Monday, 3 March 2008

An Oversight, I feel

The wonderful website "What's The Harm?" has been getting widespread acclaim from sceptical blogs for the last month or two, and rightly so. As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, it's an ongoing catalogue of the actual harm done by pseudoscience, bogus medical claims, religion and other delusions.

While I realise that that site is still in its infancy, it does seem to me to have a major flaw in being overly anthropocentric. Nowhere does it take into account the terrible toll that certain deluded practices have on the wildlife in the world - a toll which is still terribly heavy, particularly on tiger and rhinoceros.

The worst offender in this regard would almost certainly have to be the voodoo that is traditional Chinese medicine, which creates great demand for tiger and rhino carcasses to treat ailments which are just as treatable (in fact more so) with so-called "Western medicine". While information campaigns and the increasing cosmopolitanism of China has meant that these practices are on the decline, it's getting close to being too late for the tiger and rhino.

For some pretty shocking facts on man's effect on the world's animals, head over to this page from the always-superb David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. The most relevant to oriental medicine is this one:

Tiger products are still widely and legally on sale in 6 out of 10 pharmacies and 'virility product' shops in Japan and the going rate for a tiger penis in Hong Kong is £110.

A complete tiger carcass is worth around $30,000. Granted I can understand people valuing an animal life slightly lower than they value the life of a human (though I don't share this view myself); but the life of an entire species? Do we really value the life of a species over the "financial cost" of pseudoscience (et al) to the gullible fools it dupes?

Of course, crazy beliefs about the powers of tiger parts is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to man's damage to the creatures with whom we share this Pale Blue Dot, but it's the area with the most relevance to scepticism. When we argue about the real cost of pseudoscience, we should at least include a nod in the direction of the destruction of some of the world's most precious resources.


Karen Stollznow said...

An excellent post - thank you!

Why don't PETA start ragging on these groups, rather than the lab crowd?

Darkwinter said...

Thanks Karen, and to answer your question, I suspect PETA would rather target those less capable or willing to fight back. All too often the endangered-animal-parts trade is backed up with a quite imposing array of arms. It's one of the reasons I have such immense admiration for the national park rangers - particularly in Africa - whose occupational hazards include regular contact with some extremely unsavoury characters.