Effects of emotion rather than science in the argument over wolves

There is a greatly needed opinion piece in “New West” by a former science journalist-

When Emotion Drives the Wolf Debate, Research Suffers. “The Rocky Mountain West is producing solid science in regard to wolves. Too bad what’s learned is buried under what’s opined.” By Steve Bunk. Guest column in  New West.

I want to add that science in many fields is being attacked (not necessarily by the government, but by political groups) in the United States.  This turn to ideology, crude self interest, and various religious dogmas will destroy America, IMO.  Ralph Maughan






  1. Virginia Avatar

    I wish I had something brilliant to say about this article, but all I can say is that I wish the anti-everything crowd would take seriously the scientific crises facing our wildlife and environment before it is too late. The article only reinforces what most of us already know about the wolf issue. Thanks to the scientists who have the courage to continue attempting to inform the public.

  2. JimT Avatar

    One of the stickiest issues is the one regarding principle of “certainty”. How certain does science have to be before policy makers and politicians will act? Does science have to be `100% certain before it is accepted at truth, or does the emotions and positions involved in a debate such as occurs about wolves make this irrelevant to the decision makers?

    Or, does the gravity and impending effects of a problem make it imperative to act before the tipping point is crossed on the way to certainty?

    I know where I stand, but wondered if others here had thought about this effort, mostly by conservative think tanks and political institutions, to disparage ANY science that doesn’t fit a political agenda. It appears as if Bush brought it to its height, but Obama has not exactly stepped out front either, especially on the environmental side of things..

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      In a sense, science is it’s own worse enemy, and I speak as one schooled in the sciences. A story that pops up every once in a while serves as a good analogy for how science, at times, works.

      Late one night, a police officer observes a man crawling on his hands and knees beneath a street light and asks the man, who is a just a bit intoxicated, what he is doing. The drunk replies “I’m looking for my keys.” The officer asks, “where do you think you lost your keys?” The drunk replies, “across the street where it’s dark.” The confused officer then asks the drunk, then why are you looking over here?” The drunk replies, “well, it’s too dark over there, I can’t see anything.”

      Sometimes science works that way, rather than work in the dark, which might be where the answer lies, we work in the light with what we are familiar. This leads to a solution and another problem. Science is a self correcting discipline, given time. However, when science makes a mistake, and people jump on board, it costs an enormous amount in terms of money and sometimes lives.

      I believe the science about the wolves is fairly sound, but it is more than obvious that the population took off faster than what most believed it would, with consequences that have cost money, an unimaginable amount of animosity amongst people, and the lives of quite a few wolves. Throw in, and I don’t mean to insult at all, but a good sized chunk of the population that is truly uneducated in the intricacies of ecology, in turn agitated by our favorite anti-wolf fanatics, and we have problems.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

        Immer Treue,

        I like your joke, but I don’t think the problem was the rapid take off of the wolf population.

        I believe that from the beginning, it has been a cultural values battle because the wolf opponents now are pretty much saying what they said in 1995 (except for the large population part).

        One thing that has changed is that this cultural issue has been taken over by the right wing as part of their general attack on all things modern.

        The militant anti-wolf politicians and groups are almost completely the same that support the big corporations, want to cut social security, medicare, education, want to prohibit abortion, gay marriage, oppose pollution cleanup and prevention, support tax cuts for the wealthy, seek to establish a national religion, and so on.

        The wolf issue is just another of their “wedge” issues where they try to hook in people to their larger agenda which these people might well oppose if it was more obvious to them.

        For example, Denny Rehberg is your classic right winger. Promoting wolf hatred is as natural to him as promoting hatred of the unemployed folks out there. In fact, that’s why he does it — to keep people from thinking about the decline and fall of economic hope for a large part of our population.

      2. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue


        About three yeas ago a friend loaned me a copy of “The Republican Noise Machine” by David Brock. Political science is not my strength, but when you look at the reviews of this book they are about as divided as the wolf issue.

        If I remember correctly, it was after the Goldwater defeat, a movement to establish conservative think tanks began, and as you stated above, the beginning of the attack philosophy.
        Brock stated that by the time he had had enough, the philosophy morphed into continue to throw as much crap as you can at your opponents, that they can’t keep up with all of it, so sooner or later some of it begins to stick. That’s what I see in the organized (?) anti-wolf groups. For the uniformed, how can they possibly wade through all that garbage and make a rational decision?

        On a radio show around here a comment was made, “It’s the loud and stupid who get heard.” To borrow Niemeyer’s quote, “All we need are people who are brave enough to think for themselves…”

  3. Doryfun Avatar

    Great article by Bunk. I also really appreciate all the comments here on this blog. So true, funny, sad, and needed. Immers story reminded me of a time a few years ago when I received a letter in the mail to inform me that I had won $22,000 in some sweepstakes (that I didn’t even enter – red flag). But, it was so sophisticated in its convoluted penning, that I had to consult an attorney to interpret it to see if I really did win any money. Not (unfortunately).

    It also reminded me of another time while I was browsing in a book store. I found a book that debunked main stream science, and it all began to sound reasonable. (twisted facts cleverly arranged always do). By chance, down the row was another book (actually writen by a real scientist) about how Brown Science is mudding the waters of Green Science and one of the books identified as such, was the one I had just put down moments before.

    So, back to science – no such thing as 100% certianty because science is not absolute. However, if one would look at statistics when it comes to trying to decide climbing aboard the airplane that reresents concerns for enironmental preservation and the control of it by our societal decision makers trying to distort green science: I would suggest that airplane has a higher chance of crashing, than landing in one piece.

    You can’t have light, without darkness. It requires both sides to define the other, However, things learned in the light, can help us fly through the dark, and an eventual safe landing.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan