02 June, 2013

Is the blog mightier than the pen? The Shark Safe shark barrier saga (part 2)

So, which was it?  I’ll leave the readers to judge.

I was paid a visit by Craig, which in the end was a very nice experience and we agreed to more cups of coffee in the future.  He said he felt personally attacked, however, if you read the blog again – I explicitly say how much I like him (I still do!) and elude to the fact that he’s dealing with the most challenging experience one will face during a career in white shark research.  The blog attacks the motivation behind rushing to publish a flawed research design on a controversial topic, the highly inaccurate press release generated by someone, and questions the various hands at play which I am now able to address a bit further in the blog... 

Craig also mentioned that the effects of the blog were immediate/severe and asked that I take it down.  Upon further investigation on my side, I find this hard to believe.  Let me give you some stats:

Which is most likely the culprit for the backlash?  Craig agreed that the press was bad and that the publication was never to test the barrier as a barrier, like the press says, rather to see if it is possible to manipulate shark movements using plastic pipes, magnets, and bait.  (I won’t dive into this here, rather read this tutorial on non sequitur arguments and then read the publicationI’ll leave the academics/statisticians to the rebuttals).    

This press situation is seriously troubling.  If a university is incapable of producing accurate press releases on their students’ work, then they should be named/shamed and future releases from this institution should not be taken seriously. Stellenbosch University's press release about the shark barrier is rife with inaccuracies, such as: 
‘Our structure has already been in the water for eight months and can resist waves of up to seven metres.’

Dead fucking wrong.
  The structure is in the 'Shark Alley' channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock which is protected by the 500m rock breakwall of Geyser Rock.  Yes, Gansbaai does get 7m waves regularly (i.e. Monday), but that structure is in the most sheltered spot in the bay.  Even with this protection, it still came loose!  Why lie about this?  Surely, if this gaff in the media is entirely attributed to Stellenbosch Uni. then Craig won’t work with them in the future.

But how did Craig initially get into this hot mess?  I wasn’t shocked when he mentioned the influence of a certain government technician at the beginning of his study, but maybe my government department readers will be.  When Craig was looking for areas to test the pipes on white sharks, an official at DEA actually discouraged Craig from contacting the only registered NPO publishing peer-reviewed white shark research from Gansbaai, and instructed him to only work with a shark celebrity who runs a commercial dive business.  What motivated a government official to discourage an international researcher from working with a functional NPO but to rather work with a business?  Either way this is a hot mess he certainly didn't ask to be thrown into.

So to my 120 readers, I hope you don’t hate on Craig as a person, I don’t.  I am also passionate about his cause to replace shark nets and drumlines which kill +-30 great white sharks annually within South Africa.  However, before one goes running to the press – whether that was Craig or the geneticist or another hand – the research must support the elevated claims in the releases, otherwise you become fodder for shark blogs. 

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