Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Japan Mocks Science & Research - Why?

Japan's whaling season has begun. This week a fleet of ships leaves Shimonoseki, Japan, on a five-month hunt to the South Pacific.

Mission: kill whales & deliver whale meat to Japan

Why? Research into whale population stocks is claimed. "Scientific whaling" is alleged, but the studies have been condemned for generating little useful data, via unnecessarily lethal methods.

Certainly if anthropologists studying tribes had to kill a bunch of case subjects to conduct research, we might consider it paradoxical. Yet it is that very jump to anthropomorphic comparison that gives many whaling proponents heartburn: whales are not people. (They are huge chunks of meat?)

JARPA, Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit, is soon to be expanded and extended under the vision of "Monitoring the Antarctic Ecosystem"...

Those not cetacean researchers, including me, perhaps cannot properly judge the importance of such research. Anyhow, a list of scientific papers (click here) is helpfully online at the Institute of Cetacean Research. It is an old list, dated 1998, with 134 total "scientific papers based on data and material obtained during JARPA" The list is padded: 60 of the 134 papers are marked "unpublished" (perhaps unpublishable); another 41 papers are presentations to the International Whaling Commission or reports about Japan's proposed research whaling; one scientific paper is the list itself! Suddenly an impressive looking list of 134 scientific papers becomes 31. Even that list is not wholly scientific results: 5 papers report about the research plan or its logic (e.g., Nagasaki,F,1989. The facts, "facts" and fiction of scientific whaling. Sci.Technol.Jpn 8(31),pp 36-47); another 8 papers are student theses, including 3 at BA level (some replicate other listed papers, e.g., S.Itoh's work on "Lipids of the Antarctic minke whale" was split into two publications, literally I and II, and also lists as a Ph.D. thesis). Another of the listings specifies JARPA basis as [in "Notes"], so perhaps explicitly not part of the paper. Thus, how much science came out of research whaling to that point? Surely 17 studies, plus the student studies; perhaps impressive...

Then why do it? Japan has a long history of whaling. Many people consider harvesting whales nearly the same as killing other animals such as cows or pigs for their meat. More importantly, proponents in Japan have positioned the whale hunt as a point of national pride - "we Japanese (我々日本人) shouldn't have foreigners dictating our way of life." Such meddlesome outsiders are depicted as beef-eating hypocrites.

Yet to hide the hunt behind a smokescreen as "research" belittles science. The Japanese government has taken a belligerent position that has now outraged foreign consumers who (maybe) buy Japanese products. But they managed also to insult the scientific method, and to diminish Japanese science in the eyes of the wider global community.

Japan Whaling Association - homepage

Japanese Government: Fisheries Agency
Emphasizing the "sustainable use of marine resources"

Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research