All knowledge is hearsay

Why do we believe what we believe? One of the many complicating factors in marine policy is that different stakeholders hold different beliefs. Is pulse trawling a boon or a disaster for the marine environment? Do Marine Protected Areas enhance fish catches? Does human activity change the global climate? Finding consensus on how to allocate marine resources is difficult enough when all the people involved agree on the facts. Problems become a lot more difficult when facts are disputed, or worse, when beliefs run parrallel to divisions between political, religious, or other segments of society.

I recently started reading some of the psychological literature on this issue and I came across an article by Dan Kahan of Yale Law School. It addresses the phenomenon that for some policy topics, such as climate change, nuclear power, or genetic modification, acceptance of the scientific consensus correlates strongly with one’s political preferences. In a nutshell, conservatives are more likely to be skeptical of climate science, and to accept the scientific consensus that transgenic crops are safe; progressives, on the other hand, tend to accept the scientific consensus on climate change but are often suspicious of genetic modification. Kahan’s article explains and tests three hypotheses for this phenomenon:

  1. Bounded Rationality. A common theory in psychology posits that our brains have two systems to process information: a “fast” system that works through low-effort heuristics and associations (System 1); and a “slow” system that works through high-effort systematic reasoning (System 2). According to this hypothesis a member of the Dutch Party for the Animals is against biotechnology not because she has read all the literature and visited all the conferences, but because she applies a heuristic that accepts a belief if people like her believe it.
  2. Ideological Asymmetry. Empirical studies have shown that conservatives tend to be averse to complexity and ambiguity: they prefer their beliefs and principles to be simple, clear, and unshakable. According to this hypothesis these preferences make them more closed-minded and less willing to accept facts that contradict their current beliefs.
  3. Expressive Utility. The naive economic view is that values come before affiliations: people hold particular values and beliefs, and then vote for parties and politicians that conform those values and beliefs. A recent publication by political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, however, turns this idea on its head: people choose which politician they like, or what party they prefer to associate with, and adapt their values accordingly. According to the Expressive Utility hypothesis, people express group membership through their beliefs: in a sense, they are willing to ignore facts in order to avoid becoming a heretic to their group.

Kahan goes on to test the three hypotheses and he finds that people who use more systematic reasoning are more, not less, likely to align their beliefs with their political affiliation. This makes it unlikely that they use a heuristic (System 1); rather, they invest considerable effort to justify their rejection of scientific facts. This supports the Expressive Utility hypothesis: conservatives are skeptical of climate science because accepting it would make them a bad conservative. I find it a plausible conclusion, particularly considering the findings of Achen and Bartels, and it resonates with other findings that more highly educated people are more skeptical of vaccination.

I’m not buying the Ideological Asymmetry hypothesis that conservatives are inherently dogmatic. I’ve encountered similar closed-mindedness among progressives, especially the radical Left, so I suspect it is more a feature of political extremism than of any particular end of the political spectrum.

Neither am I convinced by the Bounded Rationality hypothesis, although I do think there could still be a grain of truth in it. As far as I understand the dual-thinking model (i.e. as an economist with a half-read copy of Thinking Fast and Slow on his bedside table), System 1 is a fast, associative heuristic: it makes people give the wrong intuitive answer to the Bat and Ball Problem when they don’t have the time or the energy to use the kind of cognitive effort typical of System 2. But climate skeptics or vaccinophobes are not being asked to give their response on the spot. They have Googled the issue, they have read blogs and articles, they have discussed it with friends, relatives, and colleagues. This is not a System 1 activity. But there could still be a mechanism at work that is related to Bounded Rationality – just not in the way suggested by dual-thinking theory.

All knowledge is hearsay

I’m sure there is a theory on this in social psychology or a related field, so I’d be happy to hear about it if anyone who reads this knows more. I suspect that what is going on is that very little of what we know (or think we know, or hold to be true) comes from genuine first-hand experience or logical reasoning. The vast majority of our beliefs depend crucially on information that we got from other people, for example through newspaper articles, scientific publications, radio programmes, and coffee-table chit-chat. Every such piece of information involves a messenger, and whether you accept that information depends on whether you trust the messenger. Moreover, we don’t have time to check all our beliefs, so any time we receive new information we need to decide whether to trust the messenger, to dismiss the message right away, or to verify it with other information – which, again, has to come from other messengers with varying degrees of trust. There will always be a point where we stop verifying and go with the information we have, in other words trusting the messengers of the information we have not been able to verify. So it is not a black-or-white question of using either the heuristics of System 1 or the systematic reasoning of System 2, but rather finding the mix of believing and verifying that leads to an efficient use of cognitive effort.

