Pharyngula

Alaska’s War on Science

Several people expressed surprise at Alaska’s high position on the list of non-religious states. We can’t have people’s expectations shattered, so here’s something to reassure you all that the world has not turned inside out: an Alaskan scientist castigates the state’s attitude on science.

Alaska’s escalating war on science should be a grave concern to us all. On climate change, endangered species, predator control, environmental impacts of industrial development, and other important policy issues, Alaska now has arguably the most anti-science government anywhere in the nation.

It just goes to show that simply leaving the church behind does not guarantee that a population will live the life of reason.

Comments

  1. #1 Zifnab
    December 30, 2009

    Alaska drops something like $2000 / head to it’s citizens to sit down, shut up, and let corporations do what they want with the environment.

    Libertarianism at it’s worst.

  2. #2 JD
    December 30, 2009

    Palintology has its privileges. Goin’ rogue.

  3. #3 daveau
    December 30, 2009

    Being pro-science hits them in the pocketbook. There’s your correlation.

  4. #4 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 30, 2009

    An Alaskan scientists castigation alone does not constitute evidence that Alaska has the most anti-science government anywhere. We issue such castigations in Texas. I have also worked in Ohio and Kansas and can remember reading similar screeds*. Before Alaskans start snatching gold medals for stupidity, they really need to reassess the competition. There are some real winners out here.

    *I am pro-screed, so no negative connotations here.

  5. #5 Glen Davidson
    December 30, 2009

    The anti-science government is not a reliable indicator that the population of Alaska is anti-science. And even more so, there’s hardly much evidence that being irreligious correlates strongly with understanding science–the commonness of woo in Western Europe destroys that notion. The superstitions of the Soviet Union is probably a better indicator of the lack of correlation between living by science and being non-religious.

    More crucial, how many people care about the science when seemingly adversely effect for their personal lives appears to be coming from science? Some, not that many.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  6. #6 Fred The Hun
    December 30, 2009

    daveau @3,

    Being pro-science hits them in the pocketbook. There’s your correlation.

    Actually being anti science will hit them even harder in the pocketbook but they are too stupid to figure that out.

    Drill baby drill, you get a few more years to drive your SUVs and then what?

  7. #7 aratina cage
    December 30, 2009

    We can’t have people’s expectations shattered

    Why not? I’ll have you know that a great deal of scientists in Alaska are quietly working in tandem with the rest of the scientific world. Many Alaskans (like AKMuckraker) care about the future of the planet and are not being driven by greed.

    Alaska’s politicians, however, are too easily swayed by special interests invested in tearing Alaska asunder. It’s a good old boys system, and they stay walled off from the people of Alaska in their fortress down in Juneau.

  8. #8 Janine, She Wolf Of Pharyngula, OM
    December 30, 2009

    Can the Russians view this conflict from their front porches?

  9. #9 daveau
    December 30, 2009

    Fred the Hun-

    Actually being anti science will hit them even harder in the pocketbook but they are too stupid to figure that out.

    You are correct on both counts.

  10. #10 Josh
    December 30, 2009

    Can the Russians view this conflict from their front porches?

    You betcha!

  11. #11 aratina cage
    December 30, 2009

    Libertarianism at it’s worst. -Zifnab

    *rolls eyes*

    Socialism. The state returns some of what it earns directly to the people. Oh yes, that was another thing former AK Gov. Frank Murkowski was going after that led to Palin’s rise to power—the Permanent Fund Dividend. And when Palin won, oil prices happened to skyrocket, making the checks under Palin’s half-term some of the largest ever.

  12. #12 nastasie
    December 30, 2009

    Can the Russians view this conflict from their front porches?

    LOL irl.

    I also live in a place that, while not religion-free, holds a vast majority of very liberal, non-practicing Catholics. However, the penchant for woo is astounding (homeopathy, aromatherapy, reiki and similar crap). I went to two therapists who announced themselves as cognitive-behavioural and then tried to push woo with talk of chakras and floral medicine (the second one took the brunt of my frustration, and got an earful). I had to give up and go to the super big name dude, who charges a fortune but is an actual CBT. *sigh*

    So one more case where it’s not religion standing in the way of science (I don’t know what is, to be honest, but I suspect it has to do with how our universities are infested with post-modernists).

