A series of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act:

show that [deputy assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie] MacDonald has repeatedly refused to go along with staff reports concluding that species such as the white-tailed prairie dog and the Gunnison sage grouse are at risk of extinction. Career officials and scientists urged the department to identify the species as either threatened or endangered.

MacDonald is a civil engineer by training, and does not have direct power to approve or reject petitions for listing a species. Instead, she applied pressure to the experts, in many cases presenting the expert judgement of government scientists as equivalent to the self-interested comments of industry. In looking for reasons not to list the Greater Sage Grouse, a controversial decision that many observers felt was not justified by the available evidence, MacDonald wrote:

This paragraph completely ignores the comments received by the Owyhee Cattlemen’s Association and the Idaho Cattle Association.

At the time, she was criticized for writing that scientific estimates of the pre-settlement populations of the sage grouse were “simply a fairy tale, constructed out of whole cloth.” She waved away numerous studies which indicated that grouse populations were in a uniform decline, inserting a passage into the report beginning ”all of these data are badly flawed in some manner.”

The New York Times’ Felicity Barringer wrote that “The consistent thrust of Ms. MacDonald’s critique was to dismiss the methodology behind studies that indicated significant declines in grouse population or habitat, to denigrate many studies as mere ‘opinion’ and to seek inclusion of industry comments that she found compelling.”

This is yet another example of the sort of abuse of science that Chris Mooney highlighted so carefully in his book. The issue is not that science was ignored, but that science was misrepresented and misconstrued to hide explicitly political decisions, decisions that Congress did not authorize her to make.

While the election a week from now will be about many things, I see this sort of abuse as a key part of what needs to change. Congress has the power to hold Ms. MacDonald and the other people abusing government scientists accountable. Congress can and should be making sure that important decisions about our natural heritage are made on the basis of our best available science and in accordance with our values as a people and as a society. While it would be nice to think we’d get that from a Republican Congress, history teaches me otherwise.

Comments

  1. #1 merle
    October 30, 2006

    you liberals worry more about a white tailed prarie dog or a spotted owl than you do people. you would rather see a animal that tears up good ranchland protected and people like me out of work

    dispicable

  2. #2 SLC
    October 30, 2006

    Gee, ole Merle has migrated from Braytons blog over here. For the enlightenment of readers here who do not vist that blog regularly, Merle is a young earth creationist who is convinced that Richard Dawkins is headed for the hot place, along with everybody else who is not a born again Christian. He is also seriously in error concerning the spotted owl which lives in old growth forests, not rangeland.

  3. #3 Josh
    October 30, 2006

    I think merle was referring to the white tailed prairie dog, a species which occurs:

    across the western half of Wyoming, western Colorado, the eastern portion of Utah, and a small portion of southern Montana

    Unless “merle” is lying about being a Kansan, they have no economic impact on him.

    No one lost work because of spotted owls, or because of prairie dogs. I lived in Oregon during the owl incident, and the timber industry was in decline there because the industry was shifting to faster-growing forests in the southeastern US.

    As it happens, hunting and other sorts of natural resource tourism are increasingly important parts of the Kansas economy, and ensuring that prairie dogs and grouse don’t become endangered helps encourage that sort of economic growth.

  4. #4 Corkscrew
    October 30, 2006

    you liberals worry more about a white tailed prarie dog or a spotted owl than you do people. you would rather see a animal that tears up good ranchland protected and people like me out of work
    dispicable

    Biodiversity is directly useful to everyone – the more species around, the more chances for an ecology to fight back against damage. If we run this planet into the ground, that’s it for us. And yet you’d apparently help tear chunks out of it for your own short-term gain.

    If you’re disinterested in the well-being of the human race as a whole, that’s your personal choice and I respect that. Just don’t expect the human race to show any interest in you.

  5. #5 JMart
    October 30, 2006

    Mooney’s book highlights what may be the second-most-damaging Ongoing Outrage perpetrated by the Bush administration, outdone only by the invasion of Iraq, which may yet reduce much of the Middle East — and the world’s energy supply — to a smoking, glowing, radioactive cinder.

    It’s not the owls or the prairie dogs, although they certainly matter. It is the fouling of the Scientific Method itself that is so damaging over the long term. There was a time when science was essentially sacrosanct from the Wars of Spin and Blather that have so poisoned the rest of our political and social discourse. No more. The Bush Regime has reduced science from an academic exercise to just another shouting contest in which the guy with the biggest megaphone and smallest conscience wins. That is something the Merles of the world do not and never will get. And it is the poisoned well that may yet doom millions to suffering and death that Science might otherwise have prevented.

