By Bob Ferris
I often read historic fiction about the time when big sailing ships ruled the seas. One frequent theme of these novels is mutiny. The more I think about the situation at the Rocky Mountian Elk Foundation, the more it reminds me of a ship where a mutiny has taken place. But instead of those below decks rebelling and placing the officers in the brig, we have the marketing department locking up and gagging the scientists. And these mutinous ships often flew false flags to fool the casual observer, but under close examination with spyglasses those on the quarterdeck were seen for what they truly were–pirates in the making.
I think of this analogy because I stumbled on to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's revamped “Get the Facts” page this weekend. (I wasn’t looking for trouble, I was actually looking for…facts.) The page is interesting for several reasons not the least of which is that the comments from their own community are largely not positive. Though I do commend them for allowing criticism to stay on their page, my hope is that they will experience more constructive criticism and perhaps even do something about it.
This page is purely orchestrated spin. It is at its core “cherry-picked” and misleading just as the first commenter pointed out (please see RMEF graph at the top left of this piece and compare it to the longer term trends in the second graph to the right). We see this same strategy used by climate deniers who grab a section of a graph that proves their point while ignoring the larger picture which does not. While we understand that deniers are intellectual outliers and often the minions of economic interests, we expect better from organizations like the RMEF who claim to embrace science.
The intellectual slight-of-hand regarding elk numbers is fairly heavy handed and transparent in spite of RMEF's investment in graphics. It is a well painted false flag and the addition of the wolf population trends implying causation when independent research funded by RMEF does not draw this conclusion is a nice touch, but it is still what it is: False and meant to deceive.
“In spite of years of litigation on wolf management, the population numbers identified by this team of highly qualified scientists has never been disputed or changed by the courts.” RMEF “Get the Facts”.
The graph ploy is clumsy but some of the other arguments they put out are crafty and nuanced such as their arguments regarding population goals (see above). This is designed to make the reader believe that the courts have reviewed the science and found it sound. The only problem is that courts are not scientific bodies and do not review or make decisions on the strengths or weaknesses of science. In fact under the iconic Chevron Decision the courts grant nearly automatic deference to the government in terms of science. RMEF either has not followed the heated debate about these population numbers in the scientific community, does not understand the legal system or is purposely trying to mislead. My sense is that it could be all three.
As we approach the final extended comment period for the USFWS gray wolf delisting proposal on December 17th it is important for all of us to stand up and take out our spyglasses so we can identify the false flags and mutinous ships that we may see before us. We need for the USFWS to follow the course of sound science and not let these modern day pirates lead them astray or give them cover should the political faction within the USFWS elect to imprison their scientists and promulgate a similar mutiny themselves.