  13. #13 William
    December 30, 2009

    Russian Christians
    With an estimated population of 140,000,000, Russia is hardly areligious – add in the Muslim, Hindus, Jews and other beliefs…
    Largest Christian populations (as of 2007):

    1. United States 234,889,159
    2. Brazil 169,109,476
    3. Mexico 103,265,846
    4. Russia 100,964,426
    5. Philippines 84,246,490
    6. Congo DR 59,176,360
    7. Germany 56,032,677
    8. Italy 55,216,284
    9. Nigeria 54,012,466
    10. China 51,874,076
    11. Ethiopia 47,131,322
    12. United Kingdom 43,515,786
    13. Ukraine 42,572,167
    14. Colombia 41,938,720
    15. Spain 38,021,300
    16. Argentina 37,883,811
    17. Poland 36,977,511
    18. South Africa 35,066,269
    19. France 32,496,275
    20. Kenya 28,792,702
    21. Venezuela 25,503,057
    22. Peru 24,630,403
    23. Canada 24,332,010
    24. India 24,080,016
    25. Indonesia 21,656,662

  14. #14 Conscious Machine
    December 30, 2009

    Speaking as an Alaskan I can tell you that the positions of our politicians is not anti-science so much as it is anti-anti-development. We live in a state with fewer communities and higher costs of imported goods than any other (except perhaps Hawaii) in the nation. Our communities depend for their livelihoods on development of natural resources both mineral and biological. Responsible development is a top priority to most Alaskans. But there is a strong nationwide effort by environmentalists who have spent precious little time in this state to turn the entire state into a national wilderness preserve without any thought given to the livelihoods of those who live here. And many of the “anti-science” issues revolve around efforts not to assure responsible development but to prevent any kind of development whatsoever on the basis of ideological claims with sciency window dressing.

    Take the number one issue at stake right now, the listing of Polar Bears as an endangered species. The purpose of the endangered species act is to “protect species and also “the ecosystems upon which they depend.” from development where that development has a direct negative impact on a species that is in imminent danger of extinction.

    To be considered for listing, the species must meet five criteria (section 4(a)(1)):
    1. There is the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.
    2. An overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.
    3. The species is declining due to disease or predation.
    4. There is an inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
    5. There are other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.

    Once a species is listed and it’s habitat is protected a recovery plan must be initiated. A recovery plan must include:
    1. A description of “site-specific” management actions to make the plan as explicit as possible.
    2. The “objective, measurable criteria” to serve as a baseline for judging when and how well a species is recovering.
    3. An estimate of money and resources needed to achieve the goal of recovery and delisting.[38]

    The listing of polar bears as endangered is based on the premise that global climate change is causing a loss of critical habitat for the bears due to the melting of polar ice. The cause of this melting is not directly impacted by North Slope oil development but by global CO2 emissions. As such there is no “site-specific” management action to be taken to prevent loss of habitat. The listing is being used as a political tool to drive public opinion toward greater efforts in mitigating climate change by reducing worldwide CO2 emissions. But the listing also has direct local consequences on the economy of Alaska because it gives authority to environmental groups to limit or even prohibit future oil exploration in Alaska despite the fact that there is no evidence of direct impact to the Polar Bear habitat by Alaskan oil development.

    This is ideology dressed in science and it gives credibility to those who claim that science is the new clergy. In this context one may offer a subjective political position, announce “Science Says So” and your position becomes unassailable in the minds of it’s acolytes.

    Let me be clear, I am NOT anti science. I am strongly pro science. But if science is to be an arbiter of objective truth then it cannot tell us what we SHOULD do with regard to policy. It can only tell us what the consequences of certain actions may be with greater or lesser degrees of certainty. Just because science has drawn a correlation between global CO2 emissions and melting polar ice does not mean we should give authority for managing northern land development over to a body of scientists. Especially considering that it is not local development of the land that is impacting the polar bears habitat but is rather the global actions of nations.

  15. #15 nastasie
    December 30, 2009

    @ William # 13

    I think what was mentioned in this thread, by Glen @ 5, was the Soviet Union. They were, at least officially, non-religious, but very superstitious. I’m not informed about present day Russia, but I know that in other Slavic countries, the Orthodox church is back in full force, and I guess that accounts for how conservative they are in terms of equality for women and gay rights (I mention these two because they are the topics I have researched).

    Also, these numbers are misleading if you want to judge the impact of xtianity on society – I believe you have to take in account the proportions between liberal and conservative Christians.

  16. #16 Conscious Machine
    December 30, 2009

    I want to just add for the sake of clarity; I think that Palin’s rejection of the ESA listing of polar bears is the right action for all the wrong reasons. If you read the blog linked by PZ you will see that Dan Sullivan rejects the ESA listing not out of rejection of global climate change but on the grounds that this particular application of the ESA is a “misuse”. The bottom line here is that the ESA is a tool designed to provide authority to enact local habitat solutions to local habitat problems. Global climate change is just that, Global. There is no local action to be taken that will protect the bears from loss of habitat. This tool is being misused to drive a global ideological shift in thinking but because of the way it is designed it has real power only on a local level.

    The bottom line is that the ESA listing will have zero effect on “saving” the habitat of polar bears from global climate change while giving an outside authority the power to regulate Alaskas economic development. It’s the wrong tool for the job, regardless of what the “science” says.

  17. #17 Lynna, OM
    December 30, 2009

    I received this comment from my brother that lives in Alaska (yes, I have no end of brothers):

    I face this on a daily basis in my capacity as Chair of Knik R. Watershed Group. In the Knik we are unable to get existing State laws regarding anadromous fish habitat enforced…

  18. #18 Strangest brew
    December 30, 2009

    “It just goes to show that simply leaving the church behind does not guarantee that a population will live the life of reason.”

    Yes true but if the governmint’ is a tainted…which I assume after a few years in Palin’s sweaty little mits it probably was…that really is all that is required!

    Creotards surround themselves with like…they need the poisonous sterile atmosphere generated by rank ignorance to actually breath…or at least not get called each day for being a fuckwit!

  19. #19 Lynna, OM
    December 30, 2009

    Here’s another article on the same issue. This article gives more details when it come to politicians voting to buy a special brand of “science.”

    My brother’s comment is in the top ten recommended (sorting the comments by “Most Recommended” will give you a chance to skim the best.

    rvhoward wrote on 12/22/2009 08:29:09 PM:
    áááááI may not know as much about Belugas as Don Young, but I do know for a fact that in 1984 Commissioner Wunnicke of F&G and Collingsworth of DNR wrote that the Jim Swan Wetlands at the headwaters of Cook Inlet is critical habitat. I also know and have documented for decades, along with others, that we are having extreme difficulties in just obtaining any protections per State law for anadromous fish habitat there – just for one example. DNR, due to the ubiquitous ‘political will’ and a double standard, now denies there is critical habitat in Knik. Do you believe it has become less critical or just more damaged?? Have a look at knikriver.org for current photo documentation. Note damage and pollution sources.
    áááááWe know all too well about lots of tossed out science by State agencies for special interests – and in that case they did not even bother to buy their own. Perhaps they believe they are learning how to avoid similar pitfalls? Sad. Go Feds.

    And here’s another relevant article: Wantedby Alaska lawmakers: PR firm to fight species listings

  20. #20 Lynna, OM
    December 30, 2009

    On the same web page as the last link given in comment #19, there’s a “Map: Tracking Anchorage grizzlies” which is great. Click on the map text and it brings up an interactive subpage (no URL) that allows you to see the range of all the grizzlies in the Anchorage area.

  21. #21 bpesta22
    December 30, 2009

    The one census variable that Alaska really sticks out on is rape rates.

    As counts per 100,000 residents, the mean rate across the USA is 33.84 (sd=11.32). In Alaska, the rate is 81 (z = 4.12!!). New Mexico is a distant second at 54.

    I dunno if it’s a reporting issue or what, but it most odd.

    Source: Statistical abstracts, section 5, table 301; pesta el al., 2010.

