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Review: 5 Easy Pieces by Daniel Pauly

July 19, 2011

I’ve just finished Daniel Pauly’s 5 Easy Pieces: The Impact of Fisheries on Marine Ecosystems, a collection of Pauy’s five most influential journal articles along with commentary and narrative.

All in all, I highly recommend the collection to those new to marine policy and science.  The commentary also has some things of interest for those seasoned in the field.

I picked up this short book originally as a way to refresh.  I thought, “it’s been a while since I’ve read most of these articles.”  I was soon surprised to find that this collection is so much more than the sum of its part.  This is because Pauly provides a unique window into the social processes of how marine science advances.

In Pauly’s own words:

Each chapter presents the full text of one contribution, as well as its origin and context, mostly in the form of comments by scientific colleagues, both positive and negative.  Also, responses are provided to these comments, and the reception of each of these five contributions in popular media is documented.  This provides an opportunity to present, among other things, my views on the extent to which scientists are justified in shaping, by interacting with popular media, the reception of their own, perhaps controversial results.

Pauly, if you don’t know, has been one of the most vocal and controversial figures in marine science and policy over the past two decades.  In my view, his only rival is Ray Hilborn, who sits on the other side of the ideological divide in fisheries science (more on that here).

I’d say that controversy has mostly followed Pauly as a result of all the egos he has bruised.  For a long time, the establishment was getting the science quite wrong (as the third article shows in particular).

The five pieces, originally published in Science and Nature, are:

  • Daniel Pauly and Villy Christenson. 1995. Primary production required to sustain global fisheries. Nature (374): 255-257.   Available to read here.
  • Daniel Pauly, Villy Christensen, Johanne Dalsgaard, Rainer Froese, and Francisco Torres Jr. 1998. Fishing down marine food webs. Science (272): 860-863. Available to read here.
  • Reg Watson and Daniel Pauly. 2001. Systematic distortions in world fisheries catch trends. Nature (414): 534-536.  Available to read here.
  • Daniel Pauly, Villy Christensen, Sylvie Guénette, Tony J. Pitcher, U. Rashid Sumaila, Carl J. Walters, R. Watson and Dirk Zeller. 2002. Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature (418): 689-695.  Available to read here.
  • Daniel Pauly, Jackie Alder, Elena Bennett, Villy Christensen, Peter Tyedmers, and Reg Watson. 2003. The future for fisheries. Science (302): 1359-1361.

Some of the things that most grabbed my attention related to the issues of data quality at the FAO and how press coverage is generated.  On the data quality, the FAO appeared to be fumbling and inept back when it was pointed out that China’s reporting was doctored.  And on the dirty business of generating press coverage, I enjoyed these tidbits:

Those who love sausages usually do not want to know how sausages are made, and similarly, some readers may be shocked to read how press coverage is generated.  But to stay with the sausage analogy: the best media relations cannot decide which sauce and side dishes people will choose to have with their sausage; you can at best suggest (or pitch) a sauce.  In fact, now moving from gastronomy to ideology: people interpret what they read through the lenses of their previous beliefs, and this is why the response to our contribution differed so much…

Also, the media are not monolithic.  Each has its own audience to serve and to answer…

The lesson: in individually pitching to these media, it helps to know the angle each favors; a quick Google search can usually reveal the types of story each tends to report.

My only critique is that the commentary gets less substantive/interesting as Pauly discusses more recent articles.  I believe part of this is due to the fact that he has learned most of his ‘lessons’, and another part of this is the mainstreaming of his message that global fisheries are in trouble.  I wonder if he might have broadened his commentary to talk about the present ideological divide or the institutional ties he has cultivated to shape conservation campaigns.

The big takeway from the book is that Daniel Pauly has had a profound, positive impact on fisheries science because he is not only a brilliant scientist, but also a clever and strategic communicator.

I’ll say it again: this is a very good, quick read.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick Schmelz permalink
    July 19, 2011 10:42 am

    Great post . . . I am going to see if my local library can get this for me!


  1. The Reflections of Daniel Pauly « Breaching the Blue

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