‘Insectageddon’ is ‘alarmist by bad design’: Scientists point out the study’s major flaws

Earlier this year, a research article triggered a media frenzy by predicting that as a result of an ongoing rapid decline, nearly half of the world’s insects will be no more pretty soon

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Many butterflies have declined globally. Scolitantides orion, for example, is an endangered species in Finland. Credit Atte Komonen Usage Restrictions CC-BY 4.0

Amidst worldwide publicity and talks about ‘Insectageddon’: the extinction of 40% of the world’s insects, as estimated in a recent scientific review, a critical response was published in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology.

Query- and geographically-biased summaries; mismatch between objectives and cited literature; and misuse of existing conservation data have all been identified in the alarming study, according to Drs Atte Komonen, Panu Halme and Janne Kotiaho of the University of Jyväskylä (Finland). Despite the claims of the review paper’s authors that their work serves as a wake-up call for the wider community, the Finnish team explain that it could rather compromise the credibility of conservation science.

The first problem about the paper, titled “Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers” and published in the journal Biological Conservation, is that its authors have queried the Web of Science database specifically using the keywords “insect”, “decline” and “survey”.

“If you search for declines, you will find declines. We are not questioning the conclusion that insects are declining,” Komonen and his team point out, “but we do question the rate and extent of declines.”

The Finnish research team also note that there are mismatches between methods and literature, and misuse of IUCN Red List categories. The review is criticised for grouping together species, whose conservation status according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is Data Deficient with those deemed Vulnerable. By definition, there are no data for Data Deficient species to assess their declines.

In addition, the review paper is seen to use “unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper,” as the Finnish researchers quote a recent news story published in The Guardian. Having given the words dramatic, compelling, extensive, shocking, drastic, dreadful, devastating as examples, they add that that such strong intensifiers “should not be acceptable” in research articles.

“As actively popularising conservation scientists, we are concerned that such development is eroding the importance of the biodiversity crisis, making the work of conservationists harder, and undermining the credibility of conservation science,” the researchers explain the motivation behind their response.

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Original source:

Komonen A, Halme P, Kotiaho JS (2019) Alarmist by bad design: Strongly popularized unsubstantiated claims undermine credibility of conservation science. Rethinking Ecology 4: 17-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.4.34440

Public Release: 19-Mar-2019

From EurekAlert!

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77 thoughts on “‘Insectageddon’ is ‘alarmist by bad design’: Scientists point out the study’s major flaws

  1. There will certainly be a decline in the insect population if people start switching from beef to boiled insects in a big way. Does anyone feel like a witchetty grub sandwich?

      • When I was in grade school, during the throes of the *duck ‘n cover* cold war, we were being taught that insects would likely survive the nuclear armageddon when the inevitable “MAD” atomic war was fought. Now the seemingly indestructible insect kingdom is going to succumb to Climate Alarmism… hmmm…

    • Diner – Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!
      Waiter – You ordered the ‘deluxe’ soup with added protein, Bon Appetit!

        • That’s an old Marx Brother’s line.

          Another is:

          Waiter: How did you find your steak, sir?”
          Diner : Well, I looked under a French Fry, and…there it was!”

    • I am pretty sure that it’s been standard human doctrine for most of human history to attempt to reduce the numbers of insects, given that most of the ones that humans interact with tend to (1) eat our food crops, (2) damage or destroy our food crops, (3) bite, sting, and kill us 4) spread fatal and debilitating diseases, and (5) generally annoy us.

      Granted, there are “good bugs” like lady bugs and honey bees, but they seem totally outnumbered by the bad bugs. So we humans have always tended to reduce the numbers of bad bugs.

      Yet despite all our efforts, the bad bugs actually seem to be hanging on.

      • Some sixty years ago, the Chinese decreed a War on the Four Pests: mosquitoes, rats, sparrows and flies, equipping its citizens with fly swatters, fly paper and FLIT guns to go after the bugs.

        (Swallows made the list because they feasted on rice and other grains. People were ordered to construct moving scarecrows, make noise and keep swallows flying until they died of fatigue.)

        It worked well —until other birds, starved for food, also started falling out of the sky.

        Then someone had an aha moment and realized, “Hey, wait a minute. Swallows and birds also eat the insects that harm the crops!”

        Many faceplants—and much loss of face—-ensued among the Party bigwigs.