  22. #22 Fred The Hun
    December 30, 2009

    Conscious Machine @ 14,

    The listing of polar bears as endangered is based on the premise that global climate change is causing a loss of critical habitat for the bears due to the melting of polar ice. The cause of this melting is not directly impacted by North Slope oil development but by global CO2 emissions. As such there is no “site-specific” management action to be taken to prevent loss of habitat. The listing is being used as a political tool to drive public opinion toward greater efforts in mitigating climate change by reducing worldwide CO2 emissions. But the listing also has direct local consequences on the economy of Alaska because it gives authority to environmental groups to limit or even prohibit future oil exploration in Alaska despite the fact that there is no evidence of direct impact to the Polar Bear habitat by Alaskan oil development.

    Ah, What a complex web we weave.

    On the one hand I agree with you that stupid, ignorant, unthinking, illogical, politically motivated environmentalists are without a doubt making a poor strategic decision by attempting to link Polar Bear habitat loss directly to North Slope Oil development. That is probably quite difficult if not impossible to prove at the local level and may indeed not be a problem. I’m quite sure the oil companies are exceedingly careful to keep from spilling oil, that much they’ve learned to do.

    However if one steps back and zooms out for a broader look then the picture changes quite dramatically.

    It becomes a global problem and it would be very hard to argue that what happens in Alaska does not impact the globe, especially if we are talking about drilling for oil. Granted the actual oil wells may not have a significant direct impact on the environment, occasional accidents excepted. But the Oil industry and its penetration and profound impact on every aspect of what we nonchalantly take for granted as being part and parcell of our civilization can not be disputed. Except perhaps by some hermit living in a cave in the Himalayas.

    My point is, our global economy, (civilized westerner’s) addiction to a fossil fuel is the root cause of the Polar bear’s habitat destruction. By coincidence it is affecting Polar Bear habitat in Alaska as well.
    Oil companies are a big part of this. They are also operating in Alaska.

    Now for the really tough part…

    You say the listing also has direct local consequences on the economy of Alaska because it gives authority to environmental groups to limit or even prohibit future oil exploration in Alaska.

    I say Tough Noughies! There should be *NO* oil exploration allowed in Alaska! Not because of the enviromental impact which does occur but because of the negative economic impact both local and global.

    To explain that statement alone would take a full dissertation, please visit http://www.theoildrum.com for an intro to this topic. Search for ecological economics,resource depletion and Peak Oil. In short if we got all of the oil that’s in the ground in Alaska out it would barely put a dent in supplying global consumption of oil and it would only benefit a very small group of people. And burning it all probably wouldn’t even have a huge impact on AGW.

    Unfortunately because of the way the stupid environmentalist played this, it becomes an environmental issue with a strictly local focus.

    BTW, for the record, the Polar Bears are probably already doomed regardless.

    Cheers!

  23. #23 tokenadult
    December 30, 2009

    “It just goes to show that simply leaving the church behind does not guarantee that a population will live the life of reason.”

    Hear. Hear. It’s possible to be both irreligious and irrational. Rationality is something we have to promote positively.

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?
    December 30, 2009

    Germany 56,032,677

    What? Only 56 million out of 84?

  25. #25 timrowledge
    December 30, 2009

    12. United Kingdom 43,515,786

    Really? I can’t be bothered to cite the source because it really doesn’t matter enough but I seem to recall seeing claims by the churches that a whole 980,000 attend church in UK. If people can’t even be bothered to go to church then I really don’t think you can claim them as actual subscribers. Except of course when using Special Godly Maths(tm)

  26. #26 Conscious Machine
    December 30, 2009

    Fred The Hun @ 22,

    Thank you very much for making my point exactly as well as saying explicitly what is on most people’s minds when they are considering the question of listing polar bears as endangered (indeed what has been PUT in their minds by environmental ideologues). What you said perfectly illustrates that this is not a battle of “Science” but a battle of ideology in which the spectre of “Science” is raised as the trancendent and unquestionable justification in the same way that god is raised as the trancendent and unquestionable justification for denying homosexuals the right to marry by religious fundamentalists (and moderates as well).

