessup

As some famous scientists have said, “Species preservation is unnatural.”

GBees

I note PITA is a wholly-owned subsidiary of “Spin”Tronics. Say no more.

Eric Anderson

Then there is the little matter about the formerly-extinct species. Over the past few years there have been a number of species found which were formerly thought to be extinct.
The long past extinction numbers (meaning millions of years ago) is apparently vastly overstated as well, and, as I understand it, was based on estimates/models of how many species there should have been if such-and-such a theory were true . . .

Doug in Seattle

The ESA is nothing more than a tool to dismantle America.
It long ago ceased to be about protecting species. The level that it works on isn’t species anyway, its local population. That way they get to define the salmon as a separate species for each watershed, or each valley has its own grey spider or spotted toad.
The possibilities are endless as we now see every project endangered by some up to now unheard of species that if placed in another location would easilty breed with that location’s “unique” species.

Cassie King

Scare stories sell the narrative, to frighten people enables an element of control. Groups have found that playing on peoples fears is very profitable both in financial and political terms. A short cut to control and power, make people frightened enough of some imaginary enemy or supposed disaster and they are putty in your hands, scare people sufficiently and there is almost no limit to what they will do.
The role of fear as a potent weapon of control has a long history, those who use the weapon of fear do so because it almost always trumps civilised normal and rational political and social discourse. What of the people who use this method? In general they believe the ends justify the means, any method no matter how evil is rationalised to be good because the ends are perceived to be good.
When you fight monsters take care that you do not become a monster in the process, when you look into that particular abyss that abyss will certainly look into you. Fear and guilt, the two most potent political and social weapons of those people who cannot win by democratic and normal positive values. Just suppose that the scaremongers told only the truth, the bare unvarnished truth?
No mass extinctions, no mass die offs, life is very hardy and very hard to kill. But also the biggest strength of life on earth is its ability to accommodate change and evolve, without this gift there would be no life, 99.9% of species that have ever walked the earth are now extinct and that is not something to be mourned but rather celebrated because it proves that life is dynamic, species come and go, make their mark and disappear, evolve and change to suit an ever changing planetary cradle.
Fear is the lazy persons route to power, it is also the stupid persons way to power, it never works in the end, it destroys the power seekers every bit as much as it destroys those who are abused along the way, what you do to me you do to yourself. And yet the lessons of the past are repeated again and again by those new generations who believe that they can ride the tiger of ‘fear power’ people never learn do they? An easy route to power over others, a short cut to exert political and social control over others, the quick method of getting people to obey you and it always ends the same way and still people are taken in by it.
If only people would learn the lessons of the past. Those who would try and frighten you into a series of actions are not worth listening to and in fact they are without exception too dangerous to listen to, millions have dies on the alter of this ‘fear power’, it should be made illegal in fact, it should be a criminal act to inflict fear in order to advance a socio political narrative.

Eyal Porat

Great post, Willis.
A small example why the predictions are wrong:
In the last few years, Seals, which were absent for decades from northern Israel’s shores, have reappeared. And they seem healthy and strong (only a few, but it is a start).
This is after we were totally convinced by the “experts” that the Mediterranean was barren.
So the logic of “We assume it is so, hence it is so” is false.
And in a different note: I envy you on your house location – even if I too am living in quite a rural area.

Jim Masterson

Some years back, I remember listening to a radio interview with Dr. Patrick Moore (of Greenpeace fame or notoriety as he’s had a falling out with them). Dr. Moore kept hearing statements about 17,000 to 100,000 species were vanishing per year. He decided to trace down the source of this statement. It took time as each environmental group was repeating the quote from other environmental groups. He eventually traced it to a computer model running on E. O. Wilson’s PC.
Jim

EJ

Willis,
I have lamented several times about who out there could replace Dr. McIntyre, should he decide put R to rest and go mining. In my humble opinion, your are definately a contender. Steve M has such a dry taste. Yours, not as much.
Your posts have become a must read for me. I thank you again for all your hard work.
EJ

LazyTeenager

Willis.
It is not clear from this what Wilson was referring to when he claims 27000 and what evidence he was using. You seem to be concentrating on birds and mammals only. No mention of insects, reptiles plants whatever.
One estimate for birds and mammals after a quick and careless Google is 0.44 per year.

John Marshall

If species did not go extinct this planet would be very crowded.
These people never mention the new species discovered every year.

You’ve done it again, Willis. Thanks for another informative post…

banjo

Facinating ,it seems the critters did best when we were trying to exterminate ourselves 1914-1918 and 39-45.
Shhhhh…don`t tell the bunny huggers.Who knows what the next campaign might be?

