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Year : 2012  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 367-380

Seeing Red: Inside the Science and Politics of the IUCN Red List

Duke University Marine Lab, Nicholas School of Environment, Duke University, Beaufort, NC, USA

Correspondence Address:
Lisa M Campbell
Duke University Marine Lab, Nicholas School of Environment, Duke University, Beaufort, NC
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Date of Web Publication3-Jan-2013


The Red List of Threatened Species™ (hereafter Red List) is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's most recognisable product. The Red List categorises the conservation status of species on a global scale using 'the most objective, scientifically-based information'. Completing Red List assessments is the job of the Species Survival Commission (SSC), and assessments are most often conducted by species specialist groups within the SSC. In the SSC's Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG), assessments have been contested. Debate is often couched in scientific terms, focused on data availability and the relevance of Red List criteria for marine turtles. However, given the potential conservation impacts of such listings, much more is at stake. In this paper, I analyse an exchange among MTSG members that resulted when the draft Red List assessment for the hawksbill sea turtle was circulated to the group in June 2007. The suggested listing of hawksbill turtles as 'critically endangered' sparked an email exchange that highlighted not only the scientific, but also the political, economic, and value-based dimensions of the debate. I draw on ideas of co-production and boundary work to analyse both the debate and the MTSG's response to an associated crisis of legitimacy, and to provide insights into the science-policy interface in conservation.

Keywords: Social studies of science, boundary work, marine turtles, Red List, hawksbill, MTSG, IUCN, CITES

How to cite this article:
Campbell LM. Seeing Red: Inside the Science and Politics of the IUCN Red List. Conservat Soc 2012;10:367-80

How to cite this URL:
Campbell LM. Seeing Red: Inside the Science and Politics of the IUCN Red List. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2012 [cited 2021 Jan 26];10:367-80. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2012/10/4/367/105560

   Introduction Top

In conservation biology, scientists and practitioners have actively discussed issues of objectivity, the line between science and values, and the role of scientists as policy advocates (Lackey 2007). While conservation biologists acknowledge the problems of maintaining objectivity in what is an inherently normative discipline 1 , their views vary (Gray and Campbell 2009), and debate generally relates to whether or not the question of objectivity is a problem (Shrader-Frechette 1996; Blockstein 2002), and, if it is, how conservation biologists can best separate science from their values and their work as policy advocates (Lackey 2007). Social studies of science offers a different perspective, treating the relationship between science, values, and policy-making as a given. The idea of co-production, for example, asserts that "the realities of human experience emerge as the joint achievements of scientific, technical and social enterprise: science and society, in a word, are co-produced, each underwriting the other's existence" (Jasanoff 2004: 17). Science, in this sense, is neither separate from society nor a source of external objective truth. Rather, "particular states of knowledge are arrived at and held in place, or abandoned" (Jasanoff 2004: 19), and understanding how such processes occur involves examining both the state of scientific knowledge and the social relations through which such knowledge is produced. One element of social relations is boundary work, or the actions of scientists, non-scientists, and institutions to patrol and defend the realm of what counts as science (Gieryn 1995; Nader 1996). Boundaries are not static, but products of process: "what science 'is' at a given time and place results from complex negotiations among scientists and those allies whose allegiances they would enroll, or who would enroll them" (Takacs 1996: 114).

In this paper, I explore an example of co-production of marine turtle science-policy, specifically the co-production of the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) as 'critically endangered'. When the critically endangered listing was proposed to the Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) in June 2007, it sparked a lively and sometimes acrimonious debate on the MTSG email list. The state of knowledge in this case is uncertain and contested (Campbell 2002, 2011), and the social relations through which particular knowledge claims eventually dominated involved many aspects of boundary work, including distinguishing between good and bad science (and good and bad scientists), and distinguishing between facts and values (or science and policy). Participants in the debate also actively sought to align others with their views and to marginalise those with whom they disagreed. While most participants were disciplined in defending the boundaries they worked to establish, others blurred those boundaries. All of this is situated in a broader context of continued debate about how to best conserve marine turtles, and particularly whether or not marine turtles require strict protection in all instances (Campbell 2002, 2011). The case provides an excellent example of boundary work as active practice, and of science-policy outcomes as contingent. Of equal interest is the MTSG leadership's role in mediating the debate and its response to the crisis of legitimacy over the Red List-a crisis that had been building up over a number of years and to which the hawksbill debate contributed.

Before turning to the case, I review insights gained from other studies exploring the science-policy interface as it relates to wildlife and biodiversity conservation. I then look at the history of the Red List in the MTSG. The 2007 hawksbill debate was not an isolated event, but part of an ongoing struggle over ideas about how to conserve marine turtles; the Red List is just one territory, albeit an important one, to be conquered in this struggle. The more general discussion of wildlife conservation and the specifics of Red List debates in the MTSG provide context for the subsequent analysis of the 2007 email exchange and of the MTSG's ongoing attempts to address its members' concerns.

Social studies of science and wildlife conservation

Wildlife conservation and conservation biology are topics ripe for treatment by scholars interested in boundaries, both defended and blurred, between facts and values, and science and policy. This is in part because conservation biologists themselves discuss these boundaries; more than perhaps any other natural science, conservation biology both adopts and debates its normative elements (e.g., Brussard and Tull 2007). The resulting tensions are highlighted in organisations like the Ecological Society of America (ESA) that draws on 'historically resonant discourses' that emphasise both the value-free nature and utility of science in order to position ecologists as authorities on environmental problems and solutions (Kinchy and Kleinman 2003). At the same time that "the organisation routinely reconstructs a fact-values boundary that keeps advocacy apart from science" (Kinchy and Kleinman 2003: 881), many ESA members recognise that boundaries between science and values are blurred. Scientists working in conservation are sometimes suspicious of efforts to distinguish facts from values, at least when discussed in the abstract (Gray and Campbell 2009).

Conservation of specific species, particularly charismatic ones, adds additional layers of complexity to efforts to defend and patrol the boundaries of science. Again, the importance of charismatic 'endangered species' is both recognised as having political value for conservation and contested within the conservation community. Individual species fulfil a variety of roles, labelled in conservation biology as umbrella, keystone, indicator, or flagship species (Caro and O'Doherty 1999). Each term signifies particular ecological and political roles, and sometimes species fulfil more than one. For example, flagships are chosen because of their public appeal and related ability to raise support and funds for conservation and research, encourage habitat protection, influence policy, or structure local economies around activities like ecotourism (Barua et al. 2011), and marine turtles are considered flagship species (Frazier 2005). The use of, and assumptions about, flagships have been critiqued (Andelman and Fagan 2000; Caro et al. 2004; Simberloff 1998), however, and the value of species-focused conservation has been debated among conservation biologists. Takacs (1996) details how the concept of biodiversity was actively promoted in the late 1980s by key conservation biologists in order to counter the focus on individual species, one that was perceived to come at the cost of both non-charismatic species and broader ecosystem conservation.

