Commentary: "Virtual Water and Occam's Razor by Stephen Merett and "Virtual Water-the Water, Food and Trade Nexus: Useful Concept or Misleading Metaphor? By Tony Allan

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Water International


Taylor & Francis Online

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Stephen Merrett presents a philosophical critique of Tony Allan's concept of "virtual water"as expressed in his 2001 book The Middle East Water Question: Hydropolitics and the Global Economy. This is an appropriate exercise because the concept is gaining use in water management circles and it is also important to design the best possible terms to represent complex new concepts because, like an "invasive species," once embedded in common use it is nearly impossible to bring a poorly chosen term's lifespan to an early end. Most readers will recall the fallacy of the "100-year floodplain." Conversely, my hat is off to whoever deserves the credit for pushing the words "watershed"in the U.S. and "catchment" in Australia into common usage. Moreover, scientific terms are not immune to the rule that all language has connotations that are politically important. In the U.S., "wetlands"are being much more successfully preserved and restored than "swamps"or "bogs"ever were, but "non-point source pollution" will probably never gain the public attention it deserves until the media, political leaders, and environmentally concerned citizens can talk about "polluted runoff" or some other more descriptive and elegant phrase in reference to a very complex process and severe environmental challenge.

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