What makes us trust a given messenger? There used to be messengers with a particular authority, either through formal designations such as college degrees or through informal assignments such as reputations. The views of a professor would have more weight than those of a layman because we assumed that the professor had earned his degree by studying hard, gathering a lot of knowledge, and being really smart; newspapers like The Economist or The Washington Post had solid reputations for honest and well-researched reporting. Both forms of authority have eroded of late due to the increased role of social media and online news outlets, but also a growing anti-intellectualism.

And this erosion of the authority of traditional messengers also points towards another mechanism: we tend to trust people who are like ourselves. A conservative is more likely to reject the consensus on climate change because the Wall Street Journal does so too, and he is more likely to trust the Wall Street Journal than the New York Times. Likewise, an environmentalist is more likely to believe The Ecologist than The Economist on the merits of free trade and biotechnology.

And of course I’m no exception. On all the issues I mentioned above, pulse trawling, MPAs, climate change, vaccinations, and biotechnology, I tend to adopt the scientific consensus. Is that because scientists should be trusted, objectively, to do their work right or is it just because I work in science myself so I am more willing to trust them?

Impressions of the North Sea Days 2017

This year’s North Sea Days had the motto “Time to set a different course”. I realised the motto also applied to my own research. After years of building bioeconomic models I have recently decided to focus on the normative questions of marine economics: how do we analyse tradeoffs between different uses, can we use the lessons learned from cost-benefit analysis in management strategy evaluations, and is CBA the right tool for problems as complicated and multifaceted as marine policy?

Anyway, here are my impressions of the North Sea Days, in no particular order.

Not everybody was ready to admit it, but the development of wind energy is now a key driver for Dutch North Sea policy. The current generative capacity is about 1 GW, to which the Dutch government plans to add another 10.5 GW between now and 2030. Eventually the North Sea should have about 35-75 GW worth of wind turbines. That is an incredible amount that also makes conservation NGOs uneasy.

I was shocked by the adamant refusal of conservationists (from whatever organisation) to even consider human interests when talking about protecting and restoring biodiversity. In a session on nature conservation I seemed to be the only participant answering “people” when asked which species I specialised in. When another participant had the tenacity to ask the question why we want to conserve nature the rest fell over him like a ton of bricks. I have heard suggestions like “increase fish biomass to 10-100 times current levels” (is that even physically possible?) and “ban the beam trawl” like nobody depends on fishing for a living. Ironically the conservation NGOs came across as the most reasonable voice, understanding that different objectives, including fishing, energy production, and conservation, need to coexist. Dirk Kraak, a Dutch fisher present at the North Sea Days, had a similar impression at another session (in Dutch).

It was therefore, again, quite clear that fishers are in a very difficult position. The world is changing, and so are the seas. Fishers need to share more and more of the sea with other uses and demands, where they used to have the entire area for themselves. Putting your foot down, as some are trying to do, is not going to stop this juggernaut. As difficult as it is, they will have to accommodate and try to make the best of a bad situation.

The session on cumulative ecological analysis demonstrated that like in any marine system, the web of activities, ecosystem components, and impacts on human well-being in the North Sea is incredibly complex. This is a huge complication for any form of policy appraisal (like CBA), which depends heavily on the delineation of the problem. This is difficult enough on land, but at sea, where everything hangs together with everything else, it seems near impossible.

Uncertainty is another key issue, and therefore so is adaptability of policies and institutions. How fast will sea levels rise? How will marine currents and ecosystems respond to big hard structures such as wind turbines? What will be the energy source of the future – wind, solar, tidal, biomass? Time may tell, but only at different temporal scale levels. We cannot wait for all uncertainties to be resolved, but we can develop institutions and policies that are able to adapt to new information.

All in all two incredibly inspiring days.

Maritime Music

Apparently people associate Irish traditional music with the sea. At least the organisers of Bremen’s Festival Maritim do, or else I would not have played there with Tobermore last August, alongside other folk bands like Harmony Glen and Alban Fuam. Perhaps Ireland’s insular geography evokes an association with anything marine in the heads of continental land lubbers. Perhaps the cultural ties with other British islands blurs the distinction between sea shanties and slip jigs. What’s more, the hornpipe, which is found throughout English, Scottish, and Irish traditional music, is a sailor’s dance by origin.

