The Implausibility of Possum Peppering

I read "Heavens aligning for fiery possum cure" and was mildly stunned that this was taken seriously enough to be considered "news". Even more stunned that this may actually be being considered. I was going to write a post about this but feel that this post by Alison Campbell does the job well. Hat tip to SciBlogs for syndicating this.

This morning's Waikato Times carried the following headline: Heavens aligning for fiery possium cure. Now, there's a lot of pressure on to find viable alternatives to 1080 as a means of controlling possums, but somehow I don't think the method described in the Times story is going to take off.

The news item tells us that possum skins burnt to ashes under the right alignment of the Moon and stars could be an alternative to 1080 - & the group promoting this is asking for $330,000 of Environment Waikato funding to demonstrate it. My first thought, on reading this, was 'you have to be joiking!' Subsequent thoughts were much the same. Why?

Read more on Alison's post, including, hopefully, an insight on how it was received via the brother of one of the commenters.

Trackback URL for this post:

Checking out the journalist

Checking out the journalist doesn't bring up anything really, but Gary Blake pops up on the "Biodynamic Farming Association" website There might just be an conflict of interest there with the research done to confirm beliefs rather investigate an hypothesis.

There is a update, this is the sort of article you should see on these claims or the story left as not worth the time to write up. This is obviously written by the Editor of the Waikato Times and is the sort of journalism on this subject you really want to see.

"In 1991 the Forest Research Institute tested possum peppering but were unable find any impact on possums. The result was the same when the biodynamic folk tried it, but they rejected the findings. Their conspiracy-like arguments since that 'big science' doesn't want to be challenged by a method with no potentially lucrative patents would be laughable were it not diverting time, and resources from important biodiversity issues.

During the 1999 painted apple moth invasion of Auckland the Agriculture Ministry was obliged to spend time considering a peppering proposal. Faced with a potential impact of over $300 million in forestry damage if the moth got established, the Ministry decided against using an unproven method to fight it. But the mere fact they looked at it should raise alarm bells over the rise in the credence given to pseudoscience.

There's probably something in it about science's poor ability to sell often complex concepts to the public but it also speaks volumes about the willingness of people to abandon the hard facts they don't like in favour of what amounts feel-good fairy stories.

Sure, scientists haven't cured cancer, but they can fight possums with more than wishful thinking while proving how they did it. Give us real science any day.

Vitalism: still alive and

Vitalism: still alive and well and well in the 21st century.

They should know better to even give these people airtime.

Agreed. I was wondering


I was wondering about the author of the article. Does anyone know anything about Daniel Adams?

The technique, possum

The technique, possum peppering, was proposed by philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s.[emphasis mine]

Ah, of course.