While conservation biologists may debate their various normative commitments (e.g., to species versus ecosystems) in the abstract, these are often masked by scientific and technical arguments in specific cases. In her paper When elephants stand for competing philosophies of nature, Thompson (2002) examines the different scientific arguments about the value of elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. On one side of the debate, scientists argue that elephant populations exceeding a certain density decrease biodiversity and need to be culled to a level at which biodiversity is maximised. On the other, scientists studying elephant behaviour argue that elephants have complex social and mental lives, thus warranting conservation strategies geared toward their protection. The two sides also have competing views of legal issues, land-use disputes, economics, and moral concerns, views that do not disappear in disputes, but are made manageable by focusing on science, i.e., the results of animal behaviour studies versus those of ecosystems. In Amboseli, the particular vision of science that influences policy making varies according to who and what is enrolled in support of it, and is embedded in the social relations through with science is produced and assessed (Thompson 2002).

In a second paper, Co-producing CITES and the African elephant, Thompson (2004) describes the "transition in the status of the African elephant, from a universal species of charismatic megafuana endangered enough to need protection from all off-take, to a regionally differentiated species needing absolute protection in many areas but susceptible to regulated sustainable off-take in some locations" (Thompson 2004: 67). The science at stake in the debate relates to how elephants are 'counted'. A seemingly technical issue, it is tied to competing ideas of how elephants should be managed and to the regional geopolitics of the African continent. The science of counting and managing elephants interacted with the politics of conservation and led to a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) recognition of regional sub-populations of elephants with different management needs. Both the African elephant and CITES were co-produced through this process and, Thompson argues, the ability of CITES to evolve in the face of the elephant challenge was critical to its continued role and prominence in wildlife conservation.

The ability of CITES to adapt may have helped ensure its continued role in international wildlife conservation, but it is by no means the only policy instrument directed at a particular species. Species-driven conservation is entrenched in many existing policy frameworks, including other international agreements, e.g., the Convention on Migratory Species and Inter-American Convention for the Protection of Sea Turtles, and national legislation, e.g., the United State's Endangered Species Act. The IUCN's Red List substitutes for national endangered species designations in many countries that lack their own. Thus, the science of 'counting' species and designating status is connected to a variety of policy-making forums, with consequent material impacts for site-specific conservation.

The IUCN, the Red List, and the MTSG

IUCN is among the oldest and largest of conservation organisations working at the international level (McCormick 1989). Historically, it has seen itself as a science-based information gatherer and provider, rather than a project implementing organisation (McCormick 1989), although this is changing (MacDonald 2010). Nevertheless, it has most influenced conservation through organising and disseminating ideas about what conservation is and how it should be measured. For example, IUCN's system for categorising Parks and Protected Areas is the standard measure of national commitments to conservation and for comparing amongst countries under international agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity (Mulongoy and Chape 2004).

IUCN's most recognised product is its trademarked Red List, a system of ranking species according to their extinction risk [Table 1]. Although IUCN maintains that listings are meant to inform rather than dictate conservation policy, listings are used in setting conservation priorities and have meaning for various stakeholders. IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre describes the public function of the Red List as follows:
Table 1: IUCN Red List category definitions (version 3.1)

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IUCN believes that the release of The Red List acts as a clarion call for the drive to tackle the extinction crisis-and without those facts being made clear the world will not react. It is a 'wake up call' and used as such by governments, NGOs, and civil society as a whole to help spread their messages and educate the world about the need to conserve biodiversity (Marton-Lefevre and Smart 2009: ix).

In addition to motivating and educating stakeholders by providing information, IUCN also celebrates the influence of their lists on policy-making. Red List assessments inform decisions about species listings on the Appendices of CITES and are referenced as progress and reporting indicators in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Vié et al. 2009a). Thus, like other environmental organisations (e.g., ESA, see Kinchy and Kleinman 2003), the IUCN works to uphold its Red Lists as both objective and a tool for policy-making. In this way, its strives to be a boundary organisation, defined by Forsyth (2003: 141) as "social organisations or collectives that sit in two different worlds such as science and policy, and can be accessed equally by members of each world without losing identity".

The Red List has evolved throughout its history. The IUCN-SSC first published the Red List in the mid-1960s with particular listings complied by the relevant species specialist groups. Until the 1990s, Red List assessments focused on a few key species and were ad hoc, mostly qualitative, with little guidance on how to conduct them or information on how results were obtained (Mace and Lande 1991; IUCN 2001; Rodrigues et al. 2006; Vié et al. 2009a). In the 1990s, the IUCN began a process of standardising criteria for Red List assessments. The criteria are meant to provide standardised methods of assessment, increase objectivity, and allow for comparisons among species. In its 40+ year history, the Red List has expanded in many ways-in its species coverage, how often it is cited, and its influence on conservation practice (Rodrigues et al. 2006).

Standardising assessment criteria has been a controversial process, however, and the IUCN is on the seventh iteration of the criteria since 1991 (version 3.1 adopted in 2001, IUCN 2001). Debate centres on a number of issues, many of which can be linked to a goal of the Red List: "to provide an explicit, objective framework for the classification of the broadest range of species according to their extinction risk" (IUCN 2001: 1). This is an ambitious goal indeed, to compare elephants to medicinal plants, sharks to amphibians. Even if the general principal of comparability is accepted, the criteria for distinguishing between categories of endangerment can be debated. These two types of criticisms are the ones most commonly levelled at the Red List (Mrosovsky 2000a, 2003; Webb and Carrillo 2000; Freeman 2008; Godfrey and Godley 2008; Komonen et al. 2008; Webb 2008).