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In any case, Festival Maritim was a absolute blast, a feast of music, food, and drink, the closest you might get to rock ‘n roll without amplifiers. We played four gigs, sold a load of CDs, had a massive session on Saturday night and met many wonderful fellow musicians. Special mention goes to the Shoepolishers, a French folkpunk band we befriended over sessions and Kraken rum. Except for The Pogues and Kultur Shock I find most folkpunk bands painfully boring and staggeringly unoriginal, but these folks played a juggernaut of a show: such energy, such enthusiasm.

Do the Shoepolishers play maritime music? Not that I could hear. If you’re looking for any musical reference to maritime affairs at the Festival Maritim, go to one of the uncountable shanty choirs, who will sing old sailor’s songs from the days when singing was a way of synchronising manual labour on a sailing vessel or in the harbour. There is no guarantee that any of the singers has ever been at sea, although I would not be surprised if some or most have a sailing boat at home. Fascination with the ocean does not require a maritime profession, and there are many ways to quench your thirst for salty water if your day job is at the office.

This summer I also had a very short-lived musical career with The Pyrates, substituting for their violinist Rowan Schuddeboom. The Pyrates play old English, Irish, Australian, and New-Zealand folk songs, played on drums, guitar, bass, and fiddle. And dressed as a pirate from Pirates Of The Caribbean, of course. It was one of the most difficult and stressful things I ever did for fun. Most of the band had extensive musical experience, which put the bar a lot higher than I could manage. The drummer had toured all over the world with Within Temptation, and the reason Rowan was not available was that he was busy completing his conservatory education. When, after one gig (on Kijkduin beach, aptly) the band decided that they would rather cancel the second gig than play it with me I felt disappointed, hurt, but also relieved. But it was a valuable experience, and I learned a lot from it musically as well as personally. Don’t quit your day job, an A&R manager would say.

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So what makes music maritime? Surely lyrics can refer to a sailor’s life, the call of the sea, or the mysteries below the waves. There are countless Irish tunes with names like Out On The Ocean, The Rolling Waves, or The Ships Are Sailing. But music itself? Can something as abstract as music capture the rhythm of the waves, the endless horizons, and the merciless rage of a stormy ocean?

After my fishing trip on the SL-9 I wrote a tune that I decided to call The Flyshoot:

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I felt it had to be a slip jig. Only a slip jig can capture the broken rhythm of a cutter as it makes a seemingly perfect arch in the sky while it climbs over a wave, only to violently crash into another wave as it comes down, and then goes up again. (Considering that flyshooting is originally a Danish fishing technique – the Danes call it snurrevaad – a polka may have been more fitting but it just doesn’t feel right.)

How about metal? One of my favourite post-metal bands is a German collective called The Ocean. Although I had missed their gig at Roadburn in 2013, I blindly bought their CD Pelagial, and only because it was their only CD with an instrumental version (I usually hate what passes for vocals in metal: most of it is grunting, screaming, or just whining). Pelagial describes a journey to the darkest depths of the ocean, which is supposed to be a metaphor for the unconscious (what metal bands lack in basic psychology they compensate with pseudo-Freudian psycho-babble). I’m sure the sounds of a heavily breathing diver and bubbles escaping from his mental submarine help, but even without those sounds the music is fitting for the dramatic contrasts between tense, eery calm and uncontrollable rage that makes the sea so fascinating to us terrestrial apes.

Recently I discovered Ahab, a German doom metal band whose music is inspired entirely by Moby Dick. Their first album, Call Of The Wretched Sea, is full of slow, dark, heavy riffs as macabre and unstoppable as the fate of the captain and his white whale. Yes, there is grunting on the album, lots of it, and I needed to get used to it to appreciate the album. But it works.

Then there is Alcest‘s Écailles de Lune, which supposedly is inspired by oceans and seas, but hearing that in their music takes more of my imagination than it does for the two albums I just mentioned. Nevertheless it’s a beautiful, dramatic album, shoegazing at its best. Internetfora also mention ISIS‘s Oceanic, and Mastodon‘s Leviathan, but I find those least convincing. Oceanic sounds too blunt, too ‘square’, to resemble the ocean in any way (perhaps a four-fourth measure just doesn’t cut it). And Leviathan is simply Mastodon: perfect music for a biker bar but not for rolling waves.

Any other suggestions? Which ocean-inspired metal band should I absolutely check out?

Loomings

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

And that is just the first paragraph. If you read only one book in your life, for God’s sake, let it be Moby Dick.

 

Two days on a flyshooter

For years I have told myself that if I want to pretend to know anything about fishing I should at least once join a fishing vessel and see the real thing. What held me back for a long time, however, is that a typical Dutch beam trawler fishes day and night, in batches of 2-3 hours, for about five days. That is a lot of time to block in your agenda, and a brutal day rhythm.

Enter the flyshoot fishery. The flyshoot technique has been used by Dutch fishermen since the 1980s, but it really took off about ten years ago, when fuel prices were high and NGOs criticized the impact of beam trawlers on the bottom of the sea. Flyshooting is an attractive alternative to the beam trawl because it is more fuel efficient, more selective, and easier on the seafloor. For a landlubber like me a great advantage is that a typical flyshooter makes fishing trips of about two to three days, during which fishing takes place only by daylight. That is a lot easier to reserve in my agenda and I might even get a decent night’s sleep while on board!

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All aboard

So last Sunday evening I got on board the SL-9 Johanna, together with Arie Mol of Wageningen Economic Research and Marnix (the skipper), Sandy (the engineer), William (the cook), Colin and Toon. For Arie it was a fishing trip down memory lane: as a teenager he spent many a week on a small cutter. For me it was a whole new world. For the crew, of course, it was just another working week.

To understand the feeling leaving the port of Scheveningen you need to realize that coming from Wassenaar, I have looked out over this part of the North Sea countless times. I’ve flown over it on vacations or work trips, spotting ships and offshore wind parks. I have never, however, actually been on it. To go past the Scheveningen port lights, the motor humming and the occasional seagull calling, and to feel the calm water turn into a steady swell, was a magical moment.

Sleeping in a cutter is like sleeping in a light version of a rollercoaster. As the ship climbs up and rolls down the waves, you feel yourself floating in the air, pressed into your pillow, or rolled over. When I got up after an uneasy night it turned out the crew was already sorting out its second haul – in summer a flyshooter’s day starts early.

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Flyshooting

Before he joined the SL-9 crew, Marnix had worked on a beam trawling vessel. Flyshooting is a very different way of fishing, he tells me, much more complicated than beam trawling. A flyshooting set starts with the unloading of the end of the first of two ropes, with two pairs of buoys attached to it. One pair could easily be mistaken for giant dinosaur eggs for their shape and size, if it weren’t for their bright orange hue: their job is plain and simply to be seen. The other two hold a piece of rope close to the surface so it can be picked up later on. Then the vessel draws one half of a diamond shape in the sea, releasing a rope of about three and a half kilometres. At the end of the first rope the crew unload the net, and draw the other half of the diamond shape with the second rope. When we near the end of the second rope we can see the orange dinosaur eggs in the distance. Now comes the most difficult part, Marnix says. The crew stand ready on the side of the boat to throw out a hook-and-line between the two small buoys. If one misses, another stands ready to give it a shot, but if he also misses, Marnix needs to set the boat in reverse, risking getting the rope entangled in the ship’s propeller. When the crew have caught the rope, the hauling of the net starts.

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To understand the hauling of a flyshoot net, imagine a diamond-shaped square of about three square kilometres. That is slightly smaller than Central Park in New York, twice the centre of Utrecht, or, for that matter, most of Wageningen:

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You are standing at one corner of the square, and in the opposite corner, about two and a half kilometre from you, there is a fishing net. Two ropes go from the fishing net to you, laid out along the borders of the square. As you haul in the rope, you will see that the net does not move immediately to you – first the two ropes will move to the centre of the square, driving all that can move and happens to be on the square to the area between you and the net. When finally the net starts moving towards you most of the fish within the square will be in the net’s path. Every time this big ball of fish is hauled in Marnix runs down to see for himself. It is like opening a Christmas present: what do we get this time?

Snapshot 1 (27-07-2017 21-56)

Bycatch

Besides its fuel efficiency and its limited effects on the seafloor, a big advantage of flyshooting is that it is a very clean way of fishing. I could hardly see any starfish, brittle stars, of other not-so-mobile bottom dwellers in the catch that are much more abundant in that of beamtrawl vessels. The catch consisted mostly of fish species such as gurnard, mullet, whiting, dab, plaice, and mackerel, but, admittedly, also some shark and ray species. If only we could avoid those, as well as the whiting, the crew say. It is not a very valuable fish and it takes more work than gurnard and mullet as it needs to be stripped. But like all bottom fisheries, it is extremely difficult to pick the species you want.

