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Discussion > Is Junk Science becoming endemic?

A Horizon program called Predators in your Backyard was aired on Saturday night on the BBC. The premise of the program was that in order to restore the "naural balance" to some ecosystems, dangerous carnivorous predators had to be reintroduced in order to control the destruction of some flora by exploding populations of herbivores.

The poster child for the campaign was the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park in order to protect a species of willow from overgrazing by elk herds.

The reintroduction of the wolves was proudly proclaimed a success, a scientist was shown standing proudly next to some fenced off willow saplings showing how much taller they were than some unfenced saplings of the same age in the immediate vicinity. There was also quite a lot of talk about how scientists had managed to determine that the overwhelming majority of predated elk were sickly, or in some other way inferior.

To cut a long story short, the enitre program was declared a success using three criteria. First that the elk herds were being efficiently controlled without "unnatural methods", second that no humans had been harmed by the wolves, and third that the willow species was now flourishing.

A quick google after the program enabled me to ascertain the following. 1) There are several papers bemoaning the lack of regrowth of willows in unfenced areas (remember the scientist standing next to FENCED in willows in the program?) 2) There are no humans living in this area of Yellowstone park, tourists visit by car, the wolves suffer some casualties from being struck by cars and tend to stay away from the roads. 3) The elk population has declined from 17,000 in 1995 (the year wolves were reintroduced), to 4,600 at present. There are several anguished articles in "scientific journals" blaming the elk decline on Climate Change.

What on earth is going on in the scientific community? Have they become the modern day priests of the 21st century, chanting incantations and jealously guarding their secret knowledge in case mere mortals gaze upon their secret scrolls and start laughing at them?

Mar 29, 2011 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Bowyer

I caught some of that show and in the bit I saw the scientists seemed a bit gung-ho about the fact that residents would have to like it or lump it and put up with predator reintroduction. Which surprised me considering the litigous nature of the US ( unless they have enacted a law where you can now feed people to endangered species?).

It reminded me of the essays Michael Crichton wrote about the early wilderness and wildlife management in Yellowstone park being a disaster

I think it is always the case when you see certainty and arrogance projected on the "little" people you can bet they have got it wrong.

Simon Bowyer, Your observation of their criteria for success and critique of same seems pretty acute and worth investigating further. I would bet they have been premature patting themselves on the back, but by the laws of enviro posturing by the time it is understood fully another hyped self-congratulatorily project will be underway ;)

Mar 29, 2011 at 8:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement