January 25, 2007

Crichton, Laurance, Lomborg, and their agendas

Last year Wright and Muller-Landau estimated how many tropical species will go extinct in the foreseeable future. Compared to previous estimates theirs was very optimistic. Crucially, they inferred that decreasing human populations in rural areas would result in less deforestation and widespread regeneration of forest cover. William Laurance now takes issue with their study in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (Have we overstated the tropical biodiversity crisis?). He points to (actively embraces, one might say) the uncertainties surrounding several of the assumptions, data and interpretations of Wright and Muller-Landau, and concludes that we should be much more pessimistic. However, he does not provide or support an alternative quantitative estimate of species extinctions.

Laurance ends his article by stating his philosophical position on scientific uncertainty:
Tropical forests and their biota are facing an enormous array of anthropogenic threats. As scientists, we are obliged to evaluate even pressing environmental issues objectively. But, as realists, we must also appreciate that certain political interests and authors actively embrace scientific uncertainty (e.g. Lomborg and Crichton) in an effort to advance their particular agendas. It is because of such concerns that I have critiqued the thought-provoking Wright and Muller-Landau study, for I believe it seriously understates the tropical biodiversity crisis.

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