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Therefore, the fishermen experience the landing obligation as a big thunder cloud hanging over their heads. I appreciate the need to reduce discards, or at least to improve its survival rate, but to me the landing obligation comes across as an unnecessarily blunt instrument. Flyshooting is one of the cleanest, most sustainable ways of fishing, but even they cannot cherry-pick their catch. The crew sorted out the catch four in a row; to meet the landing obligation would require one or two more crew members, and a lot of storage space for catch that will eventually be destroyed. If this is really going to be implemented, they said, I will stop fishing. We need to develop ways to address discarding, but this is not the way to do it.

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Let’s see if we can squeeze in two more here

So long, and thanks

Travelling with the SL-9 has been a massive experience for me, and I want to thank the entire crew, Marnix, William, Sandy, Colin, and Toon for their hospitality. And thanks to Arie, for organizing this!

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Gripe your oars! Clutch your souls!

“Oars! Oars!” he intensely whispered, seizing the helm–“gripe your oars, and clutch your souls, now! My God, men, stand by! Shove him off, you Queequeg–the whale there!–prick him!–hit him! Stand up–stand up, and stay so! Spring, men–pull, men; never mind their backs–scrape them!–scrape away!” (Herman Melville, Moby Dick)

Although I suspect two days on a Dutch flyshooter (English info) is probably going to be somewhat less heroic than a journey around the world on a nineteenth-century whaling vessel.

Yes, I’m finally doing it. After years of teaching students all about the economics of the fishery I’m finally getting on board an actual fishing vessel to see what life’s like on board. Tonight I’m boarding the SL-9 Johanna for a 2-3 day trip on the North Sea.

What do I expect to learn from this? It is easy to think that anything you want to know, you can get from books, journal articles, or interviews with experts. But you can only do that if you know you don’t know – that’s when you ask. If you don’t know you don’t know you wouldn’t ask. And there is a lot of stuff out there you don’t know you don’t know. And then there is the more literary stuff that you will never find in the economics textbooks: how does it feel to be stuck on a boat for days with fellow fishers? What does it sound and smell like? How does it feel to feed the seagulls your very own acidic curry of breakfast and seasickness pills?

More updates soon.

Secrets of a fiddle

Perhaps the old fiddle can teach the new mandolin a few tricks

No musical instrument evokes a sense of mystery like a fiddle does. (The difference between a fiddle and a violin? A violin is usually in tune.) For a guitar you can go to the nearest instrument shop to buy a Taylor or a Martin. For a bagpipe or a hurdy-gurdy you order one from a maker after shopping around at the Le Son Continu Festival. I recently bought a beautiful A-type mandolin from a maker in Breda, The Netherlands after trying it out at Gooikoorts. And all those instruments have proper brand labels on them that are protected by international law. You hardly find the kind of counterfeiting you see in the clothing industry.

Don’t believe the label

I have no idea, however, where my fiddle comes from, who made it, who played on it, or how old it is. I bought it from a fiddler in the Irish music scene in The Netherlands who had bought it on a flee market – or so he said – but I have no idea where that was or from whom he bought it. There is a small label inside saying “Anno 17 [blank] Carlo Bergonzi fece in Cremona”. Carlo Bergonzi was a world famous violin maker, famous for being the finest apprentice of the great Stradivarius. He is also famous for the numerous fake labels in violins with his name on them. So I’m not exactly inclined to take the label very seriously. Millions of violins were made in the region now known as Germany and the Czech Republic with such labels, apparently because they were modelled after Bergonzi’s design. So I guess my fiddle is one of those.

Wait – that wasn’t me

So how old is this fiddle then? I am no expert in this, and I know you should never trust the internet (at least that’s what I tell my students), but a little browsing here and there brings me to a range between 1870 and 1940. That is a long time. Still, it’s an intriguing idea that this fiddle of mine is probably at least 76 years old – older than both my parents. Who played it since? What did they play on it? Surely it was not all high-brow classical music, considering that it is not exactly a high-brow instrument. For folk music it’s perfect: it is fairly loud, especially with the steel strings I usually put on it. But recently I changed strings (I am looking for a somewhat warmer tone), and while doing so I noticed the wear marks on the fingerboard under the D string (see picture). Note how they go all the way up to the body of the fiddle. This is where you get when you play third position or higher. I never play third position, especially not on the D string, so I’m sure it wasn’t me! All music I play (Irish, Dutch, and French traditional music) is in first position. And I’m so bad at it I can’t even play vibrato, let alone higher positions! Playing in the second or third position is more common in gypsy music though, as well as in some east European traditions. So perhaps a gypsy fiddler earned his daily bread with it, or it was a classical violin player after all.

