This article is scaring people, with the usual “all going to be extinct soon ” hype that we have had so many stories about this year. It is running in many news sources. I am not singling out the BBC as such but many people have come to rely on the BBC as a respected source on such matters so I'm taking them as an example. Similar remarks apply to most journalism in this topic area recently. In this case most of the articles were more measured, and the BBC one unusually was the most click bait of them all.
This not true. It was a clickbait title and the article itself was also misleading by omission. Even Nature is calling it alarming. Why do they scare people in this way? To put this in perspective we have getting on for 400,000 species of plants with about 1,730 new species found in 2016, and 224 new species of plant were found last year in India alone.
Here are a couple of poster type images to hopefully get some attention in the Google News search results:
The BBC article did not explain how many species of plants there are, or that most species can be preserved from extinction as seeds. There are around 391,000 species, according to one study in 2016, with 2,000 new species discovered every year. Yes it does matter that 571 have gone extinct. But at 0.15% of the plant species, it is not a mass extinction and we don’t risk a world without plants.
Moreover most plants can be preserved as seeds for centuries when dried and kept in cold conditions. We do not risk extinction of world crops, and we can preserve most of the species worldwide from extinction as seeds.
I think people need to know how clickbait and inaccurate the news is in this topic area. Not just in the sensationalist press, even on respected sites like the BBC who you would think would have science journalists that would write accurate stories. It is mainly the click bait title, but also, many details they omit from the story when the fuller picture is much less scary if you know them.
This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of suicide, by such stories.
WHAT DOES THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE IN NATURE SAY?
The original article is titled
The Nature article about it is a rather click bait in its title but the article itself is fine as you’d expect, an interesting study:
The original article is so different from the news stories it is unbelievable!
Their estimate of the extinction rate at 500 times background is lower than previous estimates, not higher than them. Some had previously suggested it is 1,000 times higher than background, and others that it would be as high as 10,000 times faster.
The number of extinctions also is lower than previously expected. In a paper from 2015, 30,000 plant species were projected to be extinct already, and 50,000 threatened with extinction. Yet they found only 571 extinct. One possible explanation is lag time. 89% of rediscovered species are of high extinction risk, with several known from only a few surviving individuals, and thousands of living plants are thought to be functionally extinct - not going to reproduce in the wild any more but there are still a few aging speciments from when they were able to.
Almost as many were declared extinct by mistake, and then rediscovered. 534 species rediscovered (130 from islands, 404 from continents). About 16 species a year have been rediscovered over the last decade.
From the supplementary information, most of the extinctions are from globally large and widespread families. Example: 55 species in the coffee family (Rubiaceae), 39 species in the daisy family (Asteraceae) and 30 species in the legume family.
However, some families with lots of species have very few extinctions, only 22 documented extinctions of orchids out of around 28,000 species.
The extinctions are 50% from islands, and 18% from the Pacific. This is much more than you’d expect from random sampling, and is probably because of the high number of unique endemic species on islands and their vulnerability to invasion.
Exinct species often have very narrow ranges. 98% from a single region compared to 57% for seed plants generaly. Most are woody perrennials (e.g. trees or shrubs) or are from the wet tropics or subtropicsor both. 80% compared to 40% for seed plants generally. Meanwhile herbaceous plants are less prone to extinction, perhaps partly because of their large population and the way they persist in seed banks.
The highest number of rediscovered species are from Western Australia (75 species), followed by Hawaii (36 species), California (32 species), India (27 species) and the Cape Provincesof South Africa (25 species)
The Red List is accurate for birds and mamamls, but is highly incomplete for other creatures and had many mistakes for plants. Of its 130 listed extinct plants they found 50 mistakes, listed as extinct when they are not:
- 12 rediscovered
- 8 are synonyms with living species
- 10 persist in cultivation and should be classified extinct in the wild (EW), not extinct (EX)
- 1 critically endangered
- 1 endangered
- 18 not extinct and no known extinction list
ANNOTATING THE SCARY CLICKBAIT BBC ARTICLE
I am using Hypothes.is for annotation, a new tool developed to enable scholarly annotation, developed with the support of many publishers and academic institutions. Sadly I can’t annotate this article on the BBC website. It seems that they disable annotation there. However, I can annotate its archived copy in the Wayback machine. Sadly I can’t annotate it on the BBC website. It seems that they disable annotation there. However, I can annotate its archived copy in the Wayback machine.
I will include the annotations as text here as well, for those who are blind or who have limited sight and use screen readers, and those who don’t have English as a native language and use autotranslate.
'bad news for all species'
Click bait. A more accurate title would be "When plant species go extinct then some other species that depend on them also go extinct". But that would never be clicked on and shared by anyone unless they had a special interest in plants and species dependency.
The article is saying that when plants go extinct it is bad news for the species that depend on those plants. Not "all species". E.g. when the flowered St Helena olive tree goes extinct, then the species that live on that tree and no other will also go extinct, but there won't be many species that can only survive on the St Helena olive tree.
Others depend on common plants that will never go extinct. E.g. we don’t face a future where all species of grass go extinct. To take one example, the red deer in Scotland won't go extinct ever, because they graze grass and there is plenty of grass here.
Many species do not depend on plants directly or indirectly. Most marine life depends on plankton indirectly or directly. The great whales are for the most part doing very well now that hunting has stopped and we do not face a world without whales no matter what.
Many microbial species are autotrophs - don't depend on any other life at all. E.g. green algae only need nitrogen, CO2, sunlight and trace elements to survive.
Almost 600 plant species have been lost from the wild in the last 250 years, according to a comprehensive study.
Okay - they are confusing things a bit here by not giving the total number of plant species there are. Which in 2016 was 391,000 species, with 2,000 new species discovered every year.
So that's about 0.15% have been lost in 250 years.
The number is based on actual extinctions rather than estimates, and is twice that of all bird, mammal and amphibian extinctions combined.
This is what the researchers would expect given that there are far more plant species overall. The New Scientist article about this research makes this point:
The number of plant extinctions is much greater than the number for birds, mammals, and amphibians. That’s what researchers would expect, given there are more plant species overall
one million animal and plant species were threatened with extinction.
This figure got far more attention than it deserved. One of many figures in the IPBES Media Release that the press highlighted as their main finding. Their main finding was that these species can be prevented from extinction.
It includes vulnerable species,with a 10% chance of extinction in 100 years, which means about half would be lost in 600 years. This also includes those with a stable population of less than 1000 mature individuals (+ various other alternative inclusion criteria). These can be conserved. Vulnerable species often move to least concern, as happened with the humpback whale in 2008.
They assume that across most groups of species, 25% of species are threatened with extinction. It's a reasonable guess based on the 27% figure for the few ones that were assessed for the IUCN red list.
For insects, they expect it is lower but unlikely to be less than 10%. 10% of the 5.5 million insects is 550,000, and 25% of the remaining 2.6 million is 625,000. The imprecision of the estimates means there is no point in being more precise than one million. The figure covers 8 million estimated eukaryotes - that includes minute creatures in seas, rivers and soil, many needing a microscope to see. The 2011 paper which is source said that at the time, 86% of existing species had not yet been described.
The 2011 paper estimates 298,000 plant species, so a quarter of those would be 74,500 plants that have a 10% chance of extinction in 100 years or else have a world population of less than 1000 years.
You can read the science behind the IPBES assessment here: A million threatened species? Thirteen questions and answers by Dr Andy Purvis, one of the authors who calculated the figure.
I wrote up the IPBES report as Let's Save A Million Species, And Make Biodiversity Great Again, UN Report Shows How
Researchers say their analysis of all documented plant extinctions in the world shows what lessons can be learned to stop future extinctions.
Most plants are far less vulnerable to total extinction than animals. The reason is that plant seeds can be preserved for centuries in cold dry conditions, even millennia.
Some tropical plants such as mangoes can't be preserved in this way as their seeds do not survive drying and cooling. But most plants can be.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault bank is an extra backup which is sufficient to restore all the world's agriculture even if there were no other seeds left in the entire world. Not just the main crops but numerous wild varieties as well. Our seed crops are not going to go extinct. It currently has just short of a million samples, and will eventually store 4.5 million varieties of crops.
For seeds generally, the Millennium Seed Bank is another major seed bank, largest seed bank in the world, with an aim to have 25% of the world's seeds by 2020. It already has all the UK's seeds apart from a few either too rare to collect the seeds, or that have seeds that can't be preserved.
OTHER MAJOR MISTAKES IN MAINSTREAM REPORTING IN THIS TOPIC AREA THIS YEAR:
The IPBES report was widely misreported - almost nobody gave their central message that we need to stop perverse agricultural subsidies, move to a more circular economy and eliminate food waste. If we do this, they said as a result of a major study sociological as well as scientific, then we can halt the sad loss of biodiversity. But how many of you heard that message? The news media instead all focused on the "million species extinct" and the general message that "we are almost doomed" which was not what they were saying at all.
I wrote up the IPBES report as Let's Save A Million Species, And Make Biodiversity Great Again, UN Report Shows How
This next one ran in all the mainstream media and even featured as a long segment in primetime TV news on the BBC as if it was a major new finding, when it was a non systematic low quality review. For instance it had only one data point for the whole of China for the domestic honey bee. A bit like including a report on sheep in a paper on declines of mammals. The same for Australia, only data point was for the domestic honey bee, most of their map is blank and they searched for "DECLIN*" which surely biased the results in the direction of declining populations. It was peer reviewed and had some value perhaps for experts but did not deserve the global coverage or the projections from their data in the popular press of all insects extinct in 40 years which is absurd, can't happen,
The BBC thank goodness didn't run this next one but it ran in many mainstream sites such as CNN and the Independent and scared many people who contacted our group scared of near future human extinction or loss of civilization. We do not risk that on any of the IPCC scenarios.
