Of bears and biases: scientific judgment and the fate of Yellowstone’s grizzlies
Citing four decades of growth in the bear population, the USFWS Director Dan Ashe heralded the decision as “a historic success for partnership-driven wildlife conservation.”
However, conservation organizations oppose “delisting” GYE grizzlies. They citepersistent threats to grizzlies, public opposition to delisting and ongoing scientific uncertainty regarding the population’s viability. Indeed, scientific uncertainty, especially threats posed by a changing climate, is one reason a federal courtreversed a similar decision back in 2009, returning federal protections to GYE grizzlies.
...A second source of underappreciated insights is from the academic discipline of conservation ethics. A broadly applicable insight from that discipline is that robust conservation decisions result from sound and valid arguments that are necessarily comprised both of scientific premises and ethical premises.
The implication is that in many instances the best an expert can do is explain their judgment fully. That is, to lay bare all of the premises (scientific and otherwise) necessary to arrive at the judgment being proffered; and in so doing, demonstrate the robustness of the judgment (or reveal its flaws).
So an expert judgment is not merely a judgment made within the area of one’s expertise. Rather, an expert judgment is one whose underlying argument can be laid bare and demonstrated to be sound and valid for an audience of nonexperts. Importantly, this includes both scientific assessments as well as value judgments. Sadly, courses that convey skills in analyzing ethical arguments (i.e., courses in critical thinking and environmental ethics) are not typically part of the curricula that produce conservation professionals.