Alexander K

Willis, thanks for another lovely piece. Your combination of logic, the scientific method, maths, and your ability to communicate with a total absence of b.s. but with a warm countryman’s humour does it for me every time.
You remind me of some the men under whose shade and protection I was raised – they were all rural men, old soldiers and survivors of the World Wars and the Great Depression, hard, weathered, literate, numerate despite most of them being long gone from school to work by the age of twelve or thirteen. Poetry, story-telling, figuring out how everything worked and being totally competent at everything they did made them a great set of role models but a damned hard act to follow, but I owe it to their memories to try. One of them, who tended to make acid comments about the value of many technological advances which he maintained made people mentally lazy, was challenged to a race by a young nephew who worked in a bank; the young feller turned up at the old bloke’s house with the latest in mechanical calculators borrowed from his bank. It was huge and heavy, had a keypad and a sturdy crank with a knurled handle mounted on one side. The two of them decided on racing to add an extensive column of five-digit numbers. When the young nephew said “go!” they went at it; the old feller looked at the column of figures for a few minutes, then wrote down his total, sat back and smiled. His nephew was half-way done. When the nephew cranked out the last total, he looked up, grinned, and said
“By God, Uncle, you are a hard man to best! And your total is dead right.”

jaymam

If anyone is counting the undoubted extinctions in New Zealand, please be aware that the fauna and flora in NZ evolved for millions of years in the total absence of any mammals, apart from bats. Many species of birds, e.g. the Kiwi, are unable to fly, because there was no need for them to do so. With the accidental introduction of rats and the deliberate introduction of stoats and cats and other predators, the flightless birds don’t have a show. At great expense we help endangered species survive on offshore islands and onshore sanctuaries surrounded by predator-proof fences.
None of that has anything to do with climate change.

Jessie

Ric Werme says: June 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm
The day before the march someone accidentally autoclaved the petri dish.

Now that is VERY funny, thanks.
And thank you Willis for yet again another article; well researched and elucidated.
Your comment on ‘the 6th wave of extinction’ meme being difficult to extinguish is likely very correct.
Is this due to arguments for various species having been aggregated under a common thematic and thus normalised? Displacing discrete observation and comment?
Thinking of you and your family, as you wrote in a previous post that your wife is busy looking after her father, who is very ill. All the best.

Jimbo

How are the polar bears doing? Rock steady Eddy.
“But the polar bears are drowning. Ahhhhhh!”

A polar bear swam continuously for over nine days, covering 687km (426 miles), a new study has revealed.”
BBC – 2011

Polar bears are more resilient than previously thought. They survived an ice free Arctic ocean!

Jimbo

How are the polar bears doing? Rock steady Eddy.
“But the polar bears are drowning. Ahhhhhh!”

A polar bear swam continuously for over nine days, covering 687km (426 miles), a new study has revealed.”
BBC – 2011

Polar bears are more resilient than previously thought. They survived an ice free Arctic ocean!

Ryan

There are estimated to be 10,000 species of bird and 5,000 species of mammal. Seems from the graph that we aren’t having such a big impact.
Scientists have a tendency to believe that species population numbers would be relatively static were it not for the intervention of humans. From what I have observed of common birds in my own back yard this isn’t the case. Sometimes the egg-eating birds like magpies are so vast in number in my locale that they easily prey on all the eggs and young of the smaller birds resulting in devastation of their numbers. Having demolished their own food supply the magpie numbers dwindle and this gives the opportunity for the populations of smaller birds to flourish.
In the UK magpie populations have trebled over the last 30 years but sparrow populations have declined. But this year I have seen far fewer magpies in my locale but huge numbers of sparrows all making nests in the guttering of every house in the street.
I believe that populations of all animals naturally decline precipitously and then recover explosively depending on natural predation. This makes sense if you consider that evolution may have anything to with the development of those animals in the first place – for the term “survival of the fittest” to have any meaning then you must have regular periods of near extinction to filter out the majority of those animals that are not so well adapted to the cause of their near extinction. Scientists seem to want to believe in evolution but also believe that population numbers of species remain fairly static but these are actually contradictory.

Annei

Ric Werme says:
June 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm
Peter S says:
June 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm
PITA?
This surely is a hoax!
Oh no – as a publicity stunt after the Million Man March several years ago in Washington DC, PITA announced the Million Microbe March. If was very sad. The day before the march someone accidentally autoclaved the petri dish.
_________
!!!!! Gosh….millions wiped out callously!
How ethical are antibiotics? Sorry, can’t help the sarcasm.