The MTSG is one of the oldest SSC specialist groups and comprises volunteers, a majority of whom are biologists or other natural scientists (Campbell 2002). For the MTSG the Red List has been particularly controversial-criticised in the published literature (Mrosovsky 2000a, 2003; Webb and Carrillo 2000; Godfrey and Godley 2008; Webb 2008), debated in Nature and other influential venues (Mrosovsky 1997, 2000b; Meylan 1998), and challenged in the IUCN's Standards and Petitions Committee. Challenges to marine turtle listings were the first to be submitted under the petitions process established in 2001, and served to test and refine that process. 2 Beginning with early attempts to list marine turtles (e.g. Groombridge 1982), the applicability of the criteria, designed originally for terrestrial mammals, was questioned (Mrosovsky 1983). Questions have continued, and the concerns have been: the appropriateness of a global assessment of extinction risk for a widely distributed species experiencing different regional population trends, the meaning (and credibility) of listing an animal numbering in at least hundreds of thousands as critically endangered, problems with obtaining historical data points on which to evaluate population trends, and the lack of documentation provided to justify assessments and related concerns about transparency (Mrosovsky 2000a, 2003; Godfrey and Godley 2008; Mrosovsky and Godfrey 2008).

Although these concerns arise from the Red List process itself, many are linked to the biological and life history characteristics of marine turtles and to the numerous gaps that exist in our understanding of populations (numbers, structures, and dynamics), problems confronted in almost all aspects of marine turtle conservation and management (Campbell 2002, 2007). In the case of the Red List, of the five criteria under which a species can be classified [Table 2], criterion A.2 is the most applicable to marine turtles and was used in the 2007 hawksbill assessment. This criterion requires an observed, inferred, or suspected population size reduction of 80% or more, over three generations. Meeting this criterion is challenging for a variety of reasons. First, because overall population structure and numbers are unknown, assessments use data from index nesting beaches as an indicator of overall population size. However, links between numbers of nesting females, adult males, and juvenile turtles are unknown (Pritchard 1997; Gerrodette and Taylor 1999), as is the extent to which selected index beaches reflect wider trends. Second, few nesting beaches have data covering more than two decades. Since the estimated generation time of hawksbill turtles is up to 50 years, showing change over three generations requires projecting back in time up to 150 years ago. Whether these projections adequately reflect reality is debated, but given the dearth of historical data the debate is impossible to resolve (Seminoff 2004). In short, counting marine turtles is difficult.
Table 2: Red List criteria and their appropriateness for assessing status of marine turtle populations

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The MTSG leadership and those conducting assessments have recognised many of these concerns. Commenting on their early attempts to apply Red List critieria, Groombridge and Luxmoore (1989: 50) cited problems associated with "interpretations of the category definitions, the biological peculiarities of sea turtles, and the need to promote effective species conservation". Although hawksbills were categorised as 'endangered' in 1982 based on inference (Groombridge 1982), the assessor suggested their status was more accurately 'indeterminate' (Groombridge and Luxmoore 1989). Meylan and Donnelly (1999), in their justification on behalf of the MTSG for the 1996 listing of hawksbills as critically endangered, declared "the species is not expected to become extinct in the foreseeable future" even though the IUCN designation requires just that [Table 1]. Seminoff (2004), based on his experience leading the 2004 assessment of the green turtles, encouraged the MTSG to consider alternative means of assessing extinction risks. When the email debate (described below) occurred, the MTSG was already devoting time to the problem of the Red List; members had been surveyed about their views on the Red List and a White Paper exploring alternatives to Red Lists was being prepared (Seminoff and Shanker undated, later published as Seminoff and Shanker 2008).

Although concerns over Red Lists have been expressed in relation to other marine turtle species (Mrosovsky 2004; Seminoff 2004), hawksbill turtles and their status have arguably dominated the debate. For the 1996 critically endangered listing, Mrosovsky (1997, 2000a, 2000b) was particularly vocal regarding the failure of the MTSG to provide documentation in support of the listing (as required by IUCN) or a timely rationale (the rationale was published three years later; Meylan and Donnelly 1999), both of which point to issues of transparency. His critique, however, was also of how the listing was being used, and specifically its use by the MTSG to lobby against Cuba's 1997 proposal to CITES to ranch hawksbill turtles in order to support trade in hawksbill shell with Japan. Cuba's proposals (and plans for proposals) to CITES in 1997, 1999, and 2002 were at the centre of the most contentious of contemporary debates within the MTSG (Richardson 2000; Campbell and Godfrey 2010), and an extension of long-standing deliberations over the role of sustainable use in marine turtle conservation (Campbell 2002, 2011). Thus, the exchange that took place among MTSG members over the re-listing of the hawksbill turtle in 2007 is situated within this troubled history of Red Listing generally and debates about hawksbill conservation specifically.

The hawksbill re-listing: boundary-work among sea turtle experts

In June 2007, the MTSG leadership circulated by email a draft assessment recommending that hawksbills be classified as critically endangered, the highest category of threat for wild species, using Criteria A.2 (Mortimer and Donnelly 2007). The email also solicited member feedback. On July 20, 2007, an MTSG member responded in an open letter circulated on the MTSG email list. By August 30, 2007, 64 messages written by 40 MTSG members had circulated, some of them copied to the more widely distributed CTURTLE email list. The MTSG co-chairs also received comments directly, and posted all comments on a publicly accessible website during the fall of 2007. The level of traffic on the MSTG email list was unprecedented, as was the content of the debate, its public nature, and the number of people who participated. While many of the participants were those who previously had published their views on the Red List, people who had not done so joined in.

   Methods Top

Analysis of the content of an email exchange is uncommon in social science research, but as means of electronic communication expand both in scope and purpose, such analyses will likely increase. Access to policy processes and geographically dispersed participants is a challenge for researchers interested in global environmental issues and governance, and anthropologists and others have reflected on how we might rethink 'the field' and fieldwork in ways that allow us to overcome such challenges (e.g., Marcus 1995; Gusterson 1997; Mosse 2004; Brosius and Campbell 2010; MacDonald 2010). In this case, the MTSG email exchange provided direct and recorded access to a dynamic debate, allowing insight into boundary work among a group of experts. Unlike the authors of published policy documents, editorials, or research papers who deliver their views in edited and sometimes peer-reviewed prose, participants in the email debate engaged in something similar to a conversation; responses were swift and expressed opinions were often emotion-laden and striking in their candidness. I have followed related policy debates as a participant observer in the MTSG since 1995, and this long experience is arguably critical to my understanding of, and ability to contextualise, the email exchange. Nevertheless, the exchange itself provided a distillation of all the arguments I had found dispersed in publications, interviews, presentations, and casual conversations over the previous 12 years of research. It solidified and made more explicit what is at stake in many of the protracted debates that have existed in the MTSG, almost since its inception (see Campbell 2002).

