Published: Tuesday 28 February 1995

Numbers mean nothing

This is in response to Ajith Kumar's letter Civeting rejoinder (Down To Earth, September 15, 1994) in reply to my earlier letter (June 30, 1994) commenting on his article Cat sense (April 30, 1994).

Ajith Kumar incorrectly states that many species would have become extinct without "crude" estimates of their numbers. Conservation efforts are already being made to save the Jerdon's Courser, believed extinct, until it's rediscovery recently. A sanctuary has been created for it and the rediscovery is being studied. Yet no one has given any population estimate, crude or otherwise.

The National Geographic carries advertisements on endangered species. The endangered status of several species is neither denied nor is any effort being made to save them. Surprisingly, the population of many species is listed as unknown. This means that you begin with a "crude" conservation effort and then polish it up using "good science". It appears that most conservationists (fortunately) do not wait for the "crude or final word" before they begin their efforts.

Habitat loss and/or exploitation can endanger animals. Numbers mean nothing: 60,000 African elephants are considered highly endangered: likewise there are several thousand tigers and African rhino's which are treated as species on the brink of extinction. No amount of habitat will save these species if exploitation is not stopped.

The Malabar Civet is endangered because its range is very small and no live specimen has been seen. Meaningless numbers will neither change the Malabar civet's status nor help in its management. It cannot become "more" endangered -- it can only go extinct.

Unfortunately, Ajith Kumar was not doing his research in the mid '50s. Seeing the Indian Cheetah skin and taking into account the existing habitat area and probable densities of cheetahs, would he have saved the species by making the first crude estimate of 250 to 500?

And as for me supporting the use of civet musk -- the answer is, no. Ajith Kumar should not hide behind "statements". He should realize that printed information is always accepted as true in good publications -- especially that coming from scientists. He does go on to say that captive civets can be used for this purpose, which is just short of saying, "I recommend this use." At the same time, he completely fails to mention the importance of captive breeding in conservation. ...

Watchdog societies

The Society for Scientific Values has done a creditable job in formally censuring a powerful scientist like Dr D P Talwar for his unethical conduct (Down To Earth, November 30, 1994). There is a need for more investigations of this kind which can act as deterrents to the rampant unethical practices found in Indian science.

In an era of increasing competitiveness, the frequency of frauds in science and of plagiarism is likely to increase. Watchdog bodies have to be more vigilant and active. There is perhaps even a case for constituting a Science Council on the lines of the Press Council. This council should have senior scientists of impeccable credentials and should have the powers to recommend punishment to scientists found guilty of fraud, plagiarism, or any other unethical conduct.

Tata Memorial Centre
Bombay 400 012

Down To Earth has done a good job in publishing the findings of the Society for Scientific Values against Dr D P Talwar. However, the defence of Talwar by Dr C R Bhatia and Dr Mukherjee is disturbing. If what these scientists say is true, then the society has not done its work properly. I recommend that a more detailed report regarding the investigations carried out by the society and its conclusions be published in your journal. This will help people decide whether the society has been right in censuring Talwar. If the society has done its work peoperly, then there is a case for censuring Bhatia and Mukherjee for attempting to defend the unethical behaviour of a senior scientist. ...

Ayurvedic air filter

Being a smoker, I used to feel very sorry and ashamed for polluting the air. In spite of the fact that I have very little knowledge of ayurveda or allopathy, I wanted to overcome the problem of air pollution.

I have developed an economic ayurvedic air filter which produces fresh, fragrant, pure air that is germ-free. In addition to cleaning the air, it contains more oxygen. I don't use any chemicals and employan ancient technique. Herbs are used to produce medicated air for body growth, making the immune system stronger.

If this technique is used by polluting industries and adjusted to airconditioners, the quality of air of a city is likely to improve. ...

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