Science Gone Stupid: Public Interest in Biodiversity Edition

Guest post by David Middleton

Is interest in biodiversity declining?

Google Trends, the data-scouring tool that lets people explore historical trends in search terms, is not a perfect window into cultural consciousness. Data is too cloudy for that. It is, however, an useful spotlight, good for glimpsing patterns and asking what might explain them. In that spirit: are people less interested in biodiversity now than a decade ago — and if so, why?

In a study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, Andreas Troumbis, director of the Biodiversity Management Laboratory at the University of the Aegean, analyzed the frequency of Google searches that included the word “biodiversity” between 2004 and 2014. By the end of that time frame, it appeared roughly one-third less frequently than at the beginning. This doesn’t appear to be a statistical anomaly, writes Troumbis. The trend line represents something real. It seems that public interest in biodiversity has declined even as biodiversity itself grows ever more threatened.

That’s one way of looking at it. Another way, the one that Troumbis himself favors, is to situate that trend within a broader social context. The years studied span a global economic recession sandwiched by periods of comparative prosperity. Biodiversity appeared most often early on, fell throughout the recession, then bottomed out and started to rise as the recession lifted. “What we actually observe is a cycle of interest resonating with the cycle of the economy,” Troumbis says.

[…]

Anthropocene

A “scientific” journal published a peer-reviewed paper on a Google search?  And the author concluded that the public is only interested in biodiversity when they aren’t worried about the economy?

Setting aside the stupidity of a peer-reviewed paper about a Google search being published in a “scientific” journal, the author does have a point…  Americans generally lose interest in the existential threat of Gorebal Warming when the price tag is mentioned…

How Much Will Americans Pay to Battle Climate Change? Not Much

But here’s a less asked and probably more important question: What are Americans actually willing to pay to do something about it?

[…]

This is what researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and the Associated Press—NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago set out to better understand. Their nationally representative poll found that 43% of Americans were unwilling to pay an additional $1 per month in their electricity bill to combat climate change—and a large majority were unwilling to pay $10 per month. That’s despite the fact that a whopping 77% said they think climate change is happening and 65% think it is a problem the government should do something about. Support plummets as the amount of the fee increases.

This is an upside-down result. The best available science tells us that Americans should be willing to pay considerably more, because the damages from climate change are so great—including to them personally. If we use the federal government’s estimate of the combined social cost of carbon pollution and apply it to the typical U.S. household’s electricity consumption on today’s national grid mix, the average household faces damages of almost $20 per month. Yet just 29% of respondents said they would be willing to pay at least that much.

[…]

Wall Street Journal

A recent Rasmussen survey reflects a similar attitude.

The article about the declining interest in biodiversity was published by Anthropocene (one of my favorite words to ridicule).  And the folks at the Anthropocene clearly live up to their title…

Who We Are

We are a digital, print, and live magazine in which the world’s most creative writers, designers, scientists, and entrepreneurs explore how we can create a sustainable human age we actually want to live in.

Our mission is to curate a global conversation about data, technology, and innovation that lead to solutions to the persistent environmental challenges of our time. Much like Foreign Policy, MIT Technology Review, and Harvard Business Review have done for their respective fields, we aim to build a thought-leader publication for the sustainability and development world.

Anthropocene is an initiative of Future Earth, the largest sustainability science consortium in the world; and it will be built in partnership with the Future Earth Media Lab based at the Stockholm Resilience Center. Editorially, Anthropocene is the evolution of Conservation magazine, which brings with it a 15-year track record of journalism and design excellence.

What We Do

Anthropocene works with world-class veteran writers—as well a network of over 4,000 journalists in developing countries through a partnership with Earth Journalism Network. Through these networks, we scout innovative and often counterintuitive solutions to environmental and development challenges and craft in-depth stories about the people and technologies behind those innovations.

Our stories take many forms—ranging from daily coverage of compelling new research to interactive digital features to high end print editions. In addition, we plan to take select stories from page to stage in a live event series called “The Anthropocene Dialogues.”

Across all platforms, what we value most is editorial independence, clear writing with simple and powerful language, scientific and technological rigor, and beautiful design.

[…]

Anthropocene

In the spirit of Science Gone Stupid, let’s see what Google Trends has to say about the word, “Anthropocene”

Anthropocene_1

Figure 1. Interest in the Anthropocene peaked at the end of the Obama maladministration, when we entered the Trumpocene.

That was kind of meaningless.  Let’s see a comparison of biodiversity and Anthropocene

Anthropocene_2

Figure 2.  It appears that, despite the waning interest, biodiversity towers over the Anthropocene.

