The Sunday Independent - - MEDIA & CULTURE - ANAHAD O’CON­NOR

AS A grow­ing num­ber of young South Africans swell the job­less queue, the au­thor­i­ties have taken to talk­ing with in­creas­ing fer­vour of the sea and the po­ten­tial of the “Blue Econ­omy”.

It’s one of those catchy phrases, a bit like “Rad­i­cal Eco­nomic Trans­for­ma­tion”, that can mean all things to all peo­ple, but of­ten adds up to lit­tle more than sound and fury.

It gets bandied about in of­fi­cial doc­u­ments or dropped into speeches by min­is­ters and other heavy hit­ters to de­scribe a multi­bil­lion-rand purse just wait­ing – the pub­lic are told – to be prised from the ocean’s clutches.

To make this hap­pen, the gov­ern­ment was back­ing Op­er­a­tion Phak­isa, an elab­o­rate plan­ning frame­work. Op­er­a­tion Phak­isa brings un­der its roof di­verse and com­pet­ing in­ter­ests: gas and oil ex­plo­ration, com­mer­cial fish­ing, ma­rine trans­port, ma­rine con­ser­va­tion, coastal and ma­rine tourism and ma­rine aqua­cul­ture (fish farm­ing).

In the pro­tec­tion stakes, South Africa has lagged on its in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments to ex­pand its net­work of Ma­rine Pro­tected Ar­eas.

Un­til re­cently, only 0.4% of South Africa’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone was pro­tected.

The is­sue came un­der scru­tiny at a re­cent Ocean Stewards Sci­ence Ses­sion – an ini­tia­tive launched by Wild­lands and Grindrod Bank in recog­ni­tion of threats fac­ing the oceans.

Be­fore this year’s sci­ence ses­sion, Ocean Stewards played a lead­ing role in launch­ing the Only This Much cam­paign, which called for in­creased pro­tec­tion of the oceans.

Amid grow­ing pub­lic pres­sure, the Cab­i­net fi­nally an­nounced on Oc­to­ber 24, that it would ex­pand pro­tec­tion to at least 5% of South Africa’s ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment – a move wel­comed as long over­due by ma­rine con­ser­va­tion­ists.

But it was not only the need to pro­tect oceans that came in for scru­tiny at the ses­sion, hosted at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal.

Am­bi­tious plans to grow the aqua­cul­ture sec­tor rev­enue from about R500 mil­lion (es­ti­mates vary), “to al­most R1.4 bil­lion in 2019” were also on the bill. And it took a pound­ing from Larry Oeller­mann, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the South African As­so­ci­a­tion of Ma­rine Bi­o­log­i­cal Re­search.

Aqua­cul­ture is of course hardly new. It was fa­mil­iar to the Ro­mans and other an­cients. To­day it con­trib­utes al­most half of the global fish sup­ply, but less than 1% of South Africa’s seafood sup­ply.

The gov­ern­ment wants it to play a much big­ger part in our econ­omy, be­liev­ing it of­fered great po­ten­tial for ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, es­pe­cially for poor coastal com­mu­ni­ties.

In June, Sen­zeni Zok­wana, the Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries said 35 aqua­cul­ture projects around the coun­try had reg­is­tered with Op­er­a­tion Phak­isa and more were in the pipe­line.

Since the launch of the ini­tia­tive, more than R700m had been in­vested in the aqua­cul­ture sec­tor by the gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor, said Zok­wana.

“Op­por­tu­ni­ties in the aqua­cul­ture sec­tor are sup­port­ing ru­ral eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for both in­land and coastal com­mu­ni­ties. It has started a cy­cle of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, em­ploy­ment and con­sumer de­mand in these com­mu­ni­ties,” said Zok­wana.

Oeller­mann, how­ever, was not con­vinced. As if sens­ing the an­tic­i­pa­tion from the young sci­en­tists at the ses­sion, Oeller­mann first set out his cre­den­tials: more than 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the aqua­cul­ture and ma­rine aqua­cul­ture (mar­i­cul­ture) field in Namibia and South Africa as a hatch­ery man­ager, re­searcher, con­sul­tant and ad­viser.

Next, Oeller­mann fired up a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion with a se­ries of graphs and ta­bles, drawn from an eco­nomic and sec­toral study.

It showed there had been lim­ited growth in the ma­rine in­dus­try for prawns, oys­ters and mus­sels over the past 15 years.

Then came the hook.