The debate unfolded in two stages, with 43 messages exchanged on the MTSG email list between July 20 and August 3, 2007, a two-week hiatus when three messages trickled in, and then resumed intensity with 18 messages exchanged from August 26 to 30, 2007. I archived messages from the MTSG email list throughout the debate and the spreadsheet of collated comments provided by the MTSG. Approximately eight months after the debate ended, I coded and analysed the content of the MTSG email messages, using NVIVO 8 software. Coding focused on views for and against the assessment outcome and process, and the themes that arose within those arguments. Ethical guidelines for using electronic communication as a source of research material are not well established; what are expectations of privacy among those participating in this debate? Although the MTSG email list is restricted to ~250 MTSG members, all communications were made publically available on the MTSG website, in an effort to increase transparency. Because of the size of the mailing list and that comments were made publically available, I assume expectations of privacy are low, however, I do not attach names or other identifiers to the quotations in this paper. I have also excluded communications that included a confidentiality disclaimer (n=1 message) or that were submitted directly to the MTSG co-chairs, but not sent out on the email list. Although these were also made publically available, I treat them as intended for the co-chairs only.

I present the analysis as 'critics' and 'supporters' of the assessment according to themes rather than dates, and then examine the specific exchanges related to the issue of motive, and the use and misuse of the Red List. I have tried to retain the sense of dynamism, while capturing the nature and nuances of the overall argument. This way of making sense of the debate is not without problems, foremost of which is the way in which the 'critics' versus 'supporters' approach oversimplifies and overstates the polarity among members. The conversation was complex, with lines between supporters and critics breaking down on particular issues, and with some participants responding in a manner such that their definitive position on the assessment process or outcome was unclear. As I show below, supporters in particular did not align on every issue; many of them resisted attempts by other supporters to reject all critics outright. To be a supporter (or critic) implies only that the participant felt that the assessment should be accepted (or rejected) due to views on the process or outcome, not that every supporter (or critic) assessed every issue identically, or made the same efforts to dismiss those with whom they disagreed.

   Results Top

The critique: a question of credibility

The debate began when a long-standing and vocal critic of the Red List assessment process forwarded his letter of resignation from the MTSG Assessment Steering Committee (ASC) to the MTSG email list. The ASC was convened in 2006, to reduce the burden of assessments on individual assessors and to assure their timely completion with the "highest possible degree of accuracy and scientific rigor, as well as maximum involvement from the MTSG membership" (Mast et al. 2006: 17). In his message accompanying his letter, the critic called for a more open and transparent discussion on the assessment process, one he hoped his message would spark. The letter detailed the inadequacies of Red List criteria for marine turtles (a reiteration of the published critiques reviewed above) and made an explicit call for change:

I am optimistic that changes would eventuate if enough of those MTSG members… were to protest openly against the meaningless exercise of assigning Red List threat categories on the basis of criteria that are inappropriate for marine turtles… The time has come to say enough-at least it has come for me… There are ways, if we think outside of the box, by which these problems for the MTSG might perhaps be resolved. Meanwhile, I do not wish to be associated with a process that uses meaningless criteria for determining the risk of global extinction of sea turtles (July 20, 2007).

The writer's wish for open protest was realised; his initial message was followed by a number of responses from members who agreed with him on various points. The theme of the critics was mostly scientific credibility, addressed in two main ways. First, critics questioned the credibility of outcome, where a species with numbers in at least hundreds of thousands, a global distribution, and highly varied regional trends, is listed as critically endangered (both acronyms CE and CR are used in the debate, all emphases in original messages):

With turtles in some regions receiving protection and holding their own, starting to increase, or having already shown sizeable increases, even if some populations are severely depleted or gone, even if globally declines have been >80% in the last 100 years or so, the outlook for continued existence of hawksbills as a species is not as bleak as CR implies (July 20, 2007).

The hawksbill turtle… like all other species of sea turtle, is not "Critically Endangered". CE means we have reached a point "when the best available evidence indicates that… it is considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild0". Extinction here means they are gone completely-across the globe-forever! (August 27, 2007).

Second, critics questioned the credibility of a process that leads to an untenable outcome:

Despite the meticulous application of the Red List process by MTSG members, the flawed nature of the criteria has led to a series of what are clearly inappropriate categorizations where species that may number in the millions per ocean basin are classified as experiencing a very high/extremely high risk of extinction in the wild (August 27, 2007).

… there are insufficient or no hard data available on the number of nests and/or turtles three generations (ca. 100 years) ago. To generate past estimates, the assessors have extrapolated backwards, assuming a decline. They then use the extrapolated values, in comparison to current values, to show a decline (August 27, 2007).

The last quote reflects the critics' concerns with how marine turtles are counted in assessments, and the extrapolation the critic refers to is allowed under the Red List process (see [Table 2]). In the same message, the critic argues that the assessors have been put in an unfair position; no matter how rigorously they apply themselves, the criteria themselves are inappropriate for a long lived, widely distributed species.

In expressing their concerns over scientific credibility, critics explicitly distinguished between science and advocacy. For example, one critic suggested "that advocacy is getting in the way of science and reason in this assessment, resulting in a devaluation of the threatened species listings" (July 23, 2007). Others adopted an even more admonishing tone, suggesting ulterior motives for supporting the listing:

Remember, the Red List assessment is not a political tool. It is merely a listing of a species on a global level with which it can be compared to others. Simply keeping the assessment as Critically Endangered for the sake of looking for extra funds is an injustice to all the other non-turtle species on the Critically Endangered list (July 21, 2007).

We must remember that if, tomorrow, leatherbacks and hawksbills were brought back from the brink of extinction to just vulnerable: they would still be important; people would still love them; we wouldn't all lose our jobs (July 20, 2007).

With one exception, critics of the hawksbill assessment distinguished between science and policy in general, without pointing to any particular person or group as an 'advocate' or 'political.' But by invoking these boundaries, critics positioned themselves on the side of science, a positioning that was not lost on other MTSG members.

It is somewhat surprising that the critics received a response at all, given that the general complaints have all been made previously in publications. A few circumstances may help to explain why this particular critique was taken seriously. First, some MTSG members who had not published on, or otherwise participated in, public discussions of the Red List in the past joined some long-standing critics; participation in the critique widened. Second, critiques were accompanied by calls to "work towards developing alternative, reasonable methods of assessing actual risk of extinction" (August 27, 2007) and by an explicit call to reject the draft assessment (July 20, 2007). Critics called on the MTSG to "be the first to demand appropriate corrections" (July 20, 2007) to a flawed IUCN system, and to make the point by refusing the hawksbill assessment. Thus, if acted upon, old criticisms had new, tangible consequences, i.e., a rejection of an existing assessment and possible 'down-listing' of the hawksbill turtle. And it is likely this context, rather than the familiar content of the critique, that sparked and sustained the debate.