    “You say the listing also has direct local consequences on the economy of Alaska because it gives authority to environmental groups to limit or even prohibit future oil exploration in Alaska.
    I say Tough Noughies! There should be *NO* oil exploration allowed in Alaska!”

    Listing polar bears will as you say do little, perhaps nothing to save them or their habitat from the effects of climate change, nor is it intended to. It is being used as a vehicle to motivate people toward a particular ideological solution to the problems that climate change threatens, namely a move away from oil and toward alternative energies. It is nothing more than a symbol. Yet it is deeply disingenuous on the part of those who promote the listing since the whole point, indeed all of the political teeth of the ESA are geared toward management of local development in order to protect the species that has been listed and to help it to recover. If nothing can be done on a local level to protect polar bears beyond a symbolic spit in the oil companies’ eye then those who are promoting this listing are LYING FOR SCIENCE in the same way that many fundies are LYING FOR JESUS.

    In the meantime thanks very much to this symbolic effort real people with real lives and livelihoods are being told that they are not welcome in the discussion of what to do about the industries that they depend upon because “The Science is In” and their development of natural resources is the cause of the polar bears demise. It is now time for someone who knows better than them to step in and manage their affairs. I have no quarrel with the science of global climate change but there is zero science that shows that North Slope oil development is directly impacting polar bears or that restricting or banning it (the only things the ESA has the power to do) would save them from endangerment.

    The question of what to do about worldwide energy consumption, about distribution of resources, about alternative energies are political ones for which there are no clear cut answers. People are right to come to the table and have it out about their differences and advocate what they see to be the best way forward. But it seems that those on the side of immediate emission reduction and change to alternative energies have gotten tired of honest discussion and chosen to play a religious trump card of their own – Science Says So.

    By the way Fred, I have to disagree with your assessment on the strategic value of listing the polar bears to the environmental movement. I think it is absolutely an effective (if dishonest) approach. They are not after a direct way to curb carbon emissions but a symbolic one. They are using this case to tug at heart strings and move popular opinion. Alaskan industry is simply a fortunate casualty in the war they are waging.

  27. #27 elnauhual
    December 30, 2009

    William @12

    Where did those data taken from?

    Acording the last census (2000), Mexico has:

    Catholics 74.612.373

    Protestant: 4,408,159
    –Histˇrical ┐? 599.875
    –Pentecostal 1.373.383
    –the light of the world 69.254
    –Other 2.365.647

    BÝblic 1,751,910
    –Adventist 488.945
    –Mormon 205.229
    –Jehovß witness 1.057.736

    Jew 45.260

    no religiˇn 2.982.929
    agnostic 732.630

    notes: this counts only the populations greater than 5 years which in 2000 was 84.794.454

    Source: INEGI (2000) [2]

    The catholicism has lost followers, in 1950, 95% of the population was considered catholic. unfortunatelly it was result an increase mostly in pentecostal and other denominations, that I think are worst than catholicism. At least catholics to not attack evolution in organized form. But that may be my perception…

    There are other religions, prehispanic, shamanism, santeria, the church of the holy death etc. But ussually their followers do not report them. They prefer to claim to be catholic.

    But an important extra data is that only 46% of the 74.612.373 catholics got to church. That explains why most of the mexican support the uses of anticonceptives, and abortion.

  28. #28 Sean McCorkle
    December 30, 2009

    Concious Machine @14

    I remember when the Alaska Pipeline was constructed in the 70s to transport oil from the Prudoe Bay Oil Fields. According to this

    Total production from 1977 through 2005 was 13 billion barrels (2.1Î109 m3).
    As of August 2006, BP estimated that 2 billion recoverable barrels remain and can be recovered with current technology.

    Prudoe Bay is nearly gone, and it took about 30 years.

    If we tap the remaining fields, how long will they last? Another 30 years?

    What will Alaskans do after that?

  29. #29 aratina cage
    December 31, 2009

    What will Alaskans do after that?

    Strip mining. *wink*

  30. #30 John Morales
    December 31, 2009

    Aratina, ah yes, strip mining.

    Here’s the result.

