Skip to main content

Is biodiversity good for human wellbeing?

I was interested to see on the BBC News site that a link has been shown between biodiversity and human wellbeing. It seems widely accepted that exposure to the countryside is good for most people's wellbeing (though some can't stand it, and I wouldn't want to perpetrate a lazy stereotype), but biodiversity is a whole different kettle of fish. Nonetheless here's a direct quote of the subtitle of the piece on the BBC site:
Scientists need to capitalise on a growing body of evidence showing a link between biodiversity and human wellbeing, a US review has suggested.
Now, there are several issues here. Luckily (and sadly rarely), the original review paper 'Exploring connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human health and well-being: Opportunities to enhance health and biodiversity conservation' (snappy title) is open source and you can read it here for free.

I have three issues:

  1. What is wellbeing? I am currently reading for review a book on happiness and it makes it clear that most existing studies miss significant aspects of what happiness is, and don't properly understand the nature of what makes us happy/gives us wellbeing. As far as I can see, in the review paper there is no attempt to qualify what was being measured as 'wellbeing' and whether the studies were all measuring the same thing.
  2. The review paper doesn't describe a link between biodiversity and wellbeing. It shows links between being exposed to nature and wellbeing, and says that there may be health benefits from being exposed to biodiversity in bacteria. But it says nothing useful about whether, say, the number of newt species reducing from 15 to 14 (that isn't a fact, it's just to give a feel for what reducing biodiversity means) has any effect on wellbeing. My suspicion is that it doesn't - that the benefit (leaving aside the bacteria/health aspect) is purely from being out in nice countryside or a park, rather than how biodiverse that habitat is. But more to the point, the paper does not show the specific link claimed by the BBC article. The paper actually says 'Thus, with one major exception discussed here, the actual roles of biodiversity in promoting human health and well-being remain largely uncertain.' And that one exception is on bacteria and health, not general biodiversity and wellbeing.
  3. What is the natural world? I found the review paper's definition confused. They start by saying 'We used the generally accepted definition of nature as the physical and biological world not manufactured or developed by people.' Yet later on then say 'contact with nature (broadly defined in the introduction and including urban green space, parks, forests, etc.)' So they appear  to be unaware that parks were developed by people. As frankly is almost all the countryside in the UK. This is confusing, to say the least.
Don't get me wrong. I am very happy to go along with the idea that exposure to nature improves the wellbeing of many people. And I am all in favour of biodiversity (though we do need to realise that there have always been changes in species populations, and we shouldn't try to preserve nature in aspic). But claiming that there is a link between biodiversity and human wellbeing seems to me to be a clear distortion of the science.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou