The cane toad was introduced to Australia after WWII and more recently has invaded much of eastern Australia and has crossed half the continent to invade the Darwin area.


In 2004 a community group spokesperson announced some good news to the media. A native frog was able to eat immature cane toads without suffering toxic effects. Until this news, all attempts to prey on cane toads had resulted in poisoning of the predator.

This news of a potential control for the invasive cane toad was welcomed and news of the “super frog” spread globally. In 2005 the story was picked up by a “Dispatches” column in “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment” a journal of the Ecological Society of America.


The fact that this conclusion made it into a scientific journal stimulated an Australian research group to critically examine the evidence. It was not strong so they executed appropriate experiments to test the conclusion that these frogs could eat young cane toads without suffering poisoning by the cane toads’ toxins.


Careful and ample experimental evidence showed that the supposed “toad-eating frog” could not tolerate the toxins of the invasive cane toad in any of the toad’s life history stages.


The “evidence” presented by a highly motivated, well-meaning volunteer group did not meet the standards of conventional scientific scrutiny. This raises questions about the evidence on popular environmental questions presented by highly motivated groups and about the acceptance of that evidence by a public who may be scientifically untrained. It also raises questions about the level of critical examination in questions where intense motivation for a “good” outcome can lower one’s critical acumen.

What quality of evidence should be applied to any question of public policy about the environment? Clearly, all of the public will not be scientifically trained; nor will all members of volunteer groups or their leaders or lobbyists. Does that mean that here is no role for Environmental Non Government Organizations (ENGOS), no role for “citizen scientists”, no place for “traditional knowledge”? No, it should not.


There are more “ways of knowing” than just the scientific way. But different questions should be addressed with the knowledge base that is appropriate to that particular question. Science should be used on questions that lend themselves to construction of testable hypotheses and the evidence should come from tests of those hypotheses. Anecdotal “stories” such as the toad-eating frog story may be useful observations of testable phenomena but the tests must be run. Otherwise the anecdote may be an aberrant and unrepeatable observation – not acceptable evidence.


If incompletely trained folks wish to do “citizen science”, they should be given detailed instructions (a protocol) to follow and, if needed, training to permit them to follow it. In some cases, textbooks have been produced for this purpose and testing carried out to assess the abilities of volunteers to consistently apply the method required.


Some questions being addressed by ENGOS involve interactions among ecology, sociology and economics. Traditional scientific experiments may apply to only a fraction of such investigations. Rather than experimental results, experiential knowledge must be used in some decisions. Anecdotal evidence is better here than in science. Many replications over long time bases and comparisons with established bodies of theory are still required and critical statistical analyses are commonly needed as are highly trained analysts.





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