Scientists are meant to be in the enviable position of receiving respect because they are seen as being intelligent, unbiased and objective. This is not always the case as is highlighted by this story. On the African continent, Western sport hunters justify their behaviour by saying that it benefits wildlife conservation.
The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting made a complaint to the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called Science, that a letter to this prestigious journal signed by senior scientists was biased because four of the scientists have links to hunting bodies.
The letter published in August was in fact signed by more than a hundred scientists. It was organised by a small group from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Oxford University’s wildlife conservation research unit.
The letter promoted the argument that banning imports of hunting trophies would undermine efforts to protect lions, elephants and other animals, some of whom are endangered. There is an ongoing discussion, in the UK, about banning the importation of hunting trophies into the country.
Conflicts of interest
An addendum was published by Science in which it said that Amy Dickman one of the organisers of the letter from Oxford University and who runs a lion conservation project in Tanzania had previously been funded by the Dallas Safari Club and Safari Club International. These are trophy hunting groups. They say that the payments were made five years ago and account for less than 1% of the project’s funding.
In addition, Dilys Roe and Rosie Cooney, two other signatories of the letter are the present and past chairwomen of the International Union for Nature Conservation Group which receives under 5% of its funding from hunting bodies as per The Times report (but see below). Further, the group was partly funded by the Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club. Does this letter implicate the IUCN in a conflict of interest as it is meant to be the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it?
[Note: my research indicates that Dilys Roe is the chairperson of the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi). This appears to conflict with The Times report.]
The declarations of conflict of interest were prompted by the journal’s editor-in-chief, Jeremy Berg, who has said this about the letter:
“When the letter “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity”…was published, Science’s policy of asking all manuscript authors to declare conflicts of interest did not apply to Letters. This policy is now under revision…Science has therefore requested that the authors of Dickman et al declare their competing interests. They have done so in an addendum to their Letter.”
Moral of the story
The first point to note is that some of the scientists have connections to trophy hunting which must make their objectivity questionable. Are they pushing an agenda? The average person, the man on top of the Clapham omnibus, Joe blogs, should not presume that all scientists involved in animal welfare of any sort are always unbiased. They may have an agenda to push themselves.
The point is, that very few people investigate the background of scientists or investigate their funding. Funding by sport hunting bodies creates an impossible conflict of interest which should discredit almost anything said by these scientists.
Failure of the letter
The chief executive of Born Free a conservation charity, Howard Jones, said that the letter in question did not refer to evidence that trophy hunting is damaging to wildlife populations and does not contribute or contributes very little to the local economies.
Zac Goldsmith, the current environment minister, in the British government said that the fight against trophy hunting of endangered animals relies in part on placing a higher value on animals being alive rather than dead.