Japan Ordered To Stop Killing Antarctic Whales For "Science"

Illustration for article titled Japan Ordered To Stop Killing Antarctic Whales For Science

Japan has been ordered by the UN's International Court to stop whaling in the Antarctic after a four-year-long battle over whether the whales were dying for science or for — emphasis on the quotation marks —"science".

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Much of the court's decision turned on the issue of whether or not the whaling was really being undertaken for scientific purposes, as is allowed under treaty. This was a question that they answered by looking at whether the sample size of whales killed was appropriate for the amount of research done.

In almost nine years, over 3,500 whales were killed. But only two journal articles detailing research findings on seven whales were published. As a result, the sample size was found to be (to use the technical term) eye-poppingly insane.

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Japan's lawyers responded to the court's skepticism with an attempt to put the very definition of science on trial, saying the Hague's court could "no more impose a line separating science from non-science than it could decide what is or is not Art." The court, of course, thought differently, and ruled that Japan must immediately stop whaling in the Antarctic, a ruling Japan has said it intends to follow.

Image: Julie Skotte

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DISCUSSION

"Japan's lawyers responded to the court's skepticism with an attempt to put the very definition of science on trial, saying the Hague's court could "no more impose a line separating science from non-science than it could decide what is or is not Art.""

It's hard to overstate how absolutely insane this is. The whole point of science is that it searches, as best as possible, for objective facts, and tests them as thoroughly as possible to ensure that they're not being distorted by biases, emotions, and otherwise by human subjectivity. Out of necessity, this is a process that requires well-defined, rigorous, well-established rules. To try to prove that the definition of 'science' is just as vague or subjective as the definition of 'art' is basically to try to prove that science doesn't exist.

I understand this argument was made by lawyers, and not scientists, but they sound more like caricatures of lawyers out of a cartoon. It's like trying to defend your client against murder charges by arguing about the philosophical definition of the concept of "death." ("Your honour, it may be true that my client shot Mr. Doe through the head seven times, but... Have you ever heard of the Paradox of Theseus' Ship?") Maybe these lawyers should stop trying to argue things in front of the UN, and should try their luck at a high-school debate club, instead...