Editorial: Grizzly bears and junk science

When it comes to arming ourselves with scientific facts, it pays to be diligent.

With the provincial government’s estimates of B.C.’s grizzly bear numbers coming under fire (see page 4), it’s worth reflecting on the many scientifically-dubious claims that underpin coffee shop conversations happening around the valley and across the province in 2014.

A popular subject of argument seems to be the Fukushima nuclear power plant situation in Japan, and how the levels of radiation now leaking into the Pacific Ocean in the wake of the March 2011 tsunami are posing an imminent risk.

“At the very least, your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over,” reads the headline of one blog post gone viral. Many people believe it. But a closer look at the facts reveals the “truthiness” of the situation — the reasonable conclusions that can be drawn by reasonable people from science that’s totally misrepresented.

In the case of the Fukushima question, the sheer volume of water in the Pacific Ocean and the failure to take into account the natural background levels of radiation means many people are concerned over nothing. There’s legitimate cause to be concerned about the Japanese government’s failure to accept international help in dealing with the cleanup efforts, but the present danger from Fukushima is negligible.

The tendency for people to believe in spotty science when it supports their own views is something we’ve seen in the Columbia Valley, as the debate over the Jumbo has raged for more than 20 years. Many have latched on to the proposed resort area’s importance as a haven for grizzly bears — despite the fact that two decades of wildlife monitoring has detected a maximum of four grizzlies that have passed through the base area.

When it comes to arming ourselves with scientific facts, it pays to be diligent.