Saturday, February 4, 2012

Voices in the Wilderness

Telling Tales of Canaries in a Coal Mine

A story in Friday's Irish Times by Tokyo based reporter David McNeill relates a disturbing tale told by ornithologists working "in the irradiated zone around the disabled Fukushima nuclear plant." A team of Japanese, US, and Danish scientists say the bird population in the area is dropping due to what they call "an immediate negative consequence of radiation for birds during the main breeding season March-July.” 

Among the researchers whose work is cited is one-time ornithology luminary, Anders Pape Moller. Moller's star crashed and burned out in 2003 when the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty found him guilty of manipulating research data. While that may be enough for many to dismiss anything Moller says without giving it a second thought, he is still hailed as a giant in the field by a long list of scientific notables. A 2007 article in The Scientist quotes former Evolution editor, Dolph Schluter, saying Moller is "under the microscope," suggesting his research may be more scrutinized than ever.

Journalist David McNeill consistently brings to light little known stories that never fall short on both substance and style. That's probably no easy task when most news media outlets care more about their bottom line than putting their bottoms on the line. It seems like today's news organizations just aren't willing to invest in the resources that would enable reporters to dig deep. That could be why the bulk of the stories picked for investigation appear to be low lying fruit or in some cases the fruit that falls to the ground. While this story, based on the findings of a fallen man, might seem to be the latter it doesn't mean it's rotten (just easier to overlook). 

Whether or not the toll on Fukushima's bird population is a harbinger of a silent spring to come, the voices of Moller and other researchers working in the field should at least be heard.  

Avian related post: Carried Away

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