More poor quality information: Friends of the Earth’s “Love Wasps” campaign

Despite some recent posts in that vein, I don’t want to turn this blog into just an outlet for my frustrations about the lack of science/evidence in otherwise well-meaning conservation initiatives.  However something caught my eye at the weekend that I feel I have to comment on.

Friends of the Earth has recently posted a very well-meaning piece about why we should stop hating wasps and learn to appreciate them.  I whole-heartedly support this: wasps are one of the least understood and most under-valued aspects of local biodiversity, and the article makes some very good points.

But there are also some aspects to the article that make me cringe and add a new layer of inaccuracy to a subject already flooded with crass statements such as “what use are wasps”:

  • The first photograph in the article does not show a wasp: it’s a syrphid fly, specifically a species that mimics wasps but is other wise harmless.  These flies do not sting or bite.
  • “Wasps pollinate figs” – yes they do, but fig pollinating “wasps” are tiny and only distantly related to the kinds of wasps you’re going to see in a British garden.  In any case they do not pollinate commercial edible figs: these wasps spend much of their life-cycle within the fig and who wants to eat a fig full of insects?
  • Having said that, the sorts of wasps the article is referring to ARE important pollinators of a whole range of plants, including some orchids, umbellifers, ivy, etc.  That’s not mentioned at all.
  • The piece misses out the fact that wasps are part of a whole ecological guild of scavenging animals that includes ants, various birds, etc., which plays a valuable role by removing vast amounts of waste organic material from our towns and cities every year.  They also perform a similar function in natural ecosystems.

What’s frustrating about Friends of the Earth’s article is that there are any number of individuals and organisations out there who would be happy to fact-check such a piece, including Buglife, BWARS, and a range of scientists and well-informed specialists in natural history.  Why doesn’t Friends of the Earth make use of them?

As I’ve said before I don’t use Twitter, so if anyone wishes to tweet this at Friends of the Earth, please go ahead.

10 thoughts on “More poor quality information: Friends of the Earth’s “Love Wasps” campaign

  1. Pingback: That “love wasps” article – this is how Friends of the Earth responded | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

  2. Nicholas Hill

    Yes, I look forward to your blog but however useful the critiques, they detract from the interest your column used to convey. Move on. Nick

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      So in your opinion the quality of evidence used to inform conservation policies and campaigns, and to inform the public about the importance of biodiversity, is not important? That’s an interesting point of view.

  3. gilsenan

    I disagree with Nicholas. It is a constant frustration that groups like FOE (Greenpeace too) and various media sources have such woeful fact checking. We need influential voices like Jeff’s to hold them accountable. Much more likely to get a response from someone like him than when the rest of us nobodies complain.

    I work in Comms for a conservation charity and we are always happy when anyone (politely) lets us know when we’ve got something wrong. Remember the people in Comms are unlikely to be experts (although they should, of course, check with the experts). It is always preferable to try and contact the organization itself first before firing off a blog post or a Facebook rant, however. If you don’t get a response, then fire away.

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      “It is always preferable to try and contact the organization itself first before firing off a blog post or a Facebook rant”

      I’ve certainly done this in the past, with mixed success, following which I thought long and hard about whether “going public” on the blog in the first instance was the best policy. I decided it was for 3 reasons:

      1. Sometimes it’s not obvious who to contact and I could spend a lot of time trying to hunt down that information.

      2. By the time I see a misinformed article or campaign that has got out onto the internet it’s often too late to make much difference because most of the people who are likely to read it have already done so. Therefore changing the text will not change the misinformation that many people have already absorbed (and possibly repeated elsewhere on the web) whereas a new information source such as a blog post on the topic may be picked up by that audience.

      3. I believe that organisations such as FoE, Greenpeace, RSPB, commercial businesses, etc. should be held publicly accountable for the information that they produce. Only then are they likely to become more scrupulous about their fact checking.

      1. Clem

        This 3rd point seems most appropriate. They have a brand to maintain and accountability goes with the territory. That said, there are many ways to go about offering criticism. Taking the ‘troll’ route reflects poorly on the critic (who has a brand to maintain as well). In this particular instance I think the critique is well made. Specific points are presented with substantive background to support them.

  4. gilsenan

    Fair enough, Jeff, but you can also ask for a correction to be issued, tweet deleted, clarification etc., which can get new attention. Anyway, you know where to find us:)


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