That’s all well and good… But it still provides no clear frame of reference.  Maybe this will help…

Anthropocene_3

Figure 3. “Beer!”

bc64760951bb16d365017d613007482a-homer-simpson-quotes-simpsons-quotes

 

Is it really possible that humanity could be more interested in beer than in the combined interest in biodiversity and the Anthropocene?  Surely there must be some place on Earth where sanity prevails!

Anthropocene_3b

Figure 4. Red China, the Islamofascist Republic of Iran and a handful of Third World countries are more interested in biodiversity (red) than beer (yellow)… Probably because beer carries the death penalty in at least a few of these nations.

As usual, any and all sarcasm was purely intentional.

Featured image:

science_made_stupid

Science Made Stupid: How to Discomprehend the World Around Us is a 1985 book written and illustrated by Tom Weller. The winner of the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book, it is a parody of a junior high or high school-level science textbook. Though now out of print, high-resolution scans are available online, as well as an abridged transcription, both of which have been endorsed by Weller [1]. Highlights of the book include a satirical account of the creationism vs. evolution debate and Weller’s drawings of fictional prehistoric animals (e.g., the duck-billed mastodon.)

Wikipedia

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52 thoughts on “Science Gone Stupid: Public Interest in Biodiversity Edition

  1. “in which the world’s most creative writers, designers, scientists, and entrepreneurs”

    Pretty full of themselves.

    • Imagine what it would be like working there. I once had a co-worker tell me that he was one of the smartest people I would ever meet. I thanked him for telling me that because I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

    • The world’s most creative whatnots? Very possibly. I suspect their people make up more stuff than just about anybody.

  2. Well, being a member of the only category excluded from diversity, I certainly haven’t been searching it – it hits me between the eyes daily. I protest that I had absolutely nothing to do with the outrageous Age of Enlightenment or the evil Industrial Revolution, but to no avail. I don’t hate myself either. There seems to be no way back for me. Well I could change gender and put a glass ceiling on my house… but, nah, I have broad shoulders, I can take it. /Sarc

  3. But you just confirm the deplorableness of the deplorables. Beer. Ha!
    What is the result for chardonnay?

  4. The government’s speculative cost for global warming for the average family is $20 per month and they are surprised that only 29% pf people are willing to pay $20 per month to avoid global warming?

    How could they possibly be surprised at that result? What kind of dingleberry would be willing to pay as much or more to avoid something than they would pay for simply ignoring it?

  5. “Anthropocene works with world-class veteran writers—as well a network of over 4,000 journalists in developing countries through a partnership with Earth Journalism Network.”
    As well a network… I think these world class writers left out the word “as”. They need a plumber to proofread their propaganda.

    • Maybe one of the copy editors laid off by the New York Times would take the job. That sort of site fits the NYT’s politics.

  6. The situation seems to me that the boy is crying wolf for the 111th time. The first 110 times no wolf was found. It’s no wonder that the farmers and shepherds become more skeptical and less likely to listen, even if this is the time that there is a wolf.

  7. …a product of a prosperous leisure society…..when people have the time to ponder and pontificate life the universe and everything
    Troumbis is more worried about his gravy train….that the leisure society created

  8. “…explore how we can create a sustainable human age we actually want to live in.”

    “We”. They wish to determine the type of world they want to live in, then impose it on the rest of us.

    That’s why socialism is so popular with this crowd. It has never worked, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is socialism gives them the power to impose the world they choose upon the unwashed masses who aren’t among “…the world’s most creative writers, designers, scientists, and entrepreneurs…”

  9. My favorite statement:

    This is an upside-down result. The best available science tells us that Americans should be willing to pay considerably more, because the damages from climate change are so great—including to them personally.”

    The “best available science” got an unexpected “upside-down result”. Why??? Because “the best available science ” is WRONG when it involves ASSUMPTIONS about what Americans (or any other citizens) “should” be willing to do, pay, believe etc. Social scientists creeping into hard science is the reason that climate science today is viewed as being far from the best available science on the matter.

    • Aphan:The “best available science” gave a wrong result!!! This is the best indicator of how this ‘science’ is done. The ‘best’ told Jim Hansen that the Hudson R. Hwy would be under water by 2000 it’s still high and dry and will be long after the end of this century. What was the upshot of this prediction? World fame and culty guruhood. UK Prof Wacky Wadhams has revised his ice free Arctic best-before date upwards three times. It too will still be revising upwards after the end of this century. What has been the upshot? They haven’t yet locked him up in padded digs. He even thinks sceptics are plotting to kill him for his prescient forecasts! Then there is slapshot, hat trick Mike’s tree ring circus, Trenberth chasing elusive hotspots, Turney of the Ship of Fools, all getting awards.
      And, get this… The ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Science! in South Australia…. heh.. heh.. heh.

      There definitely is a wierd post normal straight jacket on science. It’s basically what they say it is. Data can be fixed that disagrees. I think the red team needs to be made up of independent psychiatrists.