The idea that South Africa was go­ing to be­come a world player in mar­i­cul­ture was far-fetched, said Oeller­mann. “We are not nat­u­rally a mar­i­cul­ture coun­try. We do not have fjords and the coastal en­vi­ron­ment to do large scale mar­i­cul­ture,” he ex­plained. He said aside from Sal­danha Bay, which has a big calm bay con­ducive for mar­i­cul­ture, the in­dus­try in South Africa was largely land-based – and hugely ex­pen­sive to set up.

“My point about mar­i­cul­ture in South Africa is that, be­cause of the na­ture of our coast­line, it will mostly have to be un­der­taken in spe­cially cre­ated fa­cil­i­ties on­shore,” said Oeller­mann. “Our sea is just too rough, and the coast­line too un­pro­tected, for us to be able to farm much in the sea. As soon as you have to pump sea­wa­ter onto the shore, and build spe­cial sys­tems on the shore to keep your an­i­mals alive, the op­er­a­tion gets costly, not just in in­fra­struc­ture terms, but also in terms of meet­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal re­quire­ments and the reg­u­la­tions in­volved,” said Oeller­mann.

It took on av­er­age R120m to start an abalone farm and typ­i­cally took six years to reach breakeven point, he said. Let’s be re­al­is­tic. Tap­ping the ocean’s eco­nomic po­ten­tial will be a tough fight. NOT too long ago, Brian Wansink was one of the most re­spected food re­searchers in the US.

He founded the Food and Brand Lab at Cor­nell Univer­sity, where he won at­ten­tion for stud­ies that showed that small be­havioural changes could in­flu­ence eat­ing pat­terns. He found that large plates lead peo­ple to eat more food be­cause they make por­tions look smaller, and that chil­dren eat more veg­eta­bles when they have colour­ful names like “power peas”.

Wansink wrote best-sell­ing books and pub­lished hun­dreds of stud­ies. For more than a year, he served in a top nutri­tion pol­icy role at the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture un­der Ge­orge W Bush, where he helped shape the gov­ern­ment’s in­flu­en­tial di­etary guide­lines. His re­search even led the gov­ern­ment to spend al­most $20 mil­lion re­design­ing school cafés, an ini­tia­tive known as the Smarter Lunch­rooms Move­ment.

But this month, Wansink’s ca­reer at Cor­nell came to an un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous end. On Septem­ber 20, the univer­sity an­nounced that a year-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion had found that he com­mit­ted “aca­demic mis­con­duct in his re­search and schol­ar­ship, in­clud­ing mis­re­port­ing of re­search data”, and that he had ten­dered his res­ig­na­tion.

The an­nounce­ment came one day af­ter the pres­ti­gious med­i­cal jour­nal JAMA re­tracted six of his stud­ies be­cause of ques­tions about their “sci­en­tific va­lid­ity”. Seven of his other papers had pre­vi­ously been re­tracted for sim­i­lar rea­sons.

“I think the ex­tent of mis­con­duct that has oc­curred with this au­thor is unique,” Dr Howard Bauch­ner, JAMA’s ed­i­tor-in-chief, said. “There are lit­er­ally mil­lions of au­thors, and there’s very few who have had nu­mer­ous papers re­tracted.”

For more than a year, Wansink had been dogged by ac­cu­sa­tions that many of his stud­ies were riddled with er­rors, data in­con­sis­ten­cies and ev­i­dence of fraud. Wansink ad­mit­ted to mak­ing “ty­pos, trans­po­si­tion er­rors and some sta­tis­ti­cal mis­takes” in his papers. But he de­fended his work and said none of his mis­takes “changed the sub­stan­tive con­clu­sions” of any of his papers.

“I’m very proud of all of these papers,” he said, “and I’m con­fi­dent they will be repli­cated by other groups.”

But as news of the scan­dal re­ver­ber­ated through aca­demic cir­cles, some ex­perts said they feared it was symp­to­matic of a broader prob­lem in food and health re­search. While very few sci­en­tists are ac­cused of mis­con­duct or mis­re­port­ing data, crit­ics have long con­tended that nutri­tion re­search is plagued by a cred­i­bil­ity prob­lem. They ar­gue that an alarm­ing num­ber of food stud­ies are mislead­ing, un­sci­en­tific or ma­nip­u­lated to draw du­bi­ous con­clu­sions.