Henry Galt

Bullseye Willis. Another of my boxes ticked; Numerous modern species extinction = wrong. Care to have a go at the Big Bang 😉
Theo, in the UK it is far worse than just watching predators destroy our bird-life. You cannot mention it, as we are “a nation of animal lovers” don’tcha know, but due to pet food legislation (regular samples must be eaten by humans to shown fitness for consumption) we import many tons of high quality meat every day. A fair amount from South American factories who obtain their material largely from areas previously forested, process it and load it onto a container ship that burns bunker fuel all the way to Rotterdam so it may be distributed to the pussy owner’s local supermarket.
The aforementioned “owner” then spends as much, or more, every week for many years, as it takes to sustain an entire family in some countries to “keep” their “companion” in the manner to which it has become accustomed. I laugh at the levels of pet insurance here also. Anyone insular enough to crave the company of a wild animal rather than speak to/make friends with their neighbours and sponsor a human child deserves all the fleecing they can get, especially as they willingly, if entirely ignorantly/thoughtlessly, contribute to destruction of habitat, real pollution of atmosphere and murder on a grand scale.
Don’t get me started on pedigree dogs and their “owners”……

derise

PITA, that kind of organization could kind of grow on you (or in you)

Alan the Brit

You never cease to amaze me withh your flwaless logic! Can you spare about 5%?

starzmom

Just out of curiosity, has anyone compared natural extinction rates to evolution rates? This thought just popped into my head. Seems to me in a slowly changing environment (slow being relative to the reproduction rate of whatever species is being discussed) that natural selection will drive species change toward whatever the new environment will support, and eventually the old unchanged species will not be able to compete, and the new changed species will be dominant. Presto, we have an extinction of sorts, but a continuous line of genetic inheritance. This of course does not apply if we have introduced voracious housecats or rats into an environment where the pickings are easy.

DirkH

PITA, fantastic!
PITA needs a campaign featuring some nakedness; how about “I’d rather die naked than taking antibiotics against my diarrhea?”

Geoff Sherrington

There is a major problem in the definition of ‘species’ for a start. This has life scientists locked in never-ending argument.
There is also a definitional lag, because in some places a species has to have been out of sight for 50 years or whatever before gaining the extinct category. It’s like the missing heat in the pipeline. A travesty.
Practical problems.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_animals_of_Australia
Many of the extinctions, of birds in particular, are on tiny isolated islands. It was accidents of history that gave most of these islands to Australia, but Australians get the blame. We are really bad bastards, though the vast majority of us have never been to these islands to kill anything. The basic problem is, with small populations and limited history, who can tell if ‘species’ like these are on a trajectory to greater numbers, or close to unaided extinction? Darwinism would suggest that on a small isolated area, diversity arising from a species is a sign of increase. The birds that died on Australia’s islands did not seem to diversify, so they could have been headed for natural extinction.
So what’s that got to do with Global Warming?

Looks like PITA is already having an effect on governments. Just a few days ago the UN decided to preserve the extremely endangered smallpox virus!
http://www.youngzine.com/article/preserve-smallpox-virus-un-decides

Bloke down the pub

A while back I watched a very interesting programme on the marhlands of Southern Iraq. In his attempts to subdue the people of that region, Saddam Hussein drained thousands of square miles of the marshes and turned them into a desert. One of nature’s victims of this act was a small waterbird that was found nowhere else in the world. Strangely enough, when local enviromentalists suceeded in re-flooding some of the area, the marshes re-established themselves and this bird returned from who knows where. Amazing how resilient nature can be.

ferdberple

Consider the dangers of misplaced environmental protection. Songbirds have been all but wiped out by human settlements. Not by humans, but by crows that breed in large numbers using garbage from cities as a food source. These large numbers of crows also feed on the eggs and nestling of the songbirds, eradicating them near human settlements. These same crows are typically protected by environmental regulations which ignore the harm that results.

Keith Battye

Here in Africa we are about to lose the last of the Rhino which is unspeakably sad.
It isn’t because of loss of habitat, climate change or natural causes. It’s because Asian men think it will cure pecker problems and cancer and Yemenis who like to use the horn as a dagger handle.
Watching Greenpeace types swashbuckle around Japanese whaling ships makes me wonder how much effort it would take for them to protect the Rhino from independent and government sponsored poachers.
Good work Willis, you are improving with every article and that’s not easy.