THE BLOG
10/13/2014 05:29 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2014

Cruelty and Ideology Masquerading as Science

Last week, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission rejected a recommendation from its agency's biologists to authorize a spring bear hunting season in the southern part of the state. Cubs orphaned during spring hunts have no hope of survival, so allowing the killing of mother bears effectively dooms the family. The vote was 4 to 2, with the commissioners rejecting the rationale from employees of the Department of Fish and Wildlife that the spring hunting season was needed to reduce bear impacts on trees on land selected for logging.

I see this sort of reductionist thinking on a regular basis from state fish and game personnel. They are single-minded about reaching a specific kill total, and they subordinate other social, practical and scientific concerns to their one-dimensional goal.

For years, we've battled the biologists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game over wolf hunting. They have repeatedly authorized a host of cruel and vicious practices against wolves to reduce their numbers dramatically -- by offering up a blend of aerial gunning, steel traps and neck snares, as well as by promotion of hunting on lands managed by the National Park Service. They are not serving wolves, but the people who have an irrational fear of wolves and who don't want wolves killing moose or caribou that they themselves want to shoot for trophies. It's not about biology -- but about ideology and pandering to the whims of people who want to shoot a moose or caribou, regardless of the social or ecological costs.

This sort of reductionist thinking is also in evidence in Maine right now. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is using state resources to campaign against Question 1, a citizen initiative to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping.

The DIFW is not serving the people of Maine -- it is serving Master Maine Guides who use a combination of bait, hounds and traps to essentially guarantee a kill for their fee-paying clients. The guides and outfitters buy up leases from private timber companies in northern Maine, and exclude all hunters who don't pay them a fee. Then they strew garbage over the leased land and condition the bears to visit.

In the process, these guides are giving the shaft to the Maine hunter who cannot pay their fees, and therefore cannot access these hunting grounds. What's more, the guides are drawing in so many bears to the bait sites, that they are depleting the neighboring lands of bears. So the out-of-state, fee-paying hunters get a guaranteed kill and the lunch-bucket hunter in Maine goes home empty-handed.

This has nothing to do with biology, and everything to do with a corrupting commerce that favors one class of hunters over another.

The HSUS has a great roster of scientists, who would be the first to tell you that true science demands a full and searching debate, and that is how we develop our programs and positions. Our scientists know, however, that there is more to debates about how to treat animals than one narrow scientific metric, and that science does not take place in a social or moral vacuum. The best scientists give us options, not answers, and the whole of society weights that information and layers over a broad set of value judgments to make a final policy determination.

The history of American science is laced with cases of ideology masquerading as science. Here are just a few examples.

DDT

The courageous advocate Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, called public attention to the risks of indiscriminate pesticide use. In the early 1960s, the pesticide industry attacked her and insisted that DDT and other pesticides were safe.

Smoking

We now know that smoking kills, but for decades tobacco industry researchers suppressed the facts and said the opposite. Misleading studies and disinformation campaigns received millions of dollars in tobacco money as the industry sought to fight restrictions on smoking. Big Tobacco targeted the work of the Environmental Protection Agency and other institutions studying the problem as bad science. But as time has revealed, it was tobacco science that was corrupt.

Ozone Depletion

The revelation that mundane household products like hair spray and deodorant could destroy the Earth's ozone and increase cancer rates was one of the primary environmental stories of the 1970s. The $1 billion aerosol industry responded with its own research denying the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) effects of aerosols, and created a handful of scientific organizations to defend its products in the marketplace. Fortunately, as a result of the negative publicity, the American people were already changing their habits, so that by the time the Food and Drug Administration announced strict regulations on CFC propellants in 1976, their use had already dropped by 75 percent. Even so, ozone deniers kept up their campaign for another 20 years.

Scientific Racism and Biological Determinism

The belief that social and economic differences between races, classes and sexes arise from inherited, inborn distinctions misshaped the study of human intelligence for decades. As noted by scientist Stephen Jay Gould and others, the "science" behind concepts of an intelligence quotient and the general intelligence factor was riddled with bias and falsification.

So when state biologists tell you they know better, and when they wade into ideology and not biology, give them a few of the examples above.

It should be telling that Maine is the only state in the nation to allow all three of these extreme practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping. That alone suggests that the Maine DIFW and the biologists it employs do not represent the mainstream of thought in bear biology. Rather they are the champions of an outlier opinion dressed up as science.

This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.