  6. #6 merle
    October 30, 2006

    there is a lot of prarie dogs out here in kansas and lots of rangeland. but i guess your fancy elite college didnt tell you that out in new york. somtimes you have to live somewhere and work a honest job to know about something not sit in a college doing nothing. book learning only takes you so far and then you need common sense

  7. #7 merle
    October 30, 2006

    josh i dont lie about anything because that is sin.

    also if i remember your not from here. ive lived here my whole life and this is my state. you want to come here and do you fancy studying at ku fine. but remember you are a guest here with people like me paying for you education. your welcome.

  8. #8 Unholy Moses
    October 30, 2006

    Ahhh … nothing like seeing good “Christian” folks like merle be all for the destruction of “God’s creatures” simply because … well, why, exactly?

    Seems to me that religious people would want to protect the environment, not rape it and kill it for profit. But maybe I missed that “thou shall destroy the environment for the all might dollar” part in the Bible.

  9. #9 Josh
    October 31, 2006

    Merle, my “fancy schooling” in Chicago and Kansas have taught me that words matter. The article I quoted above referred to a decision not to list the white-tailed prairie dog. That species does not exist in Kansas. The black-tailed prairie dog does.

    These are the sorts of things you learn when you study mammals for a living. Common sense would suggest that listening to experts could be informative, or at least that things with different names might not be the same.

  10. #10 Dave Rintoul
    October 31, 2006

    merle opined

    book learning only takes you so far and then you need common sense

    Actually, that’s backward. Common sense only takes you so far, then you need book learning. If you had some of that, merle, you would recognize that your other argument (“I grew up here and you didn’t, thus I am correct”) is what is known as an ad hominem argument. Your personal traits or history, or Josh’s personal traits or history, are irrelevant. Facts and logic are needed. Try to get some before you post next time.

    If you need proof of the uselessness of ad hominem arguments, I’ll tell you that I also grew up in Kansas, and have lived here most of my life. According to your logic, I must be right. Unfortunately for that position, I happen to agree with Josh.

    What else you got?

  11. #11 SLC
    October 31, 2006

    Re merle

    Ole Merle tells Mr. Rosennau not to lie as it is a sin. The fact that he has told multiple lies on Braytons’ blog apparently is ok because its known as lying for Joshua of Nazereth.

  12. #12 Cheryl
    October 31, 2006

    “This paragraph completely ignores the comments received by the Owyhee Cattlemen’s Association and the Idaho Cattle Association.”

    Groups that blasted the new KS science standards included the National Academy of Sciences, National Science Teachers Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of Physics Teachers, American Chemical Society, Thomas B. Fordham Institute �F-�, and the National Association of Biology Teachers.

    But the KSBE rejected McREL’s evaluation of the KS science standards because McREL didn’t consider the statements from the May 2005 ID hearings in Topeka.

    In Robin Williams’ latest movie, Lewis Black’s character gripes about how television will put up a Holocaust expert right alongside a Holocaust denier, as if they’re equally experts on the Holocaust.

    “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequal things.”

  13. #13 NBR
    October 31, 2006

    Re: Merle
    Your correspondent “merle” reminds me so much of my Indiana uncle (long deceased), with whom I had extended and often loud arguments when I was a graduate student in history.

    Like “merle,” my uncle took positions in arguments that could only be defended by fundamentalist faith; by fealty to the strict religious training and/or rural values he had learned as a child–what he called “common sense”; and by assertions that he and his people were being taken advantage of by other groups (be they Jews, blacks, college professors, Catholics, big-city politicians or–the big bogeyman of the time–communists in disguise).

    Like “merle,” when confronted with facts he couldn’t refute or ideas that made him uncomfortable, he resorted to complaining about the book-learning or greater education of his opponent: “Well, you have more time to read books than I do,” he’d say. He used that line in arguments with me, with his cronies, even with the preacher in his church. He never trusted another person’s information so never let a fresh idea enter his mind.

    So now here’s “merle,” ranting against the outside intellectuals who just don’t know Kansas like he does from birth, or who don’t respect his version or true religion, or who question any tenet he might hold dear. And he is likely to argue till death (like my uncle) in the same tight and unending circles.

    There is only one reason to debate someone who wears his anti-intellectualism like a badge of honor: others who hear or read the discussion may see how fatuous his positions are and may learn and think differently as a result. So he becomes an intellectual foil, a means of disseminating the very facts, ideas and sound arguments that he so clearly despises.

  14. #14 merle
    October 31, 2006

    nbr i guess you have to see it both ways. when you say that im simply refusing to see your “facts” then you have to be honest enough to realize that you refuse to look at my facts. im not the stupid hick you think i am. i keep saying i didnt go to college and didnt have that much education growing up yet you people insist on making that your main reason for arguing against me.

    your uncle sounds like a good hard working man. like him i dont have time to sit and read books. the best i can do is listent o the radio. only recent have i bothered with the computer and i realize it was a mistake now because only nutty liberals seem to be here. only a few safe places for my kind to go. anyway whether you like it or not the people your uncle worried about do take advantage of my people. jewish bankers foreclose on our farms and keeps us in places like iraq to protect isreal. professers trash our country and culture telling their students that people like me are dumb hicks and stupid and not worth listening to while telling them everything is relative. go ahead and support cuba and hate america. support the islamofascists but hate america. paint pictures of jesus in pee and be sure to hate america. i dont have anything against blacks but around here there arent many which maybe why crime is so muchlower than in the city. and don t think for a second that the communists arent still around and a threat.

