The Role of Social Biases in the Collection of Local Ecological Knowledge on Malapascua Island

Thomas Sanborn

The critical importance of thresher sharks and dive tourism for the community of Malapascua in the Philippines makes thresher shark conservation a central concern. Given the role of foreign volunteer-based organizations in promoting conservation on the island, understanding how social biases like satisficing and social desirability impact foreigner-driven research can yield tangible conservation benefits. These biases were examined using a local ecological knowledge survey of changes thresher shark abundances. Differences in responses were compared between a foreign researcher and a local surveyor, and the survey data was compared to ecological data collected by a local NGO.  Significant differences were found between the researcher and the local surveyor through modeling and chi-squared proportion tests. Median response levels and non-substantive response sets were both higher for the researcher, likely due to social desirability and ‘stranger’ anxieties. However, the presence of strong satisficing behaviors for all participants had a stronger effect as seen in the homogenization of responses. Thus, even though the community responses appear to corroborate the ecological data, this agreement is confounded by satisficing behavior. This effect was likely due to the survey method rather than foreign interviewer effects, suggesting that more participatory methods will be more effective and socially appropriate on Malapascua.