  31. #31 Conscious Machine
    December 31, 2009

    Sean McCorkie @ 28,

    Yes, most of us are quite aware that the Prudhoe Bay fields are in decline and that additional development will only carry us so far. You act as though 30 years is nothing. 30 years is an entire generation of jobs. Whether we use that time wisely, to develop other more sustainable industries or we squander it and find ourselves destitute at the end of the next generation I hope you will agree should be OUR decision.

    But pointing out the finite nature of our resources does nothing to address the points I made and is only sidestepping the issue. The listing of polar bears as endangered species can do nothing to help polar bears. The use of the ESA as an ideological tool is dishonest at best. At worst it could give the objectivity of science and scientists a black eye. There is nothing objective about using an administrative tool crafted for the specific, real, and valuable purpose of preventing local resource development from damaging critical habitat to endangered species as an ideological tool for steering public opinion.

    If you would like to see legislation that restricts oil development in the united states then lobby for that. Write your representatives and tell them so. This is not what the ESA was designed to do. Using it in this way and then calling those who object anti-science is dishonest. It’s bad policy and in the long run it will be bad for science.

  32. #32 Conscious Machine
    December 31, 2009

    aratina cage @ 29,

    It may surprise you to hear that many Alaskans (even pro development non tree huggers) are anti Pebble, including myself. Bristol Bay and Prudhoe Bay are opposite sides of a coin. Bristol Bay truly IS the Great Alaskan Wilderness that the Sierra Club constantly moons over. And strip mining is much more potentially damaging to that wilderness as well as an existing sport and commercial fishery than oil development is to the barren wasteland (nearly) that is the Alaskan Arctic.

  33. #33 rs
    December 31, 2009

    Regarding the original statements, it is good that things don’t change much. I was chairman of the Biology Department of the University of Alaska, Anchorage for a period in the late 1970′s and remember having discussions/arguments with one the Great Land’s exhalted legislators as why a university biology department needed more than 1 (count’em: 1), microscope…

    The place is deeply anti-science and anti-education. When I was there, one of the favorite statements was, “We don’t give a damn how they do it on the outside.” with “the outside” being the rest of the universe. Of course a free translation of that statment is “We can’t learn from anybody elses mistakes.”

  34. #34 Sean McCorkle
    December 31, 2009

    Concious Machine @31

    I hope you will agree should be OUR decision.

    I hope YOU remember that the land YOU ARE LIVING ON was a U.S. Government purchase, made at taxpayers expense. That makes it part of the U.S., with all that entails. Furthermore, after New Mexico, Alaska is the next highest recipient of federal tax money.

    Like it or not, you are on the same planet as the rest of us in the lower 48, quite dependent on the outside world for many things, and we have every right to be concerned about potential ill effects to the biosphere up there. That goes double for federal lands – just as it applies to federal lands down in the lower 48. You are not special.

    That being said, I’m sympathetic in general, to misuse of laws, if they really are being misused, for “ends do not justify the means” reasons. I don’t know enough about the polar bear decisions to comment intelligently, however.

  35. #35 Ultimate Delivery Option
    December 31, 2009

    Sean @ 34
    “I hope YOU remember that the land YOU ARE LIVING ON was a U.S. Government purchase, made at taxpayers expense. That makes it part of the U.S., with all that entails.”

    That argument literally makes no sense to me. It’s like saying that if I get my home owners association to use the money it collects in fees and dues to buy a title to your property from a guy who lives in a different country (and actually has no real moral or legal right to your land) then I can use that nonsensically obtained title to tell you how often to mow your lawn or spray for weeds.

    As an Alaskan I will agree that Alaska is part of the US, but the whole “we bought your state so neener neener” argument is stupid.

    I’m not picking on you but I have some native friends who might phrase things differently.

  36. #36 Sean McCorkle
    December 31, 2009

    As an Alaskan I will agree that Alaska is part of the US,

    Thats the point I was trying to make. Alaska has no special status over the other states.

    Perhaps I was coming on too strong, but sometimes it seems like the only value that conservatives have is money, so I end up trying to cast things along those lines to try to make the point. No offense was intended.

