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Fake It: WFU Professor Discusses Development of Synthetic Rhino Horns

March 9, 2016

Wake Forest University Associate Professor of Economics Frederick Chen recently published an article titled, “Fake It ‘Til the Rhinos Make It?” on The Huffington Post. The piece discusses the development of synthetic rhino horns and their potential effects on rhino poaching.



“Proponents of this approach argue that the production of fake horns that are engineered to be biologically indistinguishable from real horns–and available at a much lower price–would decrease the demand for the natural product and thus reduce the population pressure on the rhinos. Those who are against using faux horns as a conservation tool, including the groups Save the Rhino International and the International Rhino Foundation, contend that the sale of synthetic substitutes would have the exact opposite effect of raising the demand for natural horns.

Neither side of this debate, however, has accounted for a fundamental economic phenomenon known as ‘adverse selection’ that can arise in markets when a product comes in different quality levels. And neglecting this phenomenon leads to the wrong conclusion about the usefulness of synthetic horns to reduce rhino poaching. To save the rhinos, we should not develop fake horns that are just like the real thing, which is what some biotech companies like Pembient are trying to do; rather, we should develop fake horns that are far inferior to the real thing.”

Click here to read the full article published on The Huffington Post.