August 1, 2008

Mother Jones on PLF's 60-day notice for polar bear listing

By Mother Jones on PLF's 60-day notice for polar bear listing

In response to Pacific Legal Foundation's challenge to the United Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species, the Mother Jones Blog has declared that "hunting season is open on polar bears' ESA listing."  Mother Jones takes issue with PLF's contentions that the studies used in the listing are flawed and that the listing data does not support the conclusion that the polar bear "is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range," as "threatened species" is defined by the Endangered Species Act.

As Mother Jones, correctly notes, PLF writes in the 60-day notice that "[t]he 'prediction' that 2/3 of the polar bear population will be lost by mid-century, touted by the popular press, is incorrect. That estimate is the guesswork of one man and is based on a qualitative 'prototype' model that the Department warns is only preliminary and not to be taken as final."

According to Mother Jones, one should not be so skeptical because "the 'one man' in question also happens to be one of world's foremost authorities on polar bears, Dr. Steven Amstrup, whose 'guesswork' was contained in a study conducted by the US Geological Survey, where Amstrup works as a wildlife biologist." Further, the studies cited for Pacific Legal Foundation's argument that "none of the polar bear models relied on meets accepted scientific standards" are problematic for Mother Jones because:

The researchers the PLF is referring to are J. Scott Armstrong and Willie Soon. Armstrong, for his part, is not a scientist but a professor of marketing at Wharton and an expert on forecasting methods. (He has previously blasted the forecasting approach used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Soon is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a darling of the global warming denial crowd. And there's just one more thing about Willie Soon: His work has been funded by the oil industry, which most definitely has a dog in the global warming and polar bear fights.

To summarize, Mother Jones contends that the data and analysis supporting the Service's listing decision are defensible; and further, that those materials substantiate the polar bear's threatened status. Obviously, PLF and its clients disagree, and that disagreement will have to be resolved in court. Yet it is somewhat disappointing that Mother Jones does not engage the arguments on the merits, but rather resorts to a form of "argument by authority" which, whatever its rhetorical value, has little or no purchase in debates on scientific issues.

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