        Sparrows were taken off the Pest list—but the damage was done. Insects decimated the crops in wave after wave. Eventually, China started importing swallows from other countries.

    • Meganeura (the Carboniferous griffinfly) is giggling up its wingsrpead.

      Silly humans. Bugs will be around long after humans have left the planet and found other bugs. I’ve never watched a crowd of people who are so terrified of natural things like changes that they want to make it all illegal or tax it to death.

      I hear Proxima Centauri b does have a rocky Earth-type planet available.

    • How does that quote go? When hawks eat chickens you get fewer chickens, when humans eat chickens you get more chickens. Tasty insects will benefit. Like bees and their highly popular shi# (gastrointestinal produce).

  2. Dang, you mean it’s not true? When I first heard the news, my first thought was Hooray!
    Let’s see, at different times, depending on what part of the country I lived, I have fought German roaches, Waterbugs, fleas, ticks, chiggers, mosquitos, termites and the worst, flying roaches in Phoenix. The latter come at you like a fighter jet!
    Now, I know that bugs are good for the Earth or, something like that. For the life of me, I don’t know why some of them are, though.
    Oh, well, I guess I’ll have to keep buying RAID.

    Could we maybe get the AGW/CC crowd to get to work trying to eliminate these guys instead of people and cows?

    Termites produce more CO2 each year than all living things combined
    https://www.iceagenow.info/termites-produce-co2-year-living-combined/

    • KcTaz,
      There’s a few termites found in Brazil recently. I don’t suppose the people at the UN-IPCC have adjusted their figures for natural CO2 and methane to include this new find, have they?

      https://phys.org/news/2018-11-year-old-termite-mounds-brazil-visible.html

      Researchers reporting in Current Biology on November 19 have found that a vast array of regularly spaced, still-inhabited termite mounds in northeastern Brazil—covering an area the size of Great Britain—are up to about 4,000 years old.

      The mounds, which are easily visible on Google Earth, are not nests. Rather, they are the result of the insects’ slow and steady excavation of a network of interconnected underground tunnels. The termites’ activities over thousands of years has resulted in huge quantities of soil deposited in approximately 200 million cone-shaped mounds, each about 2.5 meters tall and 9 meters across.

      “These mounds were formed by a single termite species that excavated a massive network of tunnels to allow them to access dead leaves to eat safely and directly from the forest floor,” says Stephen Martin of the University of Salford in the UK. “The amount of soil excavated is over 10 cubic kilometers, equivalent to 4,000 great pyramids of Giza, and represents one of the biggest structures built by a single insect species.”

      [my bold]

      So as the climate warmed over the 1990 to the early 2000, I would suppose it’s safe to assume these critters activities would increase along with their venting of CO2 and methane.

  3. Once again it is worth remembering that facts or scientific accuracy are a second order, if that , construct within climate ‘science ‘
    This paper was successful because it got ‘headlines’ and while the author known full-well that the public’s attention quickly moves on , so ‘errors’ simply go unnoticed
    That this consider not merely normal but ‘good ‘way to practice tell us a great deal about the nature of climate science.
    The danger is, you think that you defeated them because you proved their facts wrong, when all that happened is you came to the wrong battle field as it never was about the facts in the first place. .

    • Entomologist study insects because insects are very important to humanity: either as necessities, bees essential to agriculture; or as serious dangers, as carriers of disease affecting humans and domestic food animals and crops: food, fabric (cotton), timber. We owe them, the entomologists, that is!

      So scientists don’t do this because they love insects (most are not very loveable), but because they care about people’s welfare and want to do something genuinely useful. This is probably why they sometimes get carried away.

    • Ehrlich ignores earlier extinctions, seeming to think that all such ills originate from humanity. He believes in the benevolent universe but for our sins. He’s 99.9% wrong.

    • Entomologists are a cult science. I spoke at length with an entomologist near to Columbus, OH, and a pipeline into Ohio State University, recently. He was awaiting a ride from Denver to meeting his cadre of fellow specialist, about a dozen in all. He had ordered a vegan pizza, no cheese – all vegetables and fruits on the crust, and he loved it!

      Why do I say “Entomologists are a cult?” Because it emerged that they’ve been meeting together to ski in Colorado and share a rented house because they – sharing his specialties in entomology – could then enjoy the right vegan diet.

      When a group of scientists adopt a food fad and carry on for decades, that’s when I suspect their special interest in science is somehow driven like a cult: belief over evidence.