 

MSEAS Brest: My impressions

Yes, I brought the fiddle, and
no, I did not play it.

Tonight is my last night in Brest after an intensive and massively enjoyable conference on Understanding marine socio-ecological systems: including the human dimension in Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (MSEAS). It’s been one of those events where you soak up loads and loads of impressions, which take time to digest, which I just did today in the magnificent Océanopolis – I figured that would be an apt place to reflect on the human dimensions of marine management. So here are my thoughts.

MSEAS did much, much more than the average economics conference to stimulate debate and to provoke creative ideas. I much enjoyed the open and creative atmosphere that brought together people from fields as diverse as biology, economics, and anthropology. As far as I have seen in all discussions people were very open and respectful to each other’s views. Which is different from what I have seen in some of the more disciplinary or conservation-oriented conferences. Oh, and getting a cartoonist capture the sessions was an excellent move. He was not just funny, he actually contributed to the debate and gave us fresh new insights. More input from artists next time please!

Beth Fulton on people’s trust in models

Boy, do I envy this generation of young researchers working in this field. The Young Researchers Workshops gave them the chance to pose questions to more experienced researchers in the field on all kinds of issues. (I felt to old to ask a question and too young to answer one.) I wish EAERE had this when I did my PhD!

From the presentations and keynote lectures I got the overall impression that there is a particular need for social indicators (other than economic ones, and employment), analyses of governance and institutions, and further integration of the whole range of issues in analyses and assessments. The topics were clearly skewed towards fisheries, which is a shame given the growing importance of other sectors, but also understandable given that this was an initiative by people within the ICES network. I was somewhat surprised to notice that there was not a single cost-benefit analysis, especially considering that the OECD’s Ocean Economy report explicitly calls for more cost-benefit analyses of ocean management.

Shame she wasn’t there second
time I visited the Océanopolis

I was particularly enthusiastic about some of the qualitative research that shone a new light on economic analyses. Edwin van Helmond presented an analysis of Dutch fisher behaviour where interviews with fishers helped resolve a number of puzzles in the data that statistical analysis could never have solved. Matthias Kokorsch presented the results of a series of interviews he did with Icelandic fishers on the effects of the tradable quota system in that country.

Slow sessions are just not my thing. I went to the Sunday session in the Tara Inn: there were loads of people, the atmosphere was great, but the music just did not appeal to me. It’s not the pace: there’s nothing wrong with playing a bit slower if you can’t keep up with the standard speed. In fact it’s better than playing above your level! But the playing was sloppy. Luckily I did get the chance to see some of the local traditions at the very last evening at a Fest Deiz!

 

Dutch biologists complain about publishing culture in academia

An interesting article on the current academic climate in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad: biologists complain about the pressure in the current academic climate not to try to replicate (let alone refute) other scientists’ results, but to exaggerate the results of your own research.

“In my field there are articles in Nature, Cell or Science, of which all experienced people know: this can’t be right,” says Hans Clevers, director of the Hubrecht Instituut in Utrecht and former president of the Dutch Academy of Science, “but rarely does somebody write that explicitly in an article. So every now and again I am approached at a conference by a PhD researcher from a remote university who has been trying for years to replicate that publication. It is very inefficient.” […] Ecologist Raymond Klaassen of Groningen University blames the “short-winded academic climate, that focuses on scoring.” “If you find a deviating pattern in one year, then the current practice is to publish that with a lot of ballyhoo in as high-ranking a journal as you can.”

The Dutch word used in the original article (which I translated here as “short-winded”) is “hijgerig”: from hijgen, Dutch for “to pant”. It evokes an image of heavy competition and short-termism. It reminds me of the atmosphere at a high-ranking Dutch university that has made quite a name in behavioural economics: scoring was the norm, in the best economics journals, but I saw little of a long-term research agenda. Nevertheless, I don’t believe it got as bad there as the biologists describe in this article (knock on wood). I do see it in fisheries science: 2048, anyone?