Badgers and the joy of complexity

Great article in today’s Independent. The government decided to take action to stop the spread of TB among cattle. They found that badgers were to blame for spreading it.

So they ordered a badger cull. Luckily they decided to do a limited trial first.

In some areas the cull got 80% of the badgers – which you might think would lead to a reduction in catle TB. Wrong! The rate actually rose by over 20% everywhere they tried it.

Turns out that culling badgers to this degree so disrupted their social system that the survivors went roaming around – thus driving up the spread of the disease and confounding the expert scientists.

To its credit, the government has stopped the experiment in its tracks.

Good news for badgers. I like these stories that illustrate how complex systems can defy expectations; it’s all too easy to come up with neat “scientific” models for things that aren’t that neat in reality.

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