      Am I mistaken?

  4. Good find, CTM. Them searching for “insect”, “decline”, and “survey” is another example of the Texas Sharpshooter Syndrome (which I believe was previously mentioned here on WattsUP). The Texas Sharpshooter is where you take any gun and shoot a lot at the side of a barn, then examine the holes, and where there is a good cluster of holes, paint a bulls-eye around them. It seems to be the new standard for the Global Warming and We’re All Going To Die in 12 years Crowd.

  5. So called “Conservation Biology” is not Science. It is Activism. By defining itself as a “Crisis Discipline” it is “Post Normal Science” a la Jerome Ravetz.
    It is also Normative as defined by Robert Lackey.

    What is Conservation Biology Michael Soule
    The Biological Diversity Crisis.
    In crisis disciplines, one must act before knowing all the facts; crisis disciplines are thus a mix-ture of science and art, and their pursuit requires intuition as well as information.A conservation biologist may have to make decisions or recommendations about design and management before he or she is completely comfortable with the theoretical or empirical bases of the analysis (May 1984, Soule and Wilcox 1980, chap. 1). Tolerating uncertainty is often necessary)
    http://www.ib.usp.br/zoologia/evolution/papers/Marques_01.pdf

    Michael E. Soulé is a U.S. biologist, best known for his work in promoting the idea of conservation biology. He earned a Ph.D. in Population Biology at Stanford University under Paul R. Ehrlich

    Normative Science
    It is easy — and wrong — for scientists to become stealth policy advocates
    Normative Science
    Too often, however, scientific information presented to the public and decision-makers is infused with hidden policy preferences. Such science is termed normative, and it is a corruption of the practice of good science.
    Snip
    Science should be objective and based on the best information available. Too often, however, scientific information presented to the public and decision-makers is infused with hidden policy preferences. Such science is termed normative, and it is a corruption of the practice of good science. Normative science is defined as “information that is developed, presented or interpreted based on an assumed, usually unstated, preference for a particular policy choice.”
    Using normative science in policy deliberations is stealth advocacy. I use “stealth” because the average person reading or listening to such scientific statements is likely to be unaware of the underlying advocacy. Normative science is a corruption of science and should not be tolerated in the scientific community — without exception.
    http://oregonstate.edu/terra/2013/01/normative-science

    • Come on CTM, show us what was snipped out, this guy was on a roll! He’s also from Oregon State, which I am also.

      • Hi Ron,
        CTM didn’t snip anything. I just use “snip” as a delimiter when I extract some snippets from a full article. Just refer to link given at end for full article.
        cheers
        brent

        • I’m disappointed, I was hoping for something juicy, because the times I’ve been snipped I deserved it.

  6. The fact that it is an open access journal means they paid to have it published.

    I could have my high school English essays published if I wanted, after peer review for spelling and grammar.

    The comment about emotive descriptors is a welcome one. Have a look at the language and persuasion by argument of, say, Nicholas Lewis and Michael Mann and compare them on the basis of the norms of scientific discourse.

    As anyone applying for a job knows, it is important to have certain keywords in the text to get noticed. Catastrophist narratives always contain a word salad promoting alarm, fear and uncertainty. From my side of the screen, it is not very “scientific” to do that.

    • This is an issue I also see in the media with adjective selection biasing factual writing. Everything is extreme and shrill.
      Given today’s word sorting abilities it would be interesting to see an algorithm that ‘reads articles’ and assigns ratings based upon the coloration of the adjectives used.
      At least then we could better scrutinize the “hair-on-fire” rants.

  7. “Scientists say …” or “New study says …”

    Those sentences written in the MSM propagandists, repeated as nauseam by pseudo-journalists and other climate clowns would be more and more laughable if they wasn’t the symbol of a tragedy for science.

    • If the Guardian cant find a rubbish study they know to be bogus, they go look for the most fringe lunatic who’s claiming doom, then publish it as if the source for the claim is not some deranged loonie like Wadhams

  8. I suppose that increased spread of southern pine beetles and other tree boring insects in boreal forests caused by climate change is just so ‘2010 late summer season’ alarmism now?
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/28/pining-away-about-bugs-and-global-warming/
    ~~~~~~~~

    “Oh darlings. Just how does one keep up with the latest fashion in climate alarmisms?
    Just as you get into spreading one alarm, floop! Season changes and it’s out with insects and in with Papua New Guinea rodents, or tropical barking tree frogs, or …whatever!
    Just how is a Democratic Green voter of the 3rd age quadrasexual, cross-dressing, cyclist supposed to keep-up with these things.”

