Insect apocalypse: no simple answers


After my blog post earlier this year on the questionable insectageddon review paper, American Scientist invited me to write a perspective article on the media hype surrounding the story.

The review paper has many flaws and caveats (stay tuned for a more thorough treatment of the paper coming soon) and the breathless media hype around it was confused and misleading. But the overall message is valid – our collective actions are impacting ecosystems (including insects) in dangerous ways through forest clearing, pesticide use, fossil fuels, and widespread simplification of landscapes. Some insect species are being seen less frequently in some areas because of this.

However, this message is not new – we already have access to decades of more rigorous evidence showing these effects and how we can mitigate them, so the engagement value of this latest review paper is unclear. Is it worth risking public trust in scientific rigour, just to get a bit more attention for the issue?

You can read my article here: No Simple Answers for Insect Conservation

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© Manu Saunders 2019

6 thoughts on “Insect apocalypse: no simple answers

  1. daysontheclaise April 20, 2019 / 5:58 PM

    This reminds me of the ultimate public and political support for legislation to ban fluorocarbons and protect the ozone layer. I once heard a scientist involved in the research say that the public got behind it and the right legislation was introduced, but for the wrong reasons. She seemed cool with the end result and not too bothered by the misunderstandings if it led to the necessary result. Sadly I can’t remember the details of the misunderstandings. And of course, as we all know, even this recent past is a foreign country, especially politically, and they do things differently there (to misappropriate and slightly mangle Hartley).

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  2. daysontheclaise April 20, 2019 / 6:08 PM

    PS Really good thoughtful article in American Scientist. I’m going to plaster it all over FB to my friends 🙂

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  3. shapeofthingstoni April 21, 2019 / 8:22 PM

    I suspect it has traction as it correlates with observation for many of us at this time. I drive between Melbourne and the Murray regularly, frequently early in the mornings and late in the evenings. I’ve been doing this for nearly 3 years and I’ve barely had an insect splat in that time. In contrast, on a recent trip to Tasmania my windscreen was the staging of a significant massacre.

    Compared with childhood memories, it really does feel like all the insects have disappeared. This is compounded by a move to inner city living and the encompassing paucity of biodiversity around me.

    Thanks of the article. I’ll head off to read it now.

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  4. Sam Perrin May 3, 2019 / 12:57 AM

    Why DID this paper get so much more press attention though? Insect populations have been falling for a while now, and I don’t recall this much media hype around it before. Any ideas?

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    • Manu Saunders May 3, 2019 / 9:30 AM

      I think because of the title and because the abstract states it was a comprehensive global review. Many reporters would take that on face value because it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal. The attention of this paper also built off the previous coverage of the German & Puerto Rico studies, the institutions’ press releases & there were also plenty of high-profile scientists on Twitter promoting the hype at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

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