An academic pissing match

Pardon the crude headline but we think it’s apt, given the bizarre performances by scientists at the first day of Cohen Commission hearings on ISA Thursday.

The commission reconvened today and we expect things to get even crazier.

But here’s our take on it so far.

Scientists Dr. Kristi Miller from DFO in B.C., Dr. Fred Kibenge from the Atlantic Veterinary College in PEI, Dr. Are Nylund from Norway and Nellie Gagné from DFO’s Moncton lab are heartily arguing with each other over whose methods are better for detecting ISA.

Miller seems bound and determined to put herself on the fringe of science. In a theatrical manner, and presenting little or no data to back her up, she announced to the commission that she had found ISA in samples of farmed Chinook salmon, as well as in historical samples in DFO’s archive, which goes back to 1986.

Miller and Kibenge then ganged up on Gagné, who was left to defend her lab and her methods which after extensive retesting and attempted cell cultures, could not detect ISA in samples of wild salmon. Nylund criticized Miller, who did not reveal many details about how she came to detect ISA where no one else had been able to confirm it.

We have to take a soft jab at Miller here. Apparently she didn’t report her results to CFIA, which is a legal requirement in Canada. That suggests she is more interested in getting attention for her research and herself than in pursuing good science and making sure wild and farmed fish are healthy.

And if she doesn’t want to explain her methods, her results “might as well say ‘bing tiddle tiddle bong,” to quote Stargate: Atlantis character Rodney McKay:

Bing Tiddle Tiddle Bong
"You wouldn't know that from this, would you? This might as well say 'bing tiddle tiddle bong. It's complete gibberish!" - Rodney McKay, Stargate: Atlantis, Episode 109

The hearing devolved into technicalities and an academic pissing match on public display.

At the end of the day, the anti-salmon farming activists crowed to each other and congratulated themselves about “bombshells” they hope will kill the salmon farming industry.

That is a naive, one-track-minded and dangerous position to take, and it’s an anti-science position.

That’s right. We’re saying anti-salmon farming activists are anti-science.

They only care about science which proves their pre-conceived opinion that “salmon farms are bad.”

Meanwhile the academic pissing match raised some interesting points.

  • Scientists are detecting something that looks like ISA.
  • Miller claims to have confirmed it is a variation of the Atlantic Ocean virus.
  • Miller claims to have detected it in samples that are at least 25 years old.

These points raise some interesting questions.

  • If Miller’s work is correct, was the virus present in wild salmon prior to 1986?
  • Was it, as some including Nylund have theorized, always been here with the salmon?
  • If it was introduced by humans, was it introduced by B.C. salmon farms, which were miniscule operations in 1986 when they started using Atlantic salmon?
  • If it was introduced by humans, was it introduced by American salmon farms, which started farming Atlantic salmon in 1972 in Washington State?
  • If it was introduced by humans, was it introduced by Canadians, who deliberately introduced millions of Atlantic salmon until the 1930s in attempts to establish the fish on the Pacific Coast for sport fishing?
  • If it was introduced by humans, was it introduced by Americans, who also deliberately introduced millions of Atlantic Atlantic salmon until 1991 in attempts to establish the fish on the Pacific Coast for sport fishing?

These are interesting and important questions science needs to answer.

We do not need anti-salmon farming activists ignoring all these important questions to focus only on the facts which support their pet theories.

That is anti-science.

True scientists will stop arguing with each other in public and start working together to find good answers to these very important questions.

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