tales from the snarkside
But...there is another world...one that's just as real, but not as brightly lit - a snark side!
Two dozen scientists swarmed over Capitol Hill this week mad as vespinae ( hornets) at what they say is Bush administration meddling in environmental science.
Organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Endangered Species Coalition, the rumpled researchers won time in the offices of more than 20 lawmakers. They are protesting what Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, calls "the systematic dismantling of the Endangered Species Act through the manipulation and suppression of science."
On a dash from the House to the Senate, Grifo said the group wants hearings and better congressional oversight of the Interior Department, where Bush appointees control the fate of threatened and endangered species.
The scientists say political appointees at Interior, or those who report to them, have been altering their reports recommending "critical habitat" preservation to favor industries whose interests conflict with the findings.
They singled out decisions by Julie A. MacDonald, former deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. She was criticized last year by Interior's inspector general for repeatedly instructing scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to change recommendations on safeguarding plants and animals from oil and gas drilling, power lines, and real estate development. MacDonald, who had no science background, resigned in April.
Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolf said Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett met for two hours with the scientists and is committed to maintaining the integrity of endangered species decisions. In July, Scarlett requested that career officials review hundreds of decisions that may have been inappropriately influenced, and eight were found to warrant possible revision.
Many of the scientists on the Hill yesterday were new to Washington ways.
Kim Nelson, a research wildlife biologist based in Corvallis, Ore., is more at home in the woodsy habitat of the marbled murrelet than in the marbled lair of the gray-thatched speechmaker. The murrelet is a small seabird that flies inland to lay its single egg on the moss-covered branches of large trees also coveted by loggers. That habitat, Nelson says, could be all but wiped out by Interior.
"I had no idea just how complicated it is that each congressman or committee has their charge, and they can't overstep their charge unless some colleague comes in and asks them to," Nelson said.
Sciencey stories are obvious to people who speak the language - people who know what it means to a population of endangered species, and very possibly, entire ecosystems if the Deparment of Interior merely tweaks the meaning of "critical habitat" - but they lack meaning for a reader if the power dynamics aren't emphasized by the writer, something I'm willing to bet that's made totally plain in pieces on the IRS: being stomped on by government tax collectors is something we can feel, something we can fear, but having your nest swept away by an oil company or big-shot logger because some partisan bureaucrats a thousand miles away sent an internal memo around to the right people last summer isn't something we have a handle on.
Rather than write downward snark about rumpled scientists and sunburnt biologists who don't know the Byzantine ways of DeeCee, maybe something a reader could get a grip on, with an understanding of why it's important to them and the environment, might be more meaningful.