[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]
Writing in Environmental Health Perspectives (2005), Booth and Zeller [hereafter BZ05] embark on the highly ambitious task of applying ecosystem modeling to the difficult problem of tracing the flow of methylmercury (MeHg) – the biologically active, potentially toxic form of mercury – in the Faroe Island marine ecosystem as changing functions of both fish mortality (commercial catch rates) and climate. The paper further attempts to estimate weekly MeHg intake by the Faroese from consumption of mainly pilot whale meat and cod fish – two key sources of MeHg exposures in Faroese diets. BZ05 displays the risk inherent in favoring computer modeling results over real world data. Such an exercise, increasingly common and problematic in climate science, often produces tenuous outcomes. More specifically, Booth and Zeller, with their minimal “what if” modeling efforts, cobble together a grab-bag of speculative assertions, problematic statements, harm attributions and over-reaching conclusions.