    🙂 😎

  9. In the same Guardian article it claims “we are at the start of a 6th mass extinction”

    The Guardian is the Greenpeace of environmental journalism, full of hyperbolic lies.
    No wonder hardly anyone subscribes to that awful eco rag.

    This the same rag that publishes that human emissions of CO2.. causes earthquakes.

    Dr Jacqueline Gill, of whom I have conversed with on Twitter, is one of the loonies behind these utterly bogus gibberish claims of a 6th mass extinction.

  10. I used to publish quite a bit in conservation-oriented outlets. Back in 1987 when the journal Conservation Biology appeared (and throughout the early 90s), the society claimed its discipline to be ‘value-laden’. While being part of this community, it became clear to me that ‘value-laden’ meant ‘agenda-driven’.

    • Science should be fact-laden, and only fact-laden. What the heck does value-laden mean? Whatever it means, it ain’t science.

      • IMHO ‘value-laden’ means: “what do these facts mean to you.” …and then go on to tell the reader what they should mean to them based upon the writer’s opinions. It’s OP-ED.
        As soon as you do that you’ve gone “full subjective” and lost any value.

    • Astute comment Matt. Lots of people including myself are in favour of what was traditionally viewed as conservation. Don’t want everything paved over. Greatly enjoy the outdoors.
      Interesting to contemplate when and how the agenda became explicitly anti-human.
      Rebranding “Swamps” into “Wetlands” was a brilliant propaganda move.

      • Wetlands are much more encompassing than swamps.

        wetlands on 25% grades … wetlands that I could drive across in February with my chev cavilier (or any other car) … wetlands that had 4-5 feet of fill placed prior to wetland rules, but the fill has standing water so it is still wetlands … wetlands that were permitted for fill, filled over 18″ with wrong kind of soil and are still wetlands, so they need permitted again….

        Wetlands are almost as magical as C02.

  11. In the late 1970s. when I first began doing mosquito control environmental policy for Florida we had about 65 species of mosquitoes. Today there are over 80 species identified. Luckily only about half of those species actually bite humans.

    And I was on a committee concerned with the importation, deliberate and accidental, of diseases, invasive plants AND insects. All, due to modern transportation and shipping, are less than a hour away.

    One thing I learned was that insects are almost as adaptable as bacteria. Their ability to adapted to a changing environment and changing food sources is most remarkable. I am not worrying about insects going extinct; changing how they do things yes, extinction no.

    • Were two of those 15-odd new species Aedes aegypti (the Yellow Fever/Dengue/Zika mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the introduced Asian Tiger)? Given that the US was able to virtually eliminate A. aegypti long before DDT through aggressive surveys, sanitation, and oiling and A. albopictus has similar breeding habits, I really don’t understand why these two anthropocentric pests are so prevalent today. These are two species I really would like to see decline to extinction.

  12. Matt Ridley used this in a recent piece on how you can launder science to produce – not to put too fine a point on it – lies:

    http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/a-surge-in-pseudoscience/

    Another example was the stitch up on glyphosate where there is a direct monetary benefit to the person involved. Not sure in the “insectageddon” authors have the same direct pecuniary benefits, but they sure got some column inches!

  13. If insects are declining, then maybe these jackasses won’t mind paying my pest control bills.

    Unbelievable.

  14. We still need to answer the question of why there are fewer bugs splatted on my car’s windshield.

    My guess is improved aerodynamics.

    • Check your radiator and the front of your side mirrors – you’ll see they aren’t as aerodynamic as the windscreen. A lot of those insect-windscreen collisions are still fatal to the insects – walk along a road durning a butterfly migration, for example, and you will find lots of bodies that were swept up with enough force to kill them.

    • Walter – good question. My previous comment got moderated (mistyped email?), but it is a question that I am tired of hearing. The ‘Windscreen/Windshield Effect’ is much hyped here in Queensland where insects are doing fine as far as I can see (and I look for them). There are some pests that are becoming rare because of land use changes, e.g. Christmas Beetles – pests of turf and gum trees – and even insects are negatively affected by droughts (no rain, no new vegetation to feed on), but in general there seem enough to keep the birds and bats happy.