Wansink’s lab was known for data dredg­ing, or p-hack­ing, the process of run­ning ex­haus­tive analy­ses on data sets to tease out sub­tle sig­nals that might oth­er­wise be un­re­mark­able. Crit­ics say it is tan­ta­mount to cast­ing a wide net and then cre­at­ing a hy­poth­e­sis to sup­port what­ever cher­ryp­icked find­ings seem in­ter­est­ing – the op­po­site of the sci­en­tific method. For ex­am­ple, emails ob­tained by Buz­zFeed News showed that Wansink prod­ded re­searchers in his lab to mine their data sets for re­sults that would “go vi­rally big time”.

“P-hack­ing is a re­ally se­ri­ous prob­lem,” said Dr Ivan Oran­sky, co-founder of Re­trac­tion Watch, who teaches med­i­cal jour­nal­ism at New York Univer­sity. “Not to be overly dra­matic, but in some ways it throws into ques­tion the very sta­tis­ti­cal ba­sis of what we’re read­ing as sci­ence jour­nal­ists and as the pub­lic.”

Data dredg­ing is fairly com­mon in health re­search, and es­pe­cially in stud­ies in­volv­ing food. It is one rea­son con­tra­dic­tory nutri­tion head­lines seem to be the norm: one week cof­fee, cheese and red wine are found to be pro­tec­tive against heart dis­ease and cancer, and the next week a new crop of stud­ies pro­nounce that they cause it.

Mar­ion Nes­tle, a pro­fes­sor of nutri­tion, food stud­ies and pub­lic health at New York Univer­sity, said that many re­searchers are un­der enor­mous pres­sure to churn out papers. One re­cent anal­y­sis found that thou­sands of sci­en­tists pub­lish a pa­per ev­ery five days.

“You can’t get a job if you don’t have papers,” she said. “I see this at my univer­sity. We ex­pect as­sis­tant pro­fes­sors to be hired with al­ready a record of schol­ar­ship.”

In 2012, Dr John Ioan­ni­dis, chair­per­son of dis­ease pre­ven­tion at Stan­ford, pub­lished a study ti­tled “Is Ev­ery­thing We Eat As­so­ci­ated With Cancer?” He and a co-au­thor ran­domly se­lected 50 recipes from a cook­book and dis­cov­ered that 80% of the in­gre­di­ents – mush­rooms, pep­pers, olives, lob­ster, mus­tard, lemons – had been linked to ei­ther an in­creased or a de­creased risk of cancer in nu­mer­ous stud­ies. In many cases a sin­gle in­gre­di­ent was found to be the sub­ject of ques­tion­able cancer claims in more than 10 stud­ies, a vast ma­jor­ity of which “were based on the new ICC pros­e­cu­tor Fa­tou Ben­souda (who had been Ocampo’s as­sis­tant) could not con­vince all three judges that there was enough ev­i­dence against Gbagbo. Ac­cord­ing to French on­line in­ves­tiga­tive news site Me­di­a­part, the French For­eign Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius was aware of the weak­ness of Ben­souda’s case and had rushed to the Hague to dis­cuss progress with the French am­bas­sador.

Ben­souda’s team took an­other year to try and gather enough ev­i­dence. It was only in May 2014 that the charges against him were con­firmed. Some ev­i­dence brought by the pros­e­cu­tion in the pre-trial hear­ings was proven to be fab­ri­cated, with one video of his fol­low­ers al­legedly car­ry­ing out mas­sacres hav­ing ac­tu­ally been shot in Kenya.

Ben­souda was later to ad­mit to one of the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates of the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Pas­cal Bida Koy­ag­bele, at a din­ner in the Nether­lands, “There is noth­ing se­ri­ous against Gbagbo, it’s po­lit­i­cal pres­sure com­ing from France and I can do noth­ing.”

Koy­ag­bele con­tends that Ben­souda had lob­bied France to be ap­pointed as ICC chief pros­e­cu­tor.

But per­haps more im­por­tantly is why the ICC was be­ing used as a po­lit­i­cal in­stru­ment by the for­mer colo­nial power to neu­tralise Gbagbo from the po­lit­i­cal scene of the Ivory Coast.

The fun­da­men­tal rea­son was that since be­com­ing pres­i­dent in 2000, Gbagbo had be­come the great­est threat to France’s dom­i­na­tion in Ivory Coast as well as Fran­co­phone Africa. Gbagbo had started to re­duce the dom­i­nance of French cor­po­ra­tions over the econ­omy, and the con­cern was that this could be repli­cated across West Africa.

Gbagbo was de­ter­mined to re­lax France’s con­trol weak sta­tis­ti­cal ev­i­dence”, the pa­per con­cluded.

