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A deep dive into shark conservation

March 13, 2020

Misinformation about sharks could lead to population declines, disrupting ecosystems

“Baby Shark,” the viral children’s song that became the postseason anthem of the Washington Nationals, may be unforgettable, but it’s also inaccurate. Despite what the catchy music video suggests, female sharks are often larger than male sharks, according to Arizona State University postdoctoral researcher and marine conservation biologist David Shiffman. And the cute animation is symptomatic of a broader cultural problem: People do not know very much about sharks.

On March 5, Shiffman spoke to a group of scientists, environmentalists and science communicators at ASU’s Barbara Barrett and Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center about why sharks are in trouble and how misinformation, particularly online, impacts the species. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, 24% of sharks and their relatives are threatened by extinction. Shiffman cautions that humans are better off with healthy shark populations since declines disrupt ecosystems.

Though Shiffman’s research initially focused on policy solutions designed to protect sharks, he quickly found that there were broader problems that needed to be addressed first.

“When I start talking about what the experts think is the best thing to do, I encounter a lot of very passionate and enthusiastic nonexperts who not only don’t know that stuff, but actively don’t believe it,” Shiffman said. “So my research has shifted in recent years to, ‘Why do so many people believe wrong things about sharks and shark conservation, and how does that influence policy outcomes?’”

Shark conservation is surprisingly complex, and sharks face multiple threats to their survival, including threats from humans. Shiffman emphasized that, although unsustainable overfishing is one of the main threats that sharks face today, it is not the only threat conservationists and advocates must address.

A major obstacle to conservation efforts is the spread of misinformation, which makes it challenging to have rational, fact-based conversations about shark conservation, and to convince the public and policymakers that sharks should be protected.

For instance, there are activists who have been calling for a ban on shark fisheries because they don’t believe sustainable fishery exists. Shiffman argues there are plenty of fisheries in the U.S. and around the world that are sustainable.

“People who have no idea what they’re talking about are given huge platforms, and the rise of social media has been really bad for the spread of pseudoscientific nonsense,” Shiffman said. “One way we can protect sharks is by learning the real facts and not spreading misinformation.”

Shiffman’s lecture was sponsored by ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and was part of an ongoing series of policy seminar breakfasts.

Top photo by Hager Sharp

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Latino voters could powerfully influence the 2020 Arizona elections

March 13, 2020

Rodney Hero discusses takeaways from ASU-sponsored poll that shows Latinos comprise 30% of state's population

Latino voters have long been thought of as a "sleeping giant" that could have significant impact in Arizona and national elections.

Their time may be now.

A new poll sponsored by Arizona State University suggests that a growing, maturing and more educated Latino population could well emerge as a powerful voting group in the 2020 elections.

ASU’s Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research and the School of Transborder Studies revealed the contents of its Arizona Latino Poll on Friday, March 13, ahead of the Arizona presidential primaryOn March 12, the Univision/CNN Democratic presidential debate has been moved from Phoenix to Washington, D.C..

The poll interviewed a large sample of more than 500 Latino registered voters in the state of Arizona, and a statewide sample of all voters, regarding the likelihood of voting, policy preferences, voting preferences, opinions on recent political developments and their views on presidential candidates.

ASU Now spoke to Rodney Hero, the Raul Yzaguirre Chair in the School of Politics and Global Studies who oversaw the poll, which was conducted March 6-11. Hero’s research and teaching focuses on American democracy and politics, especially as viewed through the analytical lenses of Latino politics, racial/ethnic politics, state and urban politics, and federalism.

Hero talked to ASU Now about the findings of the poll, which provides a snapshot of Arizona, a traditionally "red" state.

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Rodney Hero

Q: Historically speaking, what’s been the perception of Latino voters in Arizona and has that changed over time?

A: There is perception and there is reality. The notion has generally been that Latino voters in Arizona have been this "sleeping giant" but that the population has not been fully engaged or mobilized, and that its full potential has not been realized. But the age profile of the Latino population is considerably younger, and the overall socioeconomic status is somewhat lower, than that of the general population; these attributes tend to be associated with lower voter turnout. One of the questions in the survey is, “How sure are you that you’re going to vote in the state and presidential election in 2020?” Statewide, about 88% of the population said they were "sure" to vote; Latino voters say they’re 72% sure. There are signs among Latino voters of increasing levels of interest and participation.

Q: Latino students here at ASU seem to be active and educated regarding politics.

A: Yes, true, and relevant. But remember we are looking at actual voter turnout. One of the common themes in research, though sometimes overstated, is that the degree of energy is not always translated into voter participation. Engagement and actual voter participation are not necessarily one and the same.

Q: What are the bigger issues and concerns that are important to Latino voters?

A: The cost of health care was the biggest concern noted by both Latinos and non-Latinos. However, there are some differences about policy approaches. Almost 70% of Latinos support some kind of universal health care; this compared to 55% among non-Latinos. Another substantial concern was that salary incomes need to increase. Another survey question was, “How much have you benefitted personally from the economy under Donald Trump?” Interestingly, 53% of Latinos said they did not see any benefit "at all," and 20% "just a little;" the responses for non-Latinos was 37% not at all and 17% just a little. So, there is a general sense of only seeing a limited personal benefit of the current economy, and that reservation is stronger among Latinos.

Q: What was the most notable finding in your research?

A: One of the questions we posed was, “If the 2020 presidential election was between an unspecified Democrat versus Donald Trump, who would you vote for?” Statewide it was, perhaps surprisingly, about an eight point lead of the Democrat over Trump, but among Latinos, it’s close to a 40% gap for the Democratic candidate. We also asked a question in the Arizona U.S. Senate race between Republican candidate Sen. Martha McSally and likely Democratic candidate Mark Kelly. Statewide it’s an 8% tilt toward Kelly; but among Latino voters, it’s something like 35%-plus toward Kelly, though with a considerable number of "undecideds."

Q: Does this new poll indicate to you that Latinos are more similar or more different than other voters in the state of Arizona?

A: My answer would be both. They are more likely to identify as Democrats and are different on some issues, including being more open to certain policy approaches regarding health care. But there are various other dimensions on which they are quite similar to other Democrats, and similar to the general public. How Latinos view and understand American politics, and policy priorities and preferences, and how and how much they respond to various issues will likely show continuity as well as change over time. The evolution of Latino, Arizona and general U.S. politics will remain intriguing and important for years to come. This survey will help us better grasp the current moment and be a reference point for the future. 

Top photo: ASU students walk by a voting location. Early voting is available to students and community members at Palo Verde West on the Tempe campus. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now