  15. #15 Dave Rintoul
    October 31, 2006

    Well, merle, when I asked “what else you got?”, I honestly wasn’t expecting the list of usual suspects that you provided in your last message. There probably really isn’t any way to argue with someone who apparently believes all the bogus generalizations that you carry around in your head. But I’d like to see you prove that

    1) all liberals are nutty
    2) all bankers (especially in KS!) are Jewish
    3) all professors trash the country because they hate America, support Cuba and “islamofascists”, and like to “paint pictures in pee”
    4) blacks are responsible for a lot of the crime
    5) communists are “still a threat”.

    I don’t care if you had a lot of education or a little; my business is educating people and I interact usefully with folks on both ends of that spectrum every day. Education or lack thereof is not the “main reason” that I would argue with you. As I said before, this is about facts and logic. You have a lot of opinions about things, and have epxressed some pretty strong ones in your last post. But until you can bring some facts or logic that actually supports those opinions, this isn’t even an argument yet…

  16. #16 Ktesibios, FCD
    October 31, 2006

    Merle, like you, I have never seen the inside of a college classroom. In fact, I dropped out of high school in the 11th grade.

    What rescued me from the common consequences of the idiotic decisions I made as an adolescent- unemployability and poverty- is the “book learning” you scorn. Technical knowledge is technical knowledge, but the knowledge base with which I earn my living was acquired not in the classroom but at the library and the bookstore. It’s still a bit of a shock to consider that being a lifelong, voracious reader and turning that trait to teaching myself a subject I was passionately curious about could have formed the basis of a genuinely salable technical skill. (For anyone who might be wondering, I’m not any species of computer geek, I’m an analog electronics geek, specifically an audio geek, and make a living in the recording industry, troubleshooting, modifying and occasionally designing the gear which ensures a continuous flow of “Bob”-awful drivel to your radio.)

    Having established my bona fides as not being a pointy-headed intellectual, here’s a friendly tip from someone who has some background in common with you:

    Ignorance is not a virtue.

    It’s a handicap, and the remedy for it is as close as your local library.

  17. #17 Josh
    October 31, 2006

    And now comes the antisemitism. Awesome. How many Jewish bankers do you know again? How many Jews do you know who support the war in Iraq, for that matter? Hell, how many Jews do you know?

    Merle, facts are fact. You don’t get to have your own set of personal facts. That’s what makes facts what they are. The facts of the world are the same in Kansas and New Jersey, and were the same 50 years ago or today. We may know about more of them now, but the facts were still true before we knew them.

    That’s why science is important, because it’s important to know the truth.

  18. #18 SLC
    November 1, 2006

    Re Merle

    You know Merle, speaking as a as a native Californian, we had the same complaints about people like you from the South and Midwest migrating to our state as you have about Mr. Rosenau migrating to Kansas. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  19. #19 mgr
    November 1, 2006

    Getting the thread back on track, and speaking of California–

    Hopefully, MacDonald does not have reinstatement rights at the California Resources Agency, though I suspect I would prefer she eviserate the state endangered species act in favor of Title Seven. Doubtful, she’d be unemployed since Pete Wilson is among Schwartzenegger’s advisors.

    http://www.doi.gov/news/040503b

    I have enough issues with Pombo.

    Mike

  20. #20 Tyler DiPietro
    November 1, 2006

    Wow merle, and you’re complaining about generalizations directed at your people? I followed your blog and found the usual anti-intellectual ranting about people like myself not knowing how to work, never “owning a single screwdriver” and “telling people what to think”, etc. Does your brain not detect irony?

    FYI, I grew up doing the exact sort of blue-collar work that you describe. I spent most of my early working years in a vacuum shop where I repaired worse shit than you’ll probably ever touch. And I certainly know what it is like to mow my lawn, I’ve been doing yard-work pretty regularly since I was ten.

    Face it, you are the one here who is bigoted, not us. Not everyone who is interested in a career in science, engineering, math, etc. is a latte sipping Volvo driver (I drive a 97 Buick Lasabre and prefer plain old coffee in the morning) or whatever other epithet you’d like to throw at us. And there is always your racist and anti-Semitic remarks that should tip us off. Hopefully this cloud of ignorance will dissipate someday and you can realize your erroneous and intolerant thinking for what it is.

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