  37. #37 aratina cage
    December 31, 2009

    It may surprise you to hear that many Alaskans (even pro development non tree huggers) are anti Pebble, including myself.

    Conscious Machine, I am an Alaskan too (and I weep for my state), and I was trying to be funny and informative all at once (the worst possible “next move” is real and it got Palin’s full support). Pebble Mine will be disastrous.

  38. #38 qbsmd
    December 31, 2009

    Both Alaska and Montana were out of place on that list. I’m hypothesizing that they have a small enough population and a high enough number of people who distrust phone surveyers that most of the people they called who are religious hung up on them, hopelessly skewing the results.

  39. #39 Ionoscube
    December 31, 2009

    Some of these issues are a little more complex than it seems. Predator control is a good example. The science at the moment suggests that it does improve moose and caribou populations, though this is by no means conclusive. Furthermore, it’s focused on areas where there are many subsistence users who really depend on those animals for food, and are in some cases simultaneously facing mysteriously declining salmon runs. Predator control is a sort of welfare for them. The predators being controlled are not endangered or threatened. There’s a lot of detailed reading on the issue here:

    http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=control.main

    There’s a clear (but not conclusive) scientific basis for predator control. One’s opinion on the issue comes down to an ethical value judgment about sustainable human subsistence rights versus animal rights and the value of recreational viewing. As a hunter, I just can’t get past my ingrained values of fair chase, and I really like wolves, so I don’t like the idea of shooting them from a helicopter. My personal position is that, if predator control continues to show promise for feeding hungry villagers, the state should cough up the extra cash required to use non-lethal methods… spay/neuter or relocation.

    My point, however, is that Alaska isn’t being anti-science on this issue. Unethical, maybe, depending on your viewpoint. Maybe even scientifically incorrect, pending further data. But it’s not an inherently anti-science idea.

    The polar bear listing is another tricky example. The science is pretty clear that they’re in trouble, but it’s less clear that ESA protections would do them any good. They’re already pretty well-protected from local threats by their status as marine mammals. Listing them as endangered could cost Alaska a lot of money without materially helping the polar bears, because the threat to them is global. Surely a polar bear ESA listing is not going to be used to drastically reduce carbon emissions nationwide, let alone globally; that seems like a hopeless attempt at a shortcut around real climate change legislation. They are being used as a political football, and it’s reasonable to suggest that they shouldn’t. However, their numbers are declining and perhaps they deserve an ESA listing on that objective basis regardless of whether it would help them or hinder development. I favor listing them as endangered for that reason, but it’s a more complex judgment call and neither side is necessarily anti-science.

    All that said, there still too much anti-science in Alaska; the continued tolerance of the Pebble Mine idea is one big example. It’s mostly motivated by profit, rather than religion. But it’s not necessarily more rampant than in other red states.

  40. #40 ieatgravel.myopenid.com
    December 31, 2009

    As an Alaskan, I can tell you that that survey has to be seriously flawed. Sometimes I think I’m the only atheist up here.

  41. #41 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    December 31, 2009

    Sean McCorkle says, “I hope YOU remember that the land YOU ARE LIVING ON was a U.S. Government purchase, made at taxpayers expense.”

    You know, having grown up in the Western US, this is the sort of arrogant and short-sighted attitude that has has made “enviromentalist” a dirty word to so many Westerners. Yes, the land may have been purchased with US Govt. funds or US Govt. small-pox infected blankets, but the fact is that the people who often have the best understanding of the land are those LIVING ON IT. It’s a lot better to get the natives inside the tent pissing out rather than the reverse. Tell people what the broad goals are–be they species preservation, habitat restoration or whatever and work with them to develop plans and means for assessing their success. If you run roughshod over people, you will merely turn them against your goals.

  42. #42 Lynna, OM
    December 31, 2009

    aratina cage, I didn’t know you were an Alaskan — maybe I missed something in one of your earlier posts. I lived in Alaska from junior high through college (Fairbanks). My brother, Robert, lives in Palmer (not too far from Anchorage, for those that don’t know Alaska). Robert’s comment is #37 on the Mudflats website that PZ linked to.

