Wednesday, March 23, 2005

UVB, Amphibians, and Alarmism

HerpDigest, an email newsletter which, as the title suggests, deals with reptiles and amphibians, brought the work of Professor Lawrence Licht (York Univeristy, Toronto, Ontario) to my attention. His findings dispute "the hypothesis that increasing levels of [Ultraviolet B radiation are] killing amphibians and [are] linked to global population declines." Despite this supposed culprit receiving "a great deal of attention in websites, radio, television, newspapers, textbooks and curriculum guides used in elementary, high school and university level science courses," Licht carefully picks apart the argument, suggesting that melanin in the amphibian embryos and an enzyme-photolyase possessed by adults and eggs protects them from UVB damage. Most interestingly, he concludes by addressing the issue of alarmist science at large:
"A very important point I am trying to make is that just because a paper has been published in a peer reviewed journal, the merits of the paper should be judged with care and attention to detail. Each paper must be read with a clear objective mindset. This is especially true when the hypothesis being tested has almost become dogma; in such cases, the hypothesis is believed to be true because everyone knows it is true because it has been hyped to a point where no one bothers to question...When a popular, widespread and alarmist hypothesis -amphibians are dying from exposure to sunlight- is found to be erroneous, the public can lose faith in the rigor and worth of scientific statements in general. Another 'cry wolf' story tarnishes the value of ongoing quality efforts and future studies that have real merit."
Given the "Death of Environmentalism" dialogue we've been hearing so much about in the blogosphere, I thought Prof. Licht's study and conclusions pertinent.

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