  10. Of course no one is willing to pay more than $1 a month. Let’s look at what $10 a month means… that’s $120 a year. I can buy 3-4 tanks of gas for that. That’s one week’s grocery bill. That’s clothing for one of my kids for a season (2 of them are still growing). You want me to choose to “save the earth” over transporting, feeding, and clothing my kids. Sorry, I love them more. Even $12 a year – that’s money I wouldn’t be able to save for my kids’ college. Pfft!

  11. Google trend searches may tell us something — but I suspect that single word searches tell us much more about evolving language and word use than interest in concepts. Single word searches may just inform us of what’s happening with the latest buzzwords.

      • An army captain after the civil war invented fracking water wells using gunpowder. Then oil wells. Then onto dynamite. Then “torpedoing” using nitro. Then in 1947,the Hugoton gas field on Kansas used high pressure water and sand to prop the cracks open and voila hydraulic fracturing – fracking!

        So this tech is 150yrs old, but it wasn’t until global warming and climate wars on fossil fuels because they thought they had peaked that the fuss started. Prior to that, no one had any issues or knowledge of it.

        A good bet is that such resources are just too valuable for nimrod politicians in New York or Australia even to leave in the ground on principle. Trump is freeing the world. This guy, so vilified will be remembered even when Alexander’s exploits have faded from history. If there is a God, he must have my kind of sense of humour.

  12. Biodiversity appeared most often early on, fell throughout the recession, then bottomed out and started to rise as the recession lifted.

    Maslow could have told them that. link

    Prosperous people are more interested in the environment. Poor people are too concentrated on putting food on the table to give much of a hoot about anything else.

    Prosperity is good for the environment. The greenies really don’t get that.

  13. “Support plummets as the amount of the fee increases. This is an upside-down result. The best available science tells us that Americans should be willing to pay considerably more, because the damages from climate change are so great.”

    No its very easy to explain. Everyone knows that “climate change” is part of the received piety of the Mainstream Media. Therefore, when a representative of the media asks about it, the unwashed genuflect. but, when it comes to their own pocketbooks, that is another thing.

  14. I have lived in two of those “red” countries and I believe neither one cares about biodiversity. Saudi Arabia is sandland with odd oases, oilfields, and ocean coastlines. Nigeria has buckets of biodiversity requiring use of a machete in the bush.

    Alcohol, on the other hand, is important to both. I went to a dinner party in sandland at the home of the chief engineer for Saudia Airlines. The first thing our host asked me was if I wanted a drink. I asked what he had and he led me into the bar. Tanqueray and tonic, of course. I asked him where he got it all and he said “only you ex-patriots have trouble finding alcohol. We have Saudia Airlines”. Next to me at dinner was an Army major who was in charge of Patriot Missile training in the Kingdom and coached a co-ed youth baseball team. He had his beer flown in.

    Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of Guinness –
    https://www.guinness-nigeria.com/about/overview/
    and it is excellent.

    • They had High Life beer in Nigeria in the mid 60s when I was there. Not bad at all. Of course you know that the southern part of the country is Christian, but expatriates drank beer and booze freely in the Muslim North, too. My garden man Adamu (couple of acres of mango trees) also went on a drunk from time to time and other Muslims did too. Less strict in Nigeria. I even got to drink palm wine a few times – it ferments in the tree before it is tapped. A milky water color, tastes like beer.

    • The wife used to work in sunny downtown Riyadh. When she was at the airport, she glanced out a window and they were unloading cases of Johnnie Walker Blue for some Prince… The flights both in and out were hilarious, as entering Saudi airspace everyone rushed to finish their drinks and the women would get changed into abayas. The favorite trick was to hide the incoming contraband, like uncensored magazines or wine/beer yeast in the luggage mixed in with the unmentionables…

  15. My survey answers:
    Is climate change happening? Yes.
    Are you worried about climate change? NO.
    Would you be willing to pay an additional $1 per month on your electric bill tlo combat climate change? NO!
    Is climate change something the government should do something about? NO.

    Comments(probably not asked for)- Are you guys for real? or just crazy? Do you have ANY evidence that the climate is changing in a detrimental way? Or that if it was WE(humanity) could do anything about it? A single solar flare, a Carrington event, could decimate the economies of the developed world, killing multimillions of people next week and you’re asking about climate change in 100 years?

    Work on something useful such as helping people to become more adaptable and less dependent on government.

  16. You can still get “Science Made Stupid: How to Discomprehend the World Around Us” on ABEbooks.com. Three copies left, get’em while you can!

  17. Perhaps the reason why people are less interested in biodiversity is that these days it is less threatened than ever. In the bad old days species only spread by natural means, i.e. by winds and birds. But today an incredible migration of species is taking place, thus increasing biodiversity. In the future we will see new species arising at an increased rate. Good old Homo Sapiens Sapiens for helping Mother Nature. And, who knows, perhaps we are also able to postpone the coming ice age by increasing atmospheric CO2!!!

