Alexandra Morton and Korean Fan Death

That sounds like a great line-up for an alt-rock concert, doesn’t it? “Alexandra Morton and Korean Fan Death, with special guests Urban Legend!”

We’d pay a $5 cover charge to see that.

Hopefully someone laughed at that. We promise to try harder next time.

Before we go on, we must state again that we are not out to assassinate anyone’s character. But ridiculous statements and anti-scientific claims cannot go unchallenged. So all apologies to Alexandra Morton, we’re sure you are a very nice person, but the things you say about salmon farms are nonsense.

And although the people who believe her anti-aquaculture sermons and take them to heart are a fringe minority, that group includes a number of doctors, scientists and generally smart people.

That shouldn’t be surprising. Even smart people can believe stupid things.

And even a lot of smart people can believe stupid things.

Take, for example, the phenomenon known as “Korean Fan Death.”

Korean Fan Death
In Korea, it's "common knowledge" that sleeping with a fan on could KILL YOU. Really, we're not making this up. This warning label is required on electric fans.

One of our contributors is a fan of the “Skeptoid” podcast, which recently did a show on this strange belief.

Apparently, it is a widely-held belief in Korea that if you go to sleep with a fan running in your room, you could die. The belief stems from several instances in which people were found dead, with a fan running in the room.

It’s a case of “correlation is causation” gone wild.

The wide-spread panic over this belief has prompted warnings, reams of coverage in the Korean press and even prompted some scientists and doctors — including emergency room doctors and at least one Western doctor — to warn people about the danger of fans.

And the panic has snowballed to include government agencies, such as the Korean Consumer Protection Board, to issue warnings and other agencies to require warning labels and stickers on fans suggesting that “this product could cause hypothermia and death.”

To our western minds it seems ridiculous, and we can easily see that there is no scientific basis to conclude that fans had anything to do with the deaths.

But the urban legend persists, fueled by a few scientists and agencies who perpetuate it.

Morton’s myths about salmon farms are the same. How many times has she predicted, backed by a few scientists, that wild runs are going to be made extinct by salmon farms? How many times has she been right? How can people continue to believe these stories, after decades of research showing no definitive connection between salmon farms and fluctuations in wild salmon populations?

Even the wild salmon don't believe Alexandra Morton anymore
Even the wild salmon don't believe Alexandra Morton anymore, after 20 years of failed predictions.

And yet she and some well-known scientists hold to this myth, continuing to prophesy that salmon farms will kill wild salmon someday, we’ll see, and then we’ll be sorry we didn’t listen to them.

They are so desperate to be right that they seize on every little piece of correlative evidence they can to scream that salmon farms are doing harm.

Pink run not so great this year? It MUST have been because of salmon farms when the fish went out to sea, or when they came back.

Sockeye run fantastic this year? It MUST be because salmon farms are pressuring salmon to spawn in massive numbers to avoid their impending extinction.

When you have your hypothesis already in hand, it’s easy to find facts to fit it. All you have to do is discard the ones you don’t like.

And like Korean Fan Death, maybe all you have to do is make something innocuous sound scary, cloaked in scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo, to get people to believe you.

Hopefully people trying to understand the interactions between farmed and wild salmon are wiser than to believe that.

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7 thoughts on “Alexandra Morton and Korean Fan Death”

  1. I just have to say – I love your response to Brenda Guiled! I see you were well prepared for one of her fans to try to defend. Ouch!

    Did A. Morton really refuse to observe a fish health sampling? If that is true, that is quite astonishing and REALLY telling. You guys have way more patience than me – I would have told her to swim back to shore!

    J Deacon

  2. Hard to read past the first paragraphs of name-calling, then the spurious Korean ‘example’.

    Morton is working on an hypothesis, not a myth. Science demands all the data possible – nothing hidden, missing, or overlooked – and it demands rigorous studies and analysis of many facets, with lots of replications.

    Morton is fighting for this, and a helluva a fight it is. You’re wrong to think that it’s about the biggest bully winning, and you’d do well to stop fighting at that level. It undermines your credibility and the very hypotheses you support.

    We need to start with a shared understanding of what science is and how it’s done. Then you’d understand her continuing call for scientific rigour, and you’d support her for it, despite being on the other side of the fence.

    It’s possible for competing scientific interests to engage respectfully. Please help show the way.

    1. Ms. Morton has shown she has no real interest in science that disproves her pre-conceived opinions. She starts from a hypothesis and works backwards. She herself said at the Cohen Commission, “I don’t work on sea lice any more because I figured it out. Where there’s fish farms, there’s sea lice.” (Page 46, Line 14.)

      What kind of scientist makes a statement like that? The science is NEVER done. This is not a “call for scientific rigour.”

      More than once, when she has been invited to tour salmon farms, she has refused to observe the sea lice sampling which happens regularly on farms. Why is that? Why would a scientist refuse to even watch how farms sample their fish and count sea lice?

      Also while it’s interesting that she was involved in this paper which concluded that there was no statistical difference in the survival rates of salmon which passed salmon farms and salmon which did not, it’s even more interesting that she does not answer questions about it, does not draw attention to it and did not announce it with a press release and media circus like her other work which puts salmon farms in a negative light.

      We’re sorry you see this article as name-calling, we were very careful to make it clear we are attacking what Ms. Morton says about salmon farms, not her as a person.

      And what she says shows that science is not the prime motivator of her criticism; it’s a certain ideology which fills that role.

    2. Ms Morton doesn’t practise science just a well funded agenda to force her views on everyone whether she can back them up with scientific evidence or not. Recent photos of her and Don Staniford taking samples in a dirty environment and cross contaminating those same samples was more than proof of her total lack of expertise. Even as Don Staniford is sued for defamation she continues to spew the same defamatory remarks in every media forum she can. Making false statements does nothing to prove their points just proves they are on an agenda to destroy an industry regardless of how low they have to stoop to do it.

      1. Hi Annie, thanks for your comment, we just want to gently suggest we try and keep the criticism about Ms. Morton focused on her science, and the things she says about salmon farming.

    3. Morton has worked on a hypothesis is based on cherry picked pieces of testimony at the Cohen Inquiry; however, the bulk of the testimony does not support her claims if you look at everything said. Morton may say that she is fighting for rigorous science but her actions speak otherwise. For instance, she is totally misinterpreting the results of the Dr. Kristi Miller.

      Morton is not looking at this issue objectively. She is trying to fit the crime to the suspected party – guilty until proven innocent. She is also weighing too much faith on correlative studies which do not prove causation. Mathematical models have limitations – you have to look at what the fish are doing to ground truth what the models are saying. In addition, she and many others like her are making comparisons of the BC aquaculture industry to problems in Chile and Scotland. Just because other countries are having problems with aquaculture does not necessarily mean that the industry here is experiencing the same problem. Actually, the BC industry is likely the most regulated of its kind in the world.

      If Cohen has told us anything it has shown that this decline in Fraser Sockeye productivity cannot be blamed solely on any particular factor which includes aquaculture in BC. The inquiry also highlighted the large gaps in information that we have on Fraser Sockeye in the marine environment – specifically early marine life and the impact of diseases on wild salmon survival. We all want answers, we all care about salmon, but it won’t come about by speculating and pointing fingers.

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