Fake news hindering conservation efforts: Scientists

Challenges of misinformation
Last Updated 16 October 2019, 19:33 IST

The proliferation of fake news and false claims are hampering conservation efforts across India, said ecologists and scientists from various institutions.

Speaking at a plenary event at the Indian Institute of Science on Wednesday, Neha Sinha, policy officer for the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), explained that online trolls and propagandists are spreading misinformation to overshadow legitimate scientific studies, which is harming conservation across the country.

Online troll attacks on conservationists have spiked over the past two years, but that is only one aspect of what is becoming a broader attack on science,” she said.

The other is a relentless flouting of regulations, laws and studies on environmental and wildlife conservation by members Aof the government and both private and public organisations, she said.

An example of this is the misuse of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) — a preliminary study which is a prerequisite to gauge the impact of infrastructural projects on the environment.

“Many of these assessments are copy-and-paste jobs, lacking the investigative heft to determine the footprint of infrastructural proposals; often, the project would have started even before the EIA is completed,” Sinha explained.

According to ecologist Harini Nagendra, professor of sustainability at Azim Premji University, the practices continue because of a belief that the country’s growth was linked to infrastructure projects.

“India is following the rest of the world in a train of thought that economic development is more important than ecological conservation,” she said, but noted that the scientific community was also to be blamed for not producing enough data at the ground level to enable citizens and conservation groups to challenge contentious development projects in court.

As an example, Nagendra pointed to the cutting of trees for road expansion in Jayamahal in Bengaluru.

“Government estimates are always 40% of what actual losses are going to be. If we had more scientists collecting biological assessments on the ground, data could have proved that it was not necessary to cut so many trees.”

While usable data from international cities are available, Nagendra explained that these foreign data are admissible in Indian courts, which sees them as not being applicable to India. “Never mind that in the end, a tree is a tree,” she said.

(Published 16 October 2019, 18:30 IST)

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