  18. Hillary’s new book is going to be titled What Happened. I think she lifted that from the book of excuses for the upcoming general admission that the pause is turning into a decline and the world’s greatest science and science policy fraud is past its fading.

    • You can bet on it that HRC “What Happened” won’t be about what really happened. The Dems are showing no introspection and chances are they will lose the next election in part because of it. Then all Supreme Court Justices will be Republican for a couple of generations. The hubris!! I think this crop of Dems will have to die off before the party has a chance.

  19. I’m not an american, but I still see a lot of nonsense here….
    First; Climate is no human matter, that’s natures responsibility, something bigger than us…
    Second; Pollution of environment is a human matter, our responsibility and we can do something to avoid it…
    It’s not all that difficult to understand, is it..?

  20. From Wikipedia under the term, and following the term “biological diversity”:

    “The term’s contracted form biodiversity may have been coined by W.G. Rosen in 1985 while planning the 1986 National Forum on Biological Diversityorganized by the National Research Council (NRC). It first appeared in a publication in 1988 whensociobiologist E. O. Wilson used it as the title of theproceedings[43] of that forum.[44]”

    OCKHAM’s explanation: A “new” word shows up in dialog in the late 1980’s. It takes a while to become repeated. People start looking up the word-maybe just to get a clear definition of what the word means- and as time goes on, it becomes so common people no longer need to look it up. Common sense/logic.

    Social Scientist explanation-” In 2000, people CARED MORE (completely unsubstantiated assumption) about biodiversity than they did in 2014 because Google shows they entered the word into their browsers a lot more in 2000. Something must have happened during those 14 years that made them CARE LESS about biodiversity (Wild speculation based on cognitive biases). What can we find that correlates with the decline because anything that matches must be the answer (logical fallacy and just plain stupidity).

  21. Yes it is odd, but concerns about theoretical anthropogenic changes in biodiversity seem to fade away when someone you don’t know has their hand in your pocket. Make it significantly harder to put food on the table, heat or cool your home, or move from place to place and I bet lots of folks will be a lot less interested in the “CO2 is the Apocalypse” religious teachings.

  22. Years ago there was a paper on tropical freshwater fishes escaping into Florida, which, contrary to popular belief did not have the “science settled” negative effects on the native species. Number of species actually increased. Author had a very difficult time getting it published. Now we have a similar situation where someone simply surveyed the literature on terrestrial systems and came to somewhat similar conclusions. There is progress, but Nature editors apparently still think that they have political duties.

    His travails and other references here—http://issues.org/33-4/the-science-police/
    He did get his work published and also has an article in American Scientist, Mark Vellend– The Biodiversity Conservation Paradox, March-April 2017 (vol 105, no. 2, pp. 94–101).

    Exotics can be a complex problem, try parasites, but I have never gotten a good answer as to how to identify an exotic species if you were not told so beforehand. There is no mark anywhere, but the scientific thing would be to find something conclusive other than population explosion, which is not limited to exotics. There is an interesting experiment going on with lionfish. Wonder if they can be overfished, some are trying.

  23. I’ve never understood why stopping global warming should cost anybody anything. If the solution is to use less fossil fuel, then drive less, use less electricity, and plant a tree. You’ll save money and get free fruit! How much of 21st century manmade CO2 comes from building windmills, solar panels, and electric cars? If we stopped making those things, we would reduce CO2 production by a lot I would think, and save more money.

  24. How does “Biodiversity Management Laboratory at the University of the Aegean” MANAGE biodiversity?

  25. Where on this planet does one see most biodiversity: hot and humid tropical rain forests.

    Where on this planet does one see least biodiversity: cold arid plains in Antarctica.

    Why do we store food in a fridge: life hates cold

    Where do we go when we retire: warm sunny climes such as Florida, or the Mediterranean.

    Where do we most certainly not go when we retire: the cold climes of Alaska and Siberia.

    What does that tell one about the benefits of a warmer world.

  26. Every time I hear the word ‘biodiversity’, I think of a major biodiversity conference back in the 80’s where they met to battle HIV.
    The irony was so thick.

  27. For some “history” on the birth of the biodiversity front (and its concomitant UN generated arms, elbows, hands & fingers) readers might be interested in a couple of posts I did back in 2010 when the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) first surfaced – along with its very own “bible”, TEEB:

    Move over IPCC … here comes IPBES

    and

    Of COPs, MOPs and a global battle of duelling doomsayers

  28. You think only the “deplorables” put such low value on climate change? This what the Copenhagen Consensus, 65 most distinguished economists, thinks. Of course worms rank higher than climate change and green energy in their top priority list

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