- Climate Change Will NOT End Human Civilization By 2050, 'Overblown Rhetoric And Unsupportable Doomist Framing' Says Michael Mann
We should use the IPCC's worst case scenario instead. But how many news sites have run that? As far as I know, none. This is my blog post about it:
Then there were the stories about the killer frog disease which didn't explain that most of those extinctions happened in the 1980s before the disease was identified, and that some 12% of the species are now recovering.
Then in a sociological article the BBC cited and did a direct link to "Deep adaptation", explained that it was driving many people to therapy, covered the issues therapists have trying to help these scared people but never once said that this was non peer-reviewed "Crap" in the words of climate scientist Michael Mann.
- Deep Adaptation Is - ‘Crap’ - Climate Scientist Michael Mann - This Is The Paper 'So Depressing It Sends People To Therapy'
Then there was the widely misreported UN biodiversity report, again the news coverage only focused on the negative side of it. Ironically, considering all the publicity for that insect paper a couple of weeks previously, nobody covered their section on crop pollinators.
The earlier insects study got loads of publicity because it said we are in terrible danger of losing our pollinators. When the UN in a much more thorough study shows that worldwide there are many measures being taken to preserve them, and encouraging signs of success, with only one of the agricultural habitats showing a consistent global decline of insects (grazed grassland) - this got no news coverage at all. I didn't see a single article that mentioned this and it certainly didn't feature on primetime TV like that low quality insects paper.
- UN Biodiversity Report Far From Bleak - Encouraging Survey Of Measures To Preserve, Mapping Ways Forward To Meet Challenges
That is all in the last four months!
NEW DISCOVERIES OF PLANTS IN 2018
This is not meant to downplay the extinction risk at all. Every species lost is sad. But the discovery of new species every year helps show how diverse our world is. We are still nowhere near discovering everything, and there is much yet to be found. Sadly, some may become extinct before we find them.
224 species were found in India alone last year
Two new species of tea in Vietnam
Kew gardens found 228 new species of vascular plants last year. The most spectacular was this forest tree from Guinea which can grow to 24 meters.
Also this new species of slipper orchid found on a black market in Vientiane, capital of Laos.
The ESF which names species, reports the largest tree it named as this spectacular forest tree that can run to 40 meters high. Only the second tree found in its genus, in Brazil.
ESF Top 10 New Species
In 2016, 1730 vascular plant species new to science were discovered. I can’t find the figures yet for 2017 and 2018 - do say in the commnets if you know.
This is one of them:
Tibouchina rosanae - photo credit W. Milliken - it may have an unusual photosynthetic pathwy because it has stomata on both surfaces of the leaves.
This article originated as my blog post on Quora:
- Nearly 600 plants extinct means - 0.15% of all plant species - and most plants can be saved from extinction in seed vaults - Annotations for BBC article that is scaring people by Robert Walker on Debunking Doomsday
NOW FOR SOME GOOD NEWS
The good news stories are rarely shared:
- 24 ways the world is getting better - good news journalists rarely share
- Positive Side Of Climate Change Facts - After Two Years Of Climate Change Action, Heading For 3°C With 1.5°C Well Within Reach
- We can feed everyone through to 2100 and beyond
- Let's Save A Million Species, And Make Biodiversity Great Again, UN Report Shows How
SEVEN TIPS FOR DEALING WITH DOOMSDAY FEARS
If you are scared: Seven tips for dealing with doomsday fears which also talks about health professionals and how they can help.
If in the middle of a panic attack, see
- Breathe in and out slowly and deeply to calm a panic attack by Robert Walker on Debunking Doomsday
- Tips from CBT - might help some of you to deal with doomsday anxieties
- STOPP skill
USEFUL LINKS TO BOOKMARK
- Search Doomsday Debunked (Facebook)
- Search Debunking Doomsday
- List of debunks
- Search Quora for articles by 'robert walker' (insert whoever you want to search for)
- Search Sites rated Very High for Factual
- Search Doomsday Debunked Wiki
Tip, bookmark those links to search for debunks more easily. Here is a screenshot of my bookmarks
FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP
Facebook group Doomsday Debunked has been set up to help anyone who is scared by these fake doomsdays.
IF YOU NEED HELP
Do message me on Quora or PM me on Facebook if you need help.
There are many others in the group who are available to support scared people via PM and who can also debunk fake Doomsday “news” for you if you get scared of a story and are not sure if it is true. See our debunkers list
If you are suicidal don’t forget there’s always help a phone call away with the List of suicide crisis lines - Wikipedia
- To Google, Apple and Facebook - please stop promoting fake red top tabloid news
- To Journalists: Debunk Rather than Dramatize "Doomsday" Stories - Vulnerable Get Suicidal
- To YouTube : Halt Ads on Doomsday Videos