Of bears and biases: Scientific Judgment and the Fate of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies

How do scientists make judgments that require consideration of ‘the best available science’ under conditions of high uncertainty?  To gain insight into this question, we surveyed a group of grizzly bear researchers.  We found that the majority of experts recommended continued listing of bears, and that experts who were employed by state and federal agencies were 2-3 times more likely to recommend delisting grizzlies than their academic colleagues.  This research is discussed in an article published today by The Conversation.  You can also find a complete report of the project here.






  1. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Happy to see a post from JB!

  2. Mareks Vilkins Avatar
    Mareks Vilkins

    Our data suggest that conservation judgments were influenced not so much by an expert’s knowledge or assessment of risk but more so by their social environment; in particular, the peers with whom an expert regularly interacts and respects.

  3. Kyle Avatar

    Thanks Jeremy – in such cases of uncertainty (and they are legion) wouldn’t it be appropriate to properly apply (emphasis here) the precautionary principle or some version of it?

    1. rork Avatar

      In decision theory, things like “precautionary principle” are supposed to be “baked in” to the calculation. It’s not a separate piece laying off to the side to fly in as a tie-breaker. It is part of the loss function (at least in the language I speak – Structured Decision Making might use another term, like “the objective function”).
      We try to maximize the subjective expected utility (MSEU), as Savage taught us. The problem is we don’t agree on the SEU.

      Thanks, JB: Beautifully written, as usual.

  4. Cody Coyote Avatar
    Cody Coyote

    Well, one of the criteria for Delisting is an analysis of socioeconomic impacts. I guess ” Job Protection” fits that.

    Less facetiously , it’s good to see this bias quantified. I’ve been saying as much for many a year, but could only claim it was anecdotal till now.

    1. Mareks Vilkins Avatar
      Mareks Vilkins



Dr. Jeremy Bruskotter is an associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at the Ohio State University where his research interests are centered around the human dimensions” of wildlife conservation and management. Jeremy is passionate about wildlife–at one time or another, he has called himself hunter, angler, and wildlife photographer. Most of all, Jeremy is concerned with bringing the tools and techniques of the social sciences to bear on pressing issues in wildlife management.

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Jeremy Bruskotter