Optimism and Other Bias in Rhetoric about Exotic Carps in America
Invasive species policy is a “trans-scientific” issue, guided by science but ultimately transcending into the realm of opinion and judgment. Since the early nineteenth century, five foreign species of carp have been imported into America — common carp (Cyprinus carpio), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), black carp ((Mylopharyngodon piceus), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), and bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) — each of which became invasive. Before, during, and after each introduction, carp advocates replayed a problematic pattern of rhetoric — whether in scientific report, policy statement, or news story — that features excessive optimism, narrow-framed rationales, and revisionism, and which reflects human nature rather than historical context or scientific knowledge. For all five species, traits that boosters initially marketed as positive attributes (fecundity, hardiness, etc.) were later reframed by critics as negatives. Carps have never had significant sustained commercial value in America because of widespread skepticism about their edibility, yet for 130 years defenders of invasive foreign carps have unsuccessfully addressed that unpopularity as a marketing problem that can be overcome by rebranding, recipes, and “education” of the U.S. consumer. The tendency for optimism bias and flawed foresight in advocates’ narratives about exotic species merits greater comprehensiveness and self-awareness in assessments of such biota, especially prior to introduction.
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