Brighter Prospects or Dim Future?

Craig Bingman cbingman at
Fri Aug 29 03:28:39 EDT 1997

On Fri, 29 Aug 1997, Gregor Hodgson wrote:

> Brighter Prospects or Dim Future?
> With all due respect to Judy Lang and John Ogden whose views I hold in
> high esteem, it seems obvious that the 25 July Science article (p. 491)
> showed gaps in logic and was biased as reflected in the headline and
> statements in the first few paragraphs. I may be wrong, but I don't
> believe that the majority of coral reef scientists and coral reef
> managers (many of whose views were presented in the story) agree with
> Science that the prospects for coral reef health are very bright. 

> A careful review of the article suggests that the writer/editors became
> confused about revised views on the effects of global warming on reefs
> and current views on anthropogenic impacts on reefs. The lack of
> separation of these two possible impacts on reefs causes much of the
> confusion.

> When a major scientific journal gives a rare bit of space to the subject
> of coral reefs, one would hope that they would present a logical,
> objective view. This is not Newsweek.

No, it isn't Newsweek, but I'm not sure why that particular publication 
was singled out as the exemplar of things negative.

The community of individuals interested in the future health and survival 
of coral reefs needs to consider this instance of perhaps confused 
reporting Very Carefully.  I've made mistakes in my time, and I will 
attempt to say the right words at this juncture.

First, it is wonderful that a major scientific journal has devoted space 
to the subject of the health of, and major anthropogenic impacts on coral 
reef ecosystems.  This is a good thing in and of itself, and the coral reef 
community is to be commended for this positive outcome from IYOR.

Secondly, you will be heard more clearly if you omit as completely as 
possible any critique of the edtioral staff of Science, or the individual 
who wrote up this news item.  That person was bombarded by data and 
sometimes dissonant opinions.  I feel secure in contending on their 
behalf that they did the best they could in the time that they had to 
present a balanced opinion.  They might have looked at the web sites 
ehcoing information related to coral reefs, they might have heard the 
plea for attention implicit in all of the press releases.  So please be 
kind.  The people proximally involved think that they have done you a 
service.  This must be considered and acknowledged.

Finally, it might be a good idea for any letter in response to this news 
item to be aired here before a segment of the community interested in 
this topic before it is sent.  In this way, we might avoid contentious 
language and statements.  Everyone here cares about reefs, and it is time 
for us to sing in harmony.

What you need to avoid is arousing any feeling in the editorial staff of 
science that the coral community is an unruly bunch of rough folk who 
will criticize anything that is said on the topic of coral reefs.

Make this as nice as possible.  If people get the impression that it is 
impossible to please you, they will rapidly stop caring about pleasing you.

Coral reefs are a long way away from many people, even though they are
very close to the heart of probably everyone on this list.  Not everyone
is a scientist studying coral reefs, not everyone has had the opportunity
to dive on a coral reef, not everyone has invited a square meter or so of
coral reef community into their living room in the form of a reef
aquarium.  I think that a certain part of the public, and the general 
scientific community, really wants to care about this topic.  

As personally upset as anyone might be, as enraged as they might be at 
the percieved inaccuracies in the reporting, please keep in mind that 
this is a rare opportunity to direct the attention of a public who might 
want to care about reefs, but has a very distant connection to them.

There are statements that could be made that essentially everyone
interested in these communities would agree upon.  We need to find those
statements and the correct phrasing.  It is also time to focus on the
wide-scale impacts that emperil reefs.  Over-harvest of herbiverous fish,
runoff from land and agricultural activities, the health of mangrove

Craig Bingman
Columbia University

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