The defence: assert credibility and redirect

The first defences of the assessment were measured ones. A number of supporters agreed that the Red List criteria are problematic for marine turtles and that something should (ultimately) be done about this; no one, throughout the debate, defended the utility of the criteria for marine turtles. Most supporters also agreed that marine turtles, when compared to other species, are not critically endangered. But supporters took issue with other components of the critique. Several supporters, for example, believed that if the criteria were correctly applied, then the outcome should be accepted:

I have not personally examined that data, but believe that the assessors have no doubt followed official IUCN criteria carefully and done as scientific as possible an analysis, and that their conclusion is correct based on current criteria (July 21, 2007).

The issue of rates of decline, rather than absolute numbers, was also emphasised by supporters:

… the percentages of population declines globally do place the species in the CR category despite the fact that there are still lots of hawksbills out there. CR criteria are not just about absolute numbers of animals, but more importantly about rates of decline in numbers (August 28, 2007).

On the surface I would agree with the comment that "the implied 'extremely high risk of extinction' just does not match reality"… but perhaps we can consider what the IUCN assessment process is trying to accomplish. The best data we collectively put forward is that hawksbills have a demonstrated loss of ca. 79-94 % (depending on region) of their reproductive age classes over three generations. Why does that scenario matter with parrots, but not equally so with sea turtles?… I think the listing of CR is appropriate for the hawksbill according to IUCN criteria for that listing (August 3, 2007).

Although assessment critics were concerned with lack of historical data and the related need to infer trends over time, they made few other comments on data or their analysis. Regardless, one defender made an impassioned defence of the data. He argued that the assessment was (and should be) based on published and reviewed data, rather than the philosophical arguments of the critics (August 1, 2007). This intervention points to more than data quality (as discussed below), but the data defence is important in and of itself. The Red List accepts grey literature and personal communication in support of inferences needed to reconstruct historic population levels, and in past Red List assessments 68-80% of all references were grey literature or personal communication (Seminoff and Shanker 2008). The argument that data have been published and reviewed was misplaced (intentionally or not).

A final response was to defend the credibility of the assessors themselves. Although critics had taken issue with the criteria and process in general, and some explicitly sympathised with what they saw as the untenable position of the assessors, some supporters portrayed the assessors as maligned:

It is time to show some respect for our MTSG colleagues who have made a substantial contribution to science-based sea turtle conservation… Fortunately for the MTSG the best are stepping up to the plate to do rather than talk. So you will understand why I for one have little time for sideline carping and rhetoric (July 24, 2007).

Recalling that critics drew lines between science and advocacy, positioning themselves on the side of science and suggesting a variety of political motives behind the listing, it is unsurprising that supporters responded in kind. Some supporters cited specific problems with the critics' arguments. A critic who had commented on the numbers of hawksbills that he sees in the waters where he works was the focus of many of these rebuttals:

… there have been comments made against this listing on the basis of appropriate science. However the science offered is in the form of comments such as "I see hawksbill turtles every time I go swimming" or "there are hundreds of thousands or even millions in the oceans"…is there a reference available for this? I don't see any science in these claims (July 21, 2007).

A second type of response (as shown in several of the quotes above) was to disparage the critics as ranting, rhetoric-wielding, and unscientific with little effort to recognise or respond to their concerns:

There has been much polemic and melodrama over the past few days on MTSG Red Listing. Most comments warrant no response so I will focus on a few key issues for clarification in the hope of fostering more informed dialogue within the MTSG. My comments build on the insightful comments already provided by [list of names]… The histrionics and subterfuge over the past few days has raised a number of concerns for me about the suppuration of the MTSG (July 24, 2007).

This message is a notable example of boundary work. The writer dismissed much of what had been written as unworthy of comment and cited the contributions of some 'reasonable' people by name, i.e., those with whom he agreed. Thus, he worked to simultaneously enrol some and marginalise others. The author made numerous references to his lack of patience for critics, and many read the message as an attempt to intimidate others and to end the debate entirely. Both supporters and critics resisted this, and insisted that the discussion was valuable.

Getting to the point: the use and misuse of the Red List

Regardless of the level of collegiality among debate participants, both critics and supporters tied their arguments about the Red List criteria and the assessment to the scientific (and sometimes personal) credibility and motives of those who disagreed with them. Critics were less antagonistic and launched few personal attacks, but their initial concerns invoked distinctions between science and advocacy and suggested some alternative motives. As the debate continued, the question of motive became more prominent and specific. For example, in a plea to both reveal and consider the motives of all of those involved in the debate, one supporter characterised critics as follows:

Some of these individuals have in the past and currently are on the receiving end of financial support from the Japanese Bekko Association [JBA]. The JBA is one of the driving forces behind a number of recent proposals to downlist the hawksbill within CITES in order to reopen international trade (August 27, 2007).

Besides the specific aspersion cast on the critics' motives, this quote is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Japan has become almost a trope in marine turtle conservation (and marine conservation more generally), to the extent that connections to 'the Japanese' can imply anti-conservationist leanings. This trope has plagued the MTSG, as such characterisations undermine the partnerships among marine turtle conservationists in Japan and elsewhere. 3 The message led to a specific request that people reveal their conflicts of interest arising from receipt of Japanese funding and, in one of the more unexpected turns in the debate, a number of participants, all of them supporters of the assessment, revealed that they had received funds from Japanese sources and stressed the value of their collaborations.

Second, while the CITES Appendices that dictate whether or not endangered species can be traded are informed by the Red List, they are not the same thing. By tying CITES to the Red List, the writer revealed the perceived influence of the Red List and its related 'use' and 'misuse', a theme that ran through the second half of the debate. Most participants, critics and supporters, continued to claim their own interests in scientific credibility and to deny their interest in the Red List for political or other non-scientific purposes. Critics, for example, often responded to attacks on their motives by simply restating concerns with data, the criteria, and their applicability to marine turtles. The responses of supporters were more varied. Some continued to defend the assessment as a reasonable statement regarding hawksbill status or as a set of criteria correctly applied. Others focused on discrediting critics and highlighting their ulterior motives (as shown above). A third group, however, recognised and accepted the political role of the Red List. Their comments were so unusually forthcoming on the politics of science 4 that I include three lengthy quotations below:

… on some level, everyone understands that the classification IUCN comes up with will have some serious consequences… For better or for worse, the Red List is used to guide some very important policy decisions that are made at the international level, and particularly in the context of CITES… a very powerful message is sent when a species is listed as threatened or critically endangered. I know, we are scientists and not politicians, and we want science to stand on its own merits, but I can tell you right now that if a species were to be "upgraded," then some governments would push for a resumption of trade in that species, and with no particular regard for the geographic range of the turtles caught and traded (July 21, 2007).