  43. #43 Meathead
    December 31, 2009

    @#35:

    That argument literally makes no sense to me. It’s like saying that if I get my home owners association to use the money it collects in fees and dues to buy a title to your property from a guy who lives in a different country (and actually has no real moral or legal right to your land) then I can use that nonsensically obtained title to tell you how often to mow your lawn or spray for weeds.

    Sorry but this stinks of a lot of the secessionist rhetoric I hear from various places, mainly Texas and Alaska. guy in another country?? WTF? No, it’s your own country’s taxpayers. And yes, they have every right to limit the ways you use and abuse your land. Absolute property rights, particularly as applies to land is another libertarian wack off fantasy.

  44. #44 Sean McCorkle
    December 31, 2009

    a_ray_in_dilbert_space @41

    Let me apologize. That does come off stronger than I wanted it to. I was mostly angry because of a perception of “special status”.

    …but the fact is that the people who often have the best understanding of the land are those LIVING ON IT

    I will agree with you there, up to a point. On the flip side, as an east-coaster, I’ve watched MUCH of the beautiful landscapes of my childhood clearcut and paved into suburbs. Don’t think for a minute that the west is immune to this. Unchecked exponential growth quickly overwhelms ANY amount of space or finite resource. There’s a good reason to protect land and other resources wherever it or they are. How to best do it is negotiable. Local wisdom should definitely be heeded, but the whole population is a stakeholder in the outcome.

    Personally, I favor things like financial or other compensation for any hardships that may be imposed on local populations. Its the price of maintaining the resource.

    Tell people what the broad goals are–be they species preservation, habitat restoration or whatever and work with them to develop plans and means for assessing their success. If you run roughshod over people, you will merely turn them against your goals.

    and I agree with you completely here. Building a consensus from the ground up is definitely better than a top-down dictate.

  45. #45 Conscious Machine
    December 31, 2009

    Sean McCorkle @ 44,

    Thank you for your response to a_ray_in_dilbert_space. It does much to undo my initial perception of you as someone who has drunk the kool aid of enviro-ideology and puts us back on somewhat common ground. My assertion that WE ought to be allowed to determine how to develop our resources was essentially pushback against those who have already decided that their holy crusade (yes holy) against the wicked plundering our our natural resources gives them the right to decide for us what the best use of those resources will be. No need to consult the locals thank you very much, they are all in the pocket of big oil anyway. They are blinded to the TRUTH. I hope that we can agree that those who are motivated in this way are just as deeply enmeshed in ideology as any NeoCon or religious zealot. What really sickens me is when they play and are allowed to play the science card as a conversational trump. It sickens me because I love science and I don’t want it to be made into a quasi religious justification for asserting a particular point of view.

  46. #46 aratina cage
    December 31, 2009

    Lynna, OM,

    aratina cage, I didn’t know you were an Alaskan — maybe I missed something in one of your earlier posts.

    LOL. Yeah, I think one of my first non-lurking interactions here was being a concern troll over a post about Ben Stein hawking Alaskan seafood products. (It’s all blurry to me now, but I think I even spelled PZ’s last name incorrectly IIRC like the concern troll I was. *cringe*) No doubt I would have liked Alaska to become known for something—anything—other than the kooks it produces like Palin and Uncle Ted, or its exuberant plucking of natural resources.

    I lived in Alaska from junior high through college (Fairbanks).

    I stayed mostly in the Southcentral area below Palmer when I was there (it’s been so long *sigh*) but I have been to Fairbanks many times. You know, there are quite a few Alaskans on here. Maybe Alaska’s ranking on that state by state poll isn’t so far off.

  47. #47 Lynna, OM
    December 31, 2009

    aratina cage, I think my first post on Pharyngula included “Meyers” as PZ’s last name. Sigh. Maybe it’s a mistake through which we all must suffer … and repent. Then there was the time Josh handed me my ass over a comment about the delta of the Colorado River.

    Ben Stein hawking Alaskan seafood products! That’s just not right on so many levels.

    I had red coho salmon for Christmas dinner, thanks to my brother, who shipped me some of his catch. Straight from my brother to me, with no Ben Stein between.

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