*The Sounding of the Whale*

For now, suffice it to say that a kind of tragedy haunts the story of whale biology in the first half of the twentieth century: the science that developed between 1910 and 1940 for the purpose of protecting whale populations from excessive exploitation by whalers became, along the way, a science so deeply entangled with the whaling industry — dependent upon it, bound to it, acculturated to its physical labor, and finally, constituted on its operations — as to become, finally, nothing less than an obstacle to many conservation policies.  It was a reasonably complete science of whales but was ultimately incapable of realizing the aims of its founders: checking the progressive destruction of the world’s large cetaceans.

That is from D. Graham Burnett’s very impressive The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century.  Here is a NYT review, and here is a WSJ review.  It could be the most detailed study of a commons problem ever written, with plenty on the corruption of science along the way.


Comments for this post are closed