How to help sustain our Blue Planet

By Simon Moore & Simon Hoyte

In the wake of Blue Planet II you might be wondering what you can do to have a positive impact on our oceans. How can you help sustain those jumping fish taking birds out of the sky, stop the oceans from rising or the corals from bleaching, and ensure turtles don’t go extinct on our watch?

Leatherback turtle on the beach

If you haven’t been watching (where’ve you been?), David Attenborough has just showcased the incredible life inhabiting our oceans in seven glorious episodes, but under the surface of each story humans are causing damage to the great blue.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problems we face with our oceans (and in nature more generally), after all, they’re massive and individual actions feel like just a drop in the ocean. And there’s always plenty more fish in the sea, right? Well, no, not at the rate we’re going.

But there is plenty of reason to have hope – people all across the world are fighting to protect the natural world. And every single person can make an enormous difference, as long as each of us ensures we are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Here are five easy things you can do to make a positive difference to help sustain our Blue Planet:

  1. Use less plastic! Refuse plastic as much as possible, and avoid plastic straws, microbeads, disposable plastic bottles and plastic-wrapped vegetables
  2. Know your seafood! Ensure your food is sourced sustainably through Marine Stewardship Council certification, and buy food locally where you can see exactly how it’s produced
  3. Fight climate change! One of the easiest ways to do this is to eat less meat and animal products, but also walk more, use public transport, fly less, improve your household energy efficiency and switch to a renewable energy supplier
  4. Support good conservation charities! Join and donate to campaigns by organisations such as SeaShepherd, Greenpeace and Fauna & Flora International, who devote their lives to defending the seas and the wider natural world
  5. Vote and get active! Vote for people who share your concern for the environment, tell your MP what you care about, join communities of likeminded individuals and try to promote conservation issues however and wherever you can

This article also appears on Simon Hoyte’s blog Hunt and Gather

A video version of this article appears on Matthew Shribman’s Science in the Bath

Photo by JuliasTravels

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What the Health – an awful documentary

If anyone fancies watching the documentary ‘What the Health’ on Netflix I’ll save you the trouble.

This is a documentary that supposedly exposes some concealed truths about diets and health. Their main conclusion seems to be that eating meat causes diabetes, and eating sugar does not. They propagate the common myth that eating fat makes you fat (it doesn’t). And they will cause more diabetes if people watch it and eat more sugar as a consequence.

Their agenda is undoubtedly to promote veganism and meat-free diets. Reducing meat consumption is hugely important, as animal agriculture is a massive contributor to climate change. And over-consumption of processed meats in particular can have detrimental health impacts, but this film unnecessarily spreads abundant false information. It has a worthy cause but totally misrepresents the science and evidence in trying to pursue its goals. This can not only lead to less trust of scientists, experts and health organisations, but can actively push people towards unhealthy choices.

Therefore, I don’t recommend it. And it provides a perfect example of why you can’t believe everything you see or read, just because it has quality production value and some Dr’s in lab coats.

For a full debunking please see the link below.

https://robbwolf.com/2017/07/03/what-the-health-a-wolfs-eye-review/

Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism

vaccine baby

You may have heard the worrying suggestion that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Thankfully, this is most certainly not true. So why exactly is it suggested?

Bad science

In 1998, a paper was published in a scientific journal called The Lancet, authored by Andrew Wakefield, in which he argued that 12 children with autism had developed the condition from the MMR vaccine. This paper was later retracted by the journal as it provided no actual evidence for a link between autism and the vaccine, included falsified data, and Wakefield had failed to declare a massive conflict of interest. Before the study started, the parents of some of the children were trying to sue MMR manufacturers, because they believed the MMR vaccine had caused their children’s autism, and Wakefield was recruited and paid by lawyers to find that link1.

Consequently, Wakefield was struck off the medical register for his deeply unethical actions, although many would suggest that his punishment was not great enough. Wakefield is responsible for initiating the deeply troubling anti-vaccination movement, which is allowing infectious diseases that we were doing quite well to control, to kill more and more people. Even today, he continues to publish books and “whistle-blowing” documentaries which claim to reveal an institutional cover-up of the link between MMR vaccines and autism.

In response to this, the international medical community has invested huge amounts of time and money over the past 19 years, to find out if there really is any increased risk of autism from having the MMR vaccine. As a result, after all of the controversy and fear-mongering, the MMR vaccine is now the one thing which we can be most certain does not cause autism, because so much money has been spent, on study after study, looking for this alleged link2. But this has all come at a cost – fewer studies researching the true, still mostly unknown, causes of autism.

The scientific method

In science we can never say anything with absolute, 100% certainty, because as the weight of evidence grows larger and larger, we simply make it less and less likely that an alternative is true. But when all of the evidence points overwhelmingly in one direction, we allow ourselves to think of things as facts. Evolution is a fact. Climate change is a fact. “The MMR vaccine does not cause autism” is a fact.

