Compare and Contrast

Today, I present you with not one, but two points of view on the same subject: Sea turtle conservation! One of my favorite charities, Sea Turtle, Inc., linked a column by Dan Smith concerning the efforts to preserve sea turtle nests by banning cars on the beach in Volusia County, Florida. Dan is unconvinced that cars were a hazard to the turtles:

Turtles being killed by cars on the beach was a non-happening. Those of us who had often driven the beach at night for years could not ever remember such a thing taking place. Of course that did not stop the protesters from saying it was going on.

In fact, Smith goes on to make what I believe is an extraordinary claim:

The real truth was that because of the population growth and cars on the beach, thousands and maybe millions of turtles were being spared.

Oh my stars. Cars on the beach had a hand in sparing “maybe millions of turtles.” Man, if that’s that case, we need to ensure that cars are driven over turtle nesting areas all the time. It’s difficult to imagine any conservation method being as effective as driving cars on beaches. At least, that’s the case if what Dan says is true.

As a counterpoint, I’d like to present this paper produced by Katherine R. Butler for the Florida State University Journal of Land Use and Environment Law. Given how absolute Smith was in making his claims, it’s shocking, shocking I tell you, that Butler reaches a different conclusion:

In areas where motor vehicles are allowed on the beach or where illegal beach driving occurs, the use of headlights during night driving can disrupt the nesting process and disorient hatchlings.[92] Tire ruts can interfere with the hatchlings’ ability to reach the sea,[93] and vehicles can damage nests and run over hatchlings.[94] Beach cleaning equipment causes similar problems.[95] In addition to the creation of ruts and compaction of nests by heavy machinery, beach cleaning rakes can penetrate or uncover nests.[96]

Hrm…that’s not what Mr. Smith said at all. Those little numerical doodads at the end of the sentences are footnotes that link to actual backing evidence for Butler’s claims. I like ’em. They’re like little, paper-based hyperlinks to source material.

My goal in writing this is not to pile on Mr. Smith, but rather to illustrate a brilliant example of why critical thought ought to be taught in our schools. The first piece appears to have been written to promote the conclusion the author wants the reader to believe (the headline “How people on the beach saved the turtles” is a pretty good clue) and proceeds to engage in a laundry list of rhetorical tricks such as “red herrings”, ad hominem* attacks”, and “making shit up.” Those should be a red flag to any reader who knows what to look for. Meanwhile, Butler’s paper begins with a question and then presents data relevant to the question. You could teach a course on bullshit detection using these two works.

In the interest of fairness, I’m not above engaging in some logical fallacies in the service of “writing amusingly” or “making a point.” I don’t do it on purpose, and I’m not proud of it when I go back and read some of what I read. So, if you’re of a mind to cast some stones in my direction, by all means, do so. Doing something that you criticize in others doesn’t make you a hypocrite; thinking that it’s ok for you to do it when it’s wrong for others does.

* I was deeply amused by the fact that Google kept trying to correct hominem to “Eminem.”



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