I do believe that if hawksbill turtles were to be pronounced no longer so very threatened, they would indeed be hunted to extinction… The markets would quickly reestablish themselves, and we humans are undoubtedly capable of the technical feat of catching every last turtle and digging up every last egg if we can make enough money out of it… If scientists start saying that they are not in really threatened, and that a lengthy process resulting in their being declared endangered is really invalid, how are we policy makers to argue to fishermen that they should not catch sea turtles in places where their numbers have decreased substantially? (July 21, 2007).

Quibbling about the English meaning of words will not change the fact that hawksbills are in trouble. Calling the species data deficient is a green light to continue exploitation. We may not mean that in our academic world but that is the effect in the real world. Three turtle generations from now the perfect data will exist to show why hawksbills went extinct and then people will know that the decline was due to the fact that sea turtle biologists sat around and argued about details of semantics while others killed turtles, ate them and made jewellery out of their scutes. Let us not fiddle while Rome burns…. We are the people most charged with saving these species from extinction. We are not charged with trying to figure out how many sea turtles we can allow people to kill, or to figure out how people can continue to make a living off of sea turtles… This is the best possible document and we should send it on to the IUCN. I only hope that it will save some sea turtles from the knife (August 28, 2007).

Rather than defend their positions on the Red List assessment as strictly scientific, these individuals blurred the lines between science and policy advocacy. They did not go so far as to suggest a critically endangered assessment be done in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary, but to varying degrees they argued for the utility of a critically endangered listing. In doing so, they essentially recognised, accepted, and promoted a normative function of the Red List.

   Discussion Top

The spectre of sustainable use, again

The issue at stake for the assessment supporters who blurred the boundaries of science and policy is how to best conserve marine turtles. As the quotes above illustrate, exploitation is seen to varying degrees as incompatible with conservation. The debate about 'sustainable use' is even older than that about the Red List, and has been a source of controversy within the MTSG for almost as long as the group has existed (Campbell 2002, 2011). The issue of hawksbill use has been the recent focus because of the previously referenced CITES petitions by Cuba that if approved would have allowed for limited trade of hawksbill shell between Cuba and Japan. Although Cuba announced that it would end its hawksbill harvest in January 2008, the hawksbill email debate occurred prior to this decision. Thus, it was not simply general beliefs about conservation underlying the email debate, but the specific possibility of hawksbill trade between Cuba and Japan, and the influence of Red List status on that possibility. I have already suggested that the call to reject a specific assessment triggered the email debate, but that the specific assessment applied to hawksbills was important. For some, the debate about the listing was likely a proxy for a more than decade-long debate about hawksbill use in the Caribbean.

This points to the problematic purpose of the IUCN's Red List, to provide objective and scientific assessments intended to inform how species are managed. The supporter cited above is likely correct: "everyone understands that the classification IUCN comes up with will have some serious consequences." But understanding this, openly acknowledging it, and advocating for particular policy positions in light of it are very different responses. That some supporters of the hawksbill listing explicitly linked outcomes of scientific debates to outcomes of policy debates was problematic for other scientists, both critics and supporters, who strove to defend their own ability to distinguish between science and advocacy throughout. It also struck close to home for the MTSG as a whole, where the group's advocacy role has been a sensitive topic, particularly concerning hawksbills. 5 Perhaps as a result, the messages cited above received very few responses, even though they could have made specific the critics' vague accusations of the hawksbill assessment supporters being advocates. It was as if another boundary had been drawn, between what was debatable and what was not.

The MTSG response to the Red List crisis

In the immediate aftermath of the email debate, the MTSG co-chairs considered all comments received and tallied the numbers of members for and against the listing. The assessors were asked to respond to any technical concerns with the listing in relation to existing criteria and data, and once these were addressed the chairs forwarded the proposed listing to the SSC of the IUCN, where it was accepted in 2008. 6 Thus, the 'critically endangered' hawksbill was co-produced, at least until the next assessment. Here I turn to the longer-term response by the MTSG to the Red List debate. Drawing on Thompson's (2004) work on the African Elephant at CITES, I consider how the response works (or not) to retain legitimacy for the MTSG. Recalling that the email debate was one point in a long history of critiques of the Red List and that the MTSG leadership was already considering how to address concern about the Red List when the debate occurred, I do not suggest that the email debate initiated an MTSG response. It did, however, lend it some urgency.

The root of the MTSG response lies in a 'Burning Issues' (BI) consultation process, initiated in 2004. In that year, a small group of invited members participated in a 2-day workshop (later named BI-1) during which they ranked the most important threats to marine turtles and the most endangered populations. Originally, this process was presented as a strategic planning and marketing exercise, something to focus the group's efforts, reconnect the leadership with members, and assist with fundraising (Mast et al. 2004). When BI-2 was held in 2005, the BI rankings were also promoted as "an effective internal compass for our own movement, assuring that we are focusing our attention on those species, regions, and research and conservation needs that are of gravest and most urgent concern" (Mast et al. 2005: 5). By BI-4 held in 2008 after the hawksbill assessment debate, the meeting had two primary objectives: i) To define marine turtle populations/management units (Regional Management Units or RMUs) for the purposes of conservation priority-setting, and; ii) To develop specific (scientifically sound) criteria and a process for ranking/prioritising the conservation status of all sea turtle populations/management units on a global scale (Mast et al. 2008). Thus, what began as a priority setting exercise to inform education and outreach had evolved into a new process, one that began to look similar to Red Listing. By BI-5 in 2009, the resemblance had solidified with the identification of conservation priority categories and a corresponding Conservation Priorities Portfolio (CPP) [Table 3]. Results of both of these efforts have been published (Wallace et al. 2010, 2011), with some modifications. A total of 58 RMUs have been identified (Wallace et al. 2010) and categorised into four CPP categories: high risk-high threat, high risk-low threat, low risk-high threat, and low risk-low threat. A fifth category, critical data needs, can by applied simultaneous to any of the other four (Wallace et al. 2011). These risk-threat categories replace those proposed in Mast et al. (2009) [Table 3].