      My guess for the decreased windscreen splatters is the same as yours and for three primary reasons:

      1. I remember windscreens from 30 years ago – mostly nearly perpendicular and now they all are strongly sloped
      2. If you check less aerodynamically improved parts of an auto (front of side mirrors, front plate, radiator), splats are common, even for relatively small surface areas
      3. We have several butterfly species that undergo regular population outbreaks and migrations and when they migrate, no matter how hard you try, you can’t help but plow through them when driving. If you walk along the roads you’ll find the bodies that were not deposited on the windscreens

  15. As I’ve said before, this study sucks. They basically say, “If the globe is warming and insects species are declining, then the cause of the decline must be global warming.” What terrible logic let alone science! There is no factual data on how or what species’ reproduction is affected by various levels of warmer temperatures. This is no different than me going around saying, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” because a bird pooped on my head.

    • After all, cannibalism can only get you so far. Not a sustainable food source in even the medium term.

  16. This incident reveals that CliSci is not the only field infected with Activism disguised as Science.

    There will hopefully be a broader movement in Biology to have the original paper retracted.

  17. Insect ecology must be one of the most difficult in the realm of ecosystem (entomofauna?) studies. Besides, I thought we worried about ants taking over the world since they are the perfect socialist societies. Well, there are crazy, fire, and other such expletives used for them. I think we also learned that insecticides weren’t all that great given insect adaptability.

    I will be more impressed after they study the effect of Harvey on aquatics, like mosquito larvae, and worried when more species learn how to invade the ocean. Also there is still increasing interest in training scientists in policy and communication. We have already been there in wildlife and fisheries management.

  18. I think the insectagendonists need to learn two things.

    If you trap and kill insects using big canopy nets in one spot year after year, there will be a decline in insects in that immediate area.

    And, the new LED lights now being used for residential lighting do not attract insects like the old lighting that emitted more UV. Anyone claiming anecdotes of personally witnessing declines of insects clearly need to get out more.

  19. Spotted Owls
    “If the spotted owl hadn’t existed, they would have had to invent it.”

    Listing an animal as an endangered species has more to do with environmental activism than with the status of a species. This explains why a representative of the Sierra Club said, “If the spotted owl hadn’t existed, they would have had to invent it.” In other words, the debate was not about survival of the owl; it was about land management. It’s unclear just how endangered the spotted owl was, yet getting it listed achieved the environmentalists’ end—less logging on national forests.
    https://www.hoover.org/research/americas-forest-fire-problem

  20. The Science Police
    On highly charged issues, such as climate change and endangered species, peer review literature and public discourse are aggressively patrolled by self-appointed sheriffs in the scientific community.
    Snip
    To a certain degree, the rift is also a power struggle. The ecologists who founded conservation biology in the 1980s have served as influential advocates for the preservation of endangered species and biodiversity. They were instrumental in elevating the issue to the top of the global environmental agenda. These well-known scientists, such as E. O. Wilson, Michael Soulé, and Stuart Pimm, have strong feelings about the best way to achieve what they believe should be a nature-centric goal. They are protective of the successful cause they launched and, unsurprisingly, dubious of new “human-friendly” approaches to conservation that Kareiva and Marvier, among others, have proposed in recent years.
    If conservation science is in service to an agenda, which it is regardless of the approach, then it seems inevitable that research would at times be viewed through a political or ideological prism. The Nature reviewer’s politically minded comments provide a case in point. When I talked to Vellend about this, he shared a haunting concern. “The thing that’s worrisome to me, as a scientist, is that here’s one person [the reviewer] who actually, to their credit, wrote down exactly what they were thinking,” he said. “So how many times has someone spun their reviews a little to the negative, with those sentiments exactly in mind, without actually stating it?”
    http://issues.org/33-4/the-science-police/

  21. I live in Hanover NH. Here’s a personal observation: last year I saw two Japanese beetles, where previously I had to set traps. I did not see one yellow jacket wasp all season, where I usually have to fight over the raspberries, and very few honey bees. Thank God for bumble bees. I haven’t seen earwigs or sow bugs where there used to be plenty and I saw very few mosquitos and blackflies. Good, you might say – but it’s not good. No bugs – no birds, no pollination. And I’ve heard other neighbors say the same. So, go figure: maybe I have a toxic back yard, but I haven’t done anything unusual.

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