Wicked Clever

Budweiser-Draught-glassSometimes there are writers who come up with something that hits the reader right between the eyes.


The reader, in this case yours truly, goes, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The idea is clever and makes the writer’s point in a way that any reader can understand.

So, I have to give credit where credit is due. Charlie Witek in his blog One Angler’s Voyage did a very good job pointing out the value of peer-reviewed stock assessments. This accepted scientific process of compiling data and examining it in order to assess the status or health of a stock of fish has been around for a while. Yet while this process is the accepted scientific methodology, even the best marine scientists will admit that it is an imperfect science. Those who do not like the outcome of this process call it “fatally flawed.”

Charlie created this clever analogy by making up another term and juxtaposing it with the real deal of bonafide science. Real science is found in the peer-review process. Made-up, seat of the pants science is found in what Charlie calls “the beer-review process.”

“The essence of science, including peer reviews,” he says, “is that it is objective, data-driven and subject to verification; that is, other folks can take the same data and come up with the same results or, at the worst, confirm that the data doesn’t include any calculation or sampling errors and so is statistically valid. Any biases that might be included (in fisheries management, they show up as “retrospective changes” in the population model when new data is added) is recognized and accounted for.”

The essence of the beer review is that it is subjective, not based on data and cannot be verified by independent, objective observers. Sampling is biased – that is, fishermen who issue beer-reviewed assessments don’t make random samples or try to verify the “null hypothesis” that the peer-reviewed assessment was right – but rather go to places where they are most likely to catch fish with the express intent of showing why the peer-reviewed assessment is wrong.

If we jump back to my blog post from two weeks ago (http://www.reel-time.com/articles/conservation/really-care/), the very same folks who are the naysayers on anything the government does or says with fisheries management, such as the Marine Recreational Information Program, are the same folks who are proficient at beer reviews. These are the folks who will go to great lengths to disprove anything fisheries-management related that is done, particularly by the federal government. They are the classic beer reviewers. They have no science to back up their positions. So no one can definitively disprove what they say.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of “big government,” but government does have necessary functions, and managing our common property resources is one of them. Do they do a perfect job? No, they do not, but I trust them more than I do the naysayers and the beer reviewers. I just keep hoping that they will make more of the right decisions, which in my mind means making sure that the resources are managed sustainably and not harvested politically. In many ways, it is a no-win process. Hal Lyman, original publisher of Salt Water Sportsman magazine, used to say, “If the management decision made everyone unhappy, it was likely the correct one.”

This Bud’s for you, Charlie. Wicked clever!


"Rip" Cunningham, who owned, published and edited Salt Water Sportsman for 32 years, is also an accomplished writer and photographer. Cunningham has received several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Rod and Reel, Gray's Sporting Journal, Australian Boating and the Boston Globe Magazine. Among his many accomplishments, Rip was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year from both the International Game Fish Association, the Coastal Conservation Association of Massachusetts, The Billfish Foundation and Federation of Fly Fishers. "I've earned a living from fishing, and I believe strongly that people with an interest in a given area should give something back,” he says. “It's rewarding every single day." Cunningham received his MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA and his BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has two grown children and four grand children and lives with his wife and hunting dogs in Dover, MA and Yarmouth, ME. When he's not fishing or working through the items on his wife's "honey-do" list, Cunningham does some hunting and skiing.

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