The CPP process addresses some of the long standing concerns with the Red List: identifying RMUs responds to the concerns about global listings of widely distributed species; ten-year trends in population numbers are combined with the more problematic longer-term estimates; all known nesting sites are included; threats are better specified; data and rankings are subjected to a data quality and availability adjustment according to defined criteria; threat and risk rankings and data quality assessments are provided as supplementary documents, along with citations, to promote transparency (Wallace et al. 2011). Some technical problems remain, including the reliance of abundance estimates on nesting sites only while threat assessments span different age classes (Wallace et al. 2011), but some of the most common critiques of the appropriateness of the Red List for marine turtles have been tackled.
Table 3: Current MTSG proposal for identifying conservation priorities

Click here to view

What the MTSG has not done is address the fundamental differences in conservation philosophies that were revealed in the email debate, e.g., whether or not there is a role for use in conservation. It has not tackled questions regarding the perceived value of these kinds of listings or the dangers associated with 'down listing'. The CPP process was not necessarily the venue to tackle these broader questions, and I do not mean to suggest that these fundamental differences are somehow resolvable. However, although the technical solution provided by the CPP has the potential to make fundamental differences among MTSG members more manageable (cf. Thompson 2002), their continued existence may continue to plague the group's efforts. For example, the move to assess RMUs has resulted in 12 of 58 populations being categorised as low risk-low threat. As one of the email debate participants noted: "regional assessments will cut both ways" with implications for how conservation takes place in particular places, and it remains to be seen how conservationists working within these RMUs will respond. Although Wallace et al. (2011: e25410) emphasise the importance of low risk-low threat RMUs in generating "valuable information about marine turtle biology, ecology and population demography" this may offer little comfort to some conservationists within these regions who see high risk - high threat as critical to generating support for conservation efforts. By providing a technical solution to some of the concerns about Red Lists without addressing more fundamental sources of conflict, the MTSG may create more, and more context-specific, debates about particular RMU categorisations.

This potential is increased by the co-existence of the CPP and the Red List. The MTSG leadership has portrayed the CPP as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, the Red List (Mast et al. 2009), and Wallace et al. (2011: e24510) suggest the CPP might allow the MTSG "to balance its mandate to conduct timely assessment of marine turtle species using IUCN Red List criteria with widespread recognition of the inability of Red List criteria and process to adequately assess marine turtle extinction risk." Thus, the MTSG will continue to do both, a position that is not surprising, given that the MTSG's primary purpose in the IUCN system is to inform Red List assessments. Unless the MTSG definitively promotes one ranking system as trumping the other, however, there is a danger that groups will invoke whatever ranking best suits its needs. For example, regional conservationists dissatisfied with the outcome of a CPP that ranked their RMU at anything lower than high risk-high threat might invoke a global Red List categorisation of critically endangered. Although this might give the MTSG the kind of flexibility necessary to satisfy its diverse membership, it also reduces the clarity and authority of the MTSG's position. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the purpose of BI-6 in October 2011 was to consider how and if the CPP process can be combined with the Red List process. A variety of options were considered, but required further investigation.

Arguably, the MTSG is caught between a rock and hard place. While the MTSG's primary purpose from the IUCN's perspective is to conduct Red List assessments, executing this mandate has been problematic for the group and has left many members disgruntled, leading to an internal crisis for the group. The internal crisis has not escaped the notice of the IUCN; marine turtle listing has been at the centre of the Red List petitions process, the MTSG played a controversial role in the hawksbill debate within CITES, and, frustrated with the MTSG's inability to resolve Red List problems, some members have 'gone public' with their concerns, making the problem an IUCN one, not exclusive to the MTSG. For example, the journal Endangered Species Research (ESR) published a special issue on problems with the Red List in 2008. While the co-editors and several contributors were MTSG members, the issue included critiques from other species groups and scientists. When New Scientist (Nowak 2009) published a review of the ESR issue, senior IUCN staff responded (Vié et al. 2009b). Although the SSC and IUCN would welcome a resolution of conflict within the MTSG, it remains unclear how a marine turtle-specific assessment processes will sit with the IUCN's investment in standardising Red List criteria. To date, the SSC has been complimentary regarding the MTSG's efforts. Following publication of the MTSG's work on RMUs (Wallace et al. 2010), an IUCN press release 7 noted that RMUs give "scientists and conservation managers a micro-to-macro view into population status, risk and threats." But the press release is silent on any relationship between RMUs and Red Listing. It is too early to determine whether the MTSG's efforts in the face of the Red List challenge, or the SSC's response to those efforts, will enhance or detract from their respective roles as conservation authorities (cf. Thompson 2004).

   Conclusion: Co-Producing A Critically Endangered Hawksbill Turtle (For Now) Top

I began this paper with a claim that conservation biology was ripe for treatment by social studies of science, because conservation biologists themselves are aware of and actively debate the relationships between science and policy, the tension between facts and values, and the normative commitments of their discipline. Thus, there are opportunities to observe not only how they work to distinguish or blur the boundaries between these things, but also how they talk about that work. There is an awareness that is likely less pronounced (or latent) among other groups of natural scientists. In the hawksbill email debate, participants worked to define boundaries and talked about that work (e.g., when participants criticised a perceived attempt to shut down the debate). And, in doing so in an email exchange, they made visible the social relations through which this work is done. These features combine to provide additional insights into the nature of boundary work (and challenges for boundary organisations), and how social relations mediate this work.

Bounding science and values

As a dynamic debate, the email exchange provides insight into boundary work as active practice among a group of experts. Participants were all members of the same organisation, presumably committed to its overall goals and mission, and as a group they often behave as an epistemic community (Campbell 2007). However, in this case, MTSG members were concerned about distinguishing amongst themselves, rather than defending the group as a whole from an outside threat to scientific credibility or authority. What we find is that much of the boundary work is directed at either enrolling or discrediting individuals based on their perceived bias and philosophical commitments, rather than their arguments per se; although participants invoke scientific credibility throughout the debate, there are remarkably few scientific details debated. Rather science writ large is contrasted with advocacy. There are at least three interrelated reasons that this level of vagueness occurred and was mostly unquestioned.

