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Scientists In Charge? Questions For The 'Aristocracy Of The Wise'

Germany's top epidemiologist Christian Drosten
Germany's top epidemiologist Christian Drosten
Michaela Kozminova

Whether or not they were looking for it, the COVID-19 crisis has given epidemiologists bonafide public power. "At this point, if Drosten says it is too early, that carries as much weight as Merkel saying it," quipped German economist Marcel Fratzscher about his country's top epidemiologist Christian Drosten and top politician Angela Merkel.

There is no doubt that the pandemic, epidemiologists, virologists and medical professionals worldwide have stepped into the muddy terrain of national politics. Though the public may not understand every technical detail epidemiologists offer on TV or at press conferences, there's a certain comfort in listening to the scientists who have spent their lives studying the kinds of epidemics that now occupy our minds, if not lives.

Still, as Kenyan economist David Ndii pointed out on Twitter, the current rise of the "epistocracy" – the aristocracy of the wise — should be watched with caution. Although doctors may be adept at curing our bodies and understanding the dynamics of pathogens, they have far less experience managing people and guiding societies.

One example, where the political and the scientific have successfully been embodied in one man, is Taiwanese Vice President Chen Chien-jen, who also happens to be a Johns Hopkins-trained epidemiologist and an expert in viruses. Praised for balancing his dual role of politician and scientist, he has nonetheless kept his scientist hat on through just about everything he's said during the crisis.

But is it ultimately possible, or even desirable, to keep politics out of the conversation? Wouldn't it be naive to think that expert task forces can prevent crisis-related decisions from getting political? Indian policy analyst Sanjaya Baru wrote in The Wirethat every policy decision pertaining to crisis management is ultimately about power, and there is no reason the coronavirus crisis should be any different. Let's just hope that more power than not is in the hands of the wise.

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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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