Nutri­tion epi­demi­ol­ogy is no­to­ri­ous for this. Sci­en­tists rou­tinely scour data sets on large pop­u­la­tions look­ing for links be­tween spe­cific foods or di­ets and health out­comes like chronic dis­ease and life span. These stud­ies can gen­er­ate im­por­tant find­ings and hy­pothe­ses. But they also have se­ri­ous lim­i­ta­tions. They can­not prove cause and ef­fect, for ex­am­ple, and col­lect­ing di­etary data from peo­ple is like try­ing to catch a mov­ing tar­get: many peo­ple can­not re­call pre­cisely what they ate last month, last week or even in the past 48 hours.

In one re­cent ex­am­ple, an ob­ser­va­tional study of thou­sands of peo­ple pub­lished in The Lancet last year made head­lines with its find­ings that high-carb di­ets were linked to in­creased mor­tal­ity rates and that eat­ing sat­u­rated fat and meat was pro­tec­tive. Then in Au­gust, a sep­a­rate team of re­searchers pub­lished an ob­ser­va­tional study of thou­sands of peo­ple in a re­lated jour­nal, The Lancet Pub­lic Health, with con­trast­ing find­ings: low-carb di­ets that were high in meat in­creased mor­tal­ity rates.

He and other ex­perts have called for re­form in nutri­tion sci­ence. They say that re­searchers should pub­licly reg­is­ter their study pro­to­cols be­fore­hand to elim­i­nate data dredg­ing, share their raw data to in­crease trans­parency, fo­cus on large ran­domised con­trolled tri­als to pro­duce bet­ter re­sults, and re­frain from slic­ing and dic­ing large ob­ser­va­tional data sets into mul­ti­ple papers that mag­nify weak find­ings.

Ex­perts say the prob­lem ex­tends to sci­ence jour­nal­ists as well: many re­porters are en­cour­aged to pro­duce ar­ti­cles that get lots of at­ten­tion. That is an­other rea­son re­searchers and uni­ver­si­ties feel pres­sure to put out stud­ies and news re­leases with ex­ag­ger­ated find­ings.

Oran­sky said while Wansink’s be­hav­iour was egre­gious, it is not iso­lated. Wansink would not even make Re­trac­tion Watch’s list of the top 30 sci­en­tists with the most re­tracted papers One per­son on the list, an anes­the­si­ol­o­gist, has had 183 re­tracted papers. Oran­sky es­ti­mated ev­ery year roughly 1 400 sci­en­tific papers are re­tracted out of the 2 mil­lion to 3 mil­lion that are pub­lished.

What made this case stand out, he said, is that a me­dia dar­ling like Wansink was at the cen­tre of it. In­deed, the unique part of this scan­dal is how prom­i­nent he was. over bank­ing, in­sur­ance, trans­port, co­coa trad­ing and en­ergy pol­icy, and had in­vited com­pa­nies from other coun­tries to ten­der for projects.

Gbagbo was ap­palled by the gross over­spend­ing on French projects, such as the bridge France was to build in the cap­i­tal, Abid­jan, for 200 bil­lion CFA francs (R4.7bn), a con­tract he can­celled when the Chi­nese said they could build the bridge for 60bn CFA francs in 2002.

Then there was Gbagbo’s op­po­si­tion to France main­tain­ing its colo­nial pact with its for­mer colonies whereby the French trea­sury con­trols their cur­ren­cies, cap­i­tal re­serves, and trade and in­vest­ment poli­cies. Un­der the agree­ment be­tween France and its for­mer colonies on the cre­ation of the CFA franc, the cen­tral banks of its for­mer colonies are obliged to keep 80% of its for­eign ex­change re­serves in an op­er­a­tions ac­count held at the French trea­sury in Paris. This has made it im­pos­si­ble for coun­tries to reg­u­late their own mon­e­tary poli­cies.

Gbagbo’s in­car­cer­a­tion at the Hague was a so­lu­tion of last re­sort, when all other means to neu­tralise him, in­clud­ing a se­ries of coups, had failed. The tragedy is that Gbagbo had re­turned Ivory Coast to mul­ti­party democ­racy, en­sured press free­dom and fought for the to­tal sovereignty of an African coun­try still un­der the yoke of neo-colo­nial­ism.

It is time the world recog­nises the ICC has been ma­nip­u­lated in this in­stance and, as Africans, to en­sure this type of ma­nip­u­la­tion does not con­tinue, as there is no other al­ter­na­tive to the ICC in terms of pros­e­cut­ing gross vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights.

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