The reason so many people put their trust in science, is that they know that one or two studies, or even half a dozen, could get things wrong for one reason or another, but eventually, with lots of different ways of looking at a problem, we will find the right answer. Nothing is ever taken for granted, everything builds upon previous work, and nothing is left unchallenged. The reason scientists feel comfortable accepting that evolution is true, is because every possible attempt to disprove it has been unsuccessful. And the UK’s National Autistic Society is clear “that there is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine”, because unbelievably, unnecessarily large amounts of time and money have been spent looking for this link, and found none3.

So what are the dangers?

Vaccines are effective because of herd immunity. If 95% of a population (for example) are vaccinated, a disease can be all but eliminated as there are not enough hosts for it to jump between. So the 5% who do not get vaccinated are also reasonably well protected from the disease. However, if more and more people forego vaccination, then there are suddenly enough hosts for the disease to spread between, and new outbreaks can occur. In 1996, 92% of people in the UK were MMR vaccinated, and there were just 56 reported cases of measles. 12 years later, the number of cases hit 1,348, after the number of people vaccinated had dropped to around 80%4. Wakefield’s falsified paper was quite clearly to blame, although equally responsible were the media, with their scaremongering and inaccurate reporting of this story. Media coverage was typically very poor – many outlets reported on Wakefield’s tiny anecdotal study whilst ignoring the enormous weight of quality evidence pointing to the safety of MMR.

Vaccines have enabled us to fight back and even wipe out infectious diseases which were killing people in their millions. Smallpox was the first human disease to be eradicated globally in 1980, and it was responsible for killing 2 million people as recently as the year 19675. Subsequently, vaccines have allowed us to eradicate a second disease, Rinderpest, which was a mass killer of livestock. Without vaccines, each of us, and each of our children, would be susceptible to horrendous, life-threatening diseases. And that is the very real danger that this anti-vaccination movement is amplifying. Just look at news reports from the past few years and you can see evidence of measles outbreaks in parts of the world that we thought had brought it under control – London in 2016, California in 2015 and Swansea in 2013. In the developing world, huge numbers of people are still dying from infectious diseases every day, and it is vital that we provide vaccines to protect people from these diseases.

So why does anyone believe it?

People like conspiracies. They like believing that mainstream science has got something completely wrong, and that government is secretly harming or controlling its people. It would not surprise me if many of the people who are anti-vaccination are also climate change deniers, or even evolution deniers. But there is no doubt that many bright, well-meaning people out there have simply got the wrong end of the stick, and that desperately needs to change.

After a turbulent 2016, it seems we are now living in the post-truth era, where made up, non-sensical, “alternative facts” can be given as much time as legitimate truths. They might sound harmless, but when decision makers use “alternative facts” as justifications for their actions it is simply a tactical way of deceiving the public, and outright ignoring the established evidence. This is an incredibly dangerous situation, and can only be avoided by ensuring that the voices of our respected experts are being heard, particularly when bad science or made up shit hits the headlines. Experts owe it to us to stand up and speak out, and we would be wise to listen carefully. 

 

Picture credit: Amanda Mills, USCDCP

References

  1. Brian Deer – “Revealed: MMR Research Scandal” Reprint of The Sunday Times
  2. University of Oxford – Vaccine Knowledge Project
  3. The National Autistic Society: Our position – MMR vaccine
  4. BBC News – Q&A: Measles 28th November 2008
  5. World Health Organisation – Smallpox

 

Wildscreen Festival 2016

Every two years experts from the wildlife and nature documentary industry come together in Bristol for Wildscreen Festival – a chance to share ideas, collaborate, and view each other’s work. I was invited along for BlueSci Magazine and reported on the festival, which you can check out on the BlueSci website. In particular I evaluate the two different broad aims apparent in wildlife films: pure entertainment vs. environmental activism.

Featuring:

Hope you enjoy the read:

http://www.srcf.ucam.org/bluesci/2016/10/wildscreen-festival-2016/

Nature Matters 2016

I recently reported from a New Networks for Nature meeting called Nature Matters in Cambridge. It was an interesting conference that combined both scientists and artists from the world of conservation, and you can read my write-up and listen to some of the speakers I interviewed in my article on the BlueSci website. You can also see Sir David Attenborough himself in the video below as he closes the meeting with a speech that left most of the room in tears of joy (I’m in the pink shirt).

 

Travel and Conservation at Steppes Beyond

I was invited to a travel and conservation festival hosted by Steppes Travel called Beyond, and I wrote about my experiences for BlueSci magazine. Check out my write-up which wrestles with the idea of tourism and conservation working together. Chris Packham and Jonathan Scott were among the speakers.scott-photography

http://www.srcf.ucam.org/bluesci/2016/09/travel-and-conservation-steppes-beyond/