First, the undercurrent of the sustainable use debate ran throughout the email exchange. This debate and many of its regular participants are well known, such that a leap from 'this person has technical and scientific concerns about the Red List' to 'this person is trying to get hawksbills down-listed so they can be harvested' was an easy one to make for those inclined to do so. It was certainly easier than engaging on the details of the critics' complaints, which is linked to the second explanation for vagueness: the scientific uncertainly associated with marine turtle biology and the implications this has for all aspects of management. Scientific uncertainty means marine turtle scientists and conservationists can claim a range of views are supported by science, or at least that there is no scientific certainty that their views are incorrect. This is not to say that arguments over scientific details (and accusations of 'bad' science) do not occur, but they are difficult to resolve (Campbell 2002, 2011). Thus, when debating the validity of the Red List and its criteria, it is more straightforward to question the motives, rather than the arguments, of those with opposing opinions. Third, in this specific case, debating one of the major concerns of critics, i.e., the appropriateness of Red List criteria, would have been unproductive because everyone agreed that the criteria are problematic for marine turtles. Given this agreement, supporters had little room to advocate for them; they instead argued for the importance of the correct application of the criteria by competent experts or questioned the motives of the assessment critics. In doing so, they often revealed their own commitments to both norms of science (e.g., the supporter who confesses that he has not read the document but is convinced via his confidence in the assessors) and to particular philosophies of conservation. Many participants were much more forthright in their rejection of sustainable use than they have been in other forums, including one of the supporters who most vociferously rejected sustainable use during the debate. In an earlier interview with me, the same scientist expressed concerns about the ability to know whether use was sustainable, but accepted its role in conservation (Campbell 2002). Unlike the African elephant debate described by Thompson (2002), scientific and technical issues could not make the value dimension of the hawksbill debate more manageable. Values were front and centre for some participants, and several blurred the traditional boundary between science and policy that scientists often work to defend.

As noted above, participants were remarkably silent when such blurring occurred, even when it substantiated claims about mixing science and advocacy. Organisations like the IUCN, the SSC, and the MTSG may be boundary organisations in that they sit in "two different worlds such as science and policy" (Forsyth 2003: 141), but the lack of response to the messages acknowledging (and sometimes advocating) a direct science-policy interface suggests that some MTSG members struggle to retain their identity as scientists within such organisations. MTSG members recognise (implicitly and explicitly) that they are part of a boundary organisation, but resist the notion that science and policy are co-produced therein through exercises like Red Listing. As the IUCN continues to evolve, with decreased emphasis on its traditional role of providing information and increased emphasis on policy and project implementation (MacDonald 2010), these types of tensions may increase among traditional sectors of the organisation-e.g., specialist groups of the SSC-that identify with IUCN's historical role as a scientific body with a commitment to providing objective, independent, scientific information.

Social relations revealed

The email debate is a conversation that illustrates how 'what counts' as science is an outcome influenced by social relations. A number of examples illustrate this. First, the interactions are multi-fold, not simply between supporters and critics, but among these groups. Critics wrote comments in support of their colleagues, agreeing with them by name. Supporters also did so, but additionally worked to make distinctions within their group, by dissociating themselves with some of the claims and tactics of other supporters. When an attempt was made to shut down the debate, both critics and supported resisted and ensured the conversation continued. Second, the MTSG co-chairs were silent during the debate; when one of the co-chairs gave his opinion, he stipulated that it was as a member only. Their silence was part of the social relations at work. Third, the debate finally wound down, not with the resolution of the dispute, but after a particularly acrimonious and personal exchange between two individuals. It was as if the 'social relations' on display became too unpalatable, and people withdrew. Finally, the question of the hawksbill's status was ultimately resolved without addressing any of the broader concerns of the critics. That more people were in favour than opposed to the assessment at that particular time reveals the contingency inherent in the co-produced critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

Science at any given time is a function of "complex negotiations among scientists and those allies whose allegiances they would enroll" (Takacs 1996: 114), and the email debate must be read as one moment in on-going negotiations about Red Lists. After almost 20 years of complaining, Red List critics enrolled additional allies and moved the conversation to a new and dynamic venue. Although the critics failed in their efforts to reject the hawksbill assessment, they are seeing action on alternative assessment processes that respond to some of their complaints. The 'state of knowledge' regarding assessments is shifting in the MTSG and potentially the SSC, not just through changes in our understanding of marine turtle populations, but through the social relations that brought concerns with assessments to the fore, and that will continue to guide efforts to address them.

   Acknowledgements Top

I am grateful for the comments of Myriah Cornwell, Noella Gray, Rebecca Gruby, and Jennifer Silver on various versions of this manuscript. Matthew Godfrey, Nicholas Pilcher, Jeff Seminoff, Bryan Wallace, and Grahame Webb also 'fact-checked' the manuscript for me, for which I am grateful; any errors remaining in the historical account of the hawksbill debate are my own. In addition, three anonymous reviewers provided suggestions that improved the manuscript.


  1. The Society for Conservation Biology's (http://www.conbio.org/AboutUs/) mission is to 'advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth's biological diversity'.
  2. In 2001, two members of the MTSG used the newly instituted petitions system to challenge 4 listings under the 1994 version of the criteria, made in 1995. Three of the listings were upheld, though sometimes not under the criteria used by the assessors, and one of the listings was altered. In responding to the petitions, the Committee noted that 'the justifications by the MTSG for these listings suffered from a lack of organisation, and a lack of rigour in applying quantitative criteria to the available data.' As a result of this process, the standards for documentation changed, with assessors required to provide all unpublished literature used in the assessment. At the same time, the MTSG was asked to reassess all species under the 2001 criteria. A second petition from the same listing was made due to lack of supporting documentation (for further details, see Mrosovsky and Godfrey 2008).
  3. At a meeting of the International Sea Turtle Society in the 1990s, a colleague heavily involved in international conservation efforts made a heart felt plea to the audience to stop referring to a population model offered in support of Cuba's petitions to CITES as the 'Japanese' model. While authored by Japanese scientists, the speaker pointed out the problems of associating a model with an entire country.
  4. My research on the MTSG, its members and policies shows how scientific uncertainty about marine turtle biology and populations allows conservationists to claim their positions are based on science, and thus to mask other influences on their policy positions (e.g., Campbell 2002).
  5. In 2003, the MTSG chair was asked to resign over the group's role in CITES debates about the Cuban proposals to trade hawksbill with Japan.
  6. http://www.iucn.org/about/work/programmes/species/?6704/Experts-unveil-new-framework-for-improved-conservation-of-marine-turtles.
  7. In what is arguably an extreme level of awareness, Charis Thompson (2002) describes how during disputes over elephant management in Amboseli National Park, David Western was aware of insights from social studies of science regarding 'situated' knowledge and used this concept to promote a 'locally' embedded and contextualised science of elephant management.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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