Editor's Note: Hear that whistle blow

  • GREG HANSCOM

  Last year, Republican strategist Frank Luntz wrote a report, coaching Republicans on how to talk about the environment. Straight Talk is a fascinating, albeit nauseating, read — particularly the section about science. “Americans unanimously believe all environmental rules and regulations should be based on sound science and common sense,” it says. Then, Luntz does a mental backflip.

On global warming, he admits that the “scientific debate is closing [against us].” But rather than suggest any solutions, the report advises politicians “to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate… Emphasize the importance of ‘acting only with all the facts in hand,’ and ‘making the right decision, not the quick decision.’ ”

How should Republicans respond if they’re pressed to actually do something? “You should argue that America should invest more in research and development to find ways to burn fuels more efficiently.” In other words, form a committee, study the situation, maintain the status quo.

Don’t think we’re just bashing Republicans: The Democrats play these games, too. But as Laura Paskus points out in this issue’s cover story, government scientists are under increasing pressure to make decisions that are politically desirable, data be damned. In endangered species management, as in global warming, the precautionary principle is out the window.

From within the agencies, however, there is a hint of hope. Some scientists, sick of watching their research and recommendations dropped in the circular file, are finding ways to get the truth out. A few, like Michael Kelly — the fisheries biologist whose story is told in this issue — are blowing the whistle on wrongdoing within the agencies. Others are acting anonymously, by leaking information to advocacy groups and the press.

It’s a risky proposition. Scientists who stand up for the land and wildlife, or share information with the public, risk their jobs and, potentially, their careers and family life. But these agency scientists are the only hope for the Klamath coho salmon, the Rio Grande silvery minnow, the Peirson’s milk-vetch and a host of other imperiled species. Without them, we’d be forming committees and doing studies while the West fell to pieces.

So this issue goes out to the agency scientists — the “nameless, faceless federal bureaucrats,” as the Luntz report calls them (Do these folks know how to build morale, or what?) — who are standing up for real sound science and environmental protection. May a brighter day come soon for the West.