The Week That Was
January 18-24, 1999

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is taking another stab at introducing the Mexican gray wolf into Arizona's national forests, despite strong opposition from Arizona and New Mexico cattle ranchers. The wolf issue, which has come to symbolize federal interference at the local level, has prompted lawsuits by several cattlemen's groups. Cattle ranchers, not surprisingly, fear that slower-moving livestock, not fleet-footed deer, will become the wolves' preferred supper.

The government's $9 million wolf recovery program calls for introducing 100 wolves into Arizona over five years, but the program got off to a rocky start last year when five of the 11 wolves initially released were shot and killed--one after it menaced a camper and attacked his dogs. Fish and Wildlife quickly rounded up the remaining wolves and Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt fired off a threatening letter to area hunters, demanding that they fill out a questionnaire "within seven days" to "preclude Special Agents from meeting with you in person."

As Perry Pendley of the Mountain States Legal Foundation noted, the instructions were chilling: "Every word is important. This is not a draft. Only write your answers once. Before you write, please think as to how you are going to phrase your answers. Use only a pen while writing (no pencils). No typing allowed."

The questions on the form were even worse: "A Mexican gray wolf was found dead from a gunshot wound...during the time that you were hunting, November 1998. How would you explain this? Please write in DETAIL your ideas. List the 5 most important causes that could have created this situation. Would you like to change any of the information you have provided? Before you answer the following questions, we would like to inform you that each word of your answers will be evaluated. Take you time and think before you answer. Do you know who shot the wolf? Write in detail about your hunting trip...beginning from the time you left home until you returned. How do you feel now that you have completed this form? Should we believe your answers to the questions? If the answer to the last question was yes, give us one reason why. What were your emotions while filling out this form? Did you feel afraid while completing this form?" Not surprisingly, such Gestapo-like tactics were a public relations disaster.

Fish and Wildlife released two pairs of wolves in mid-December and plans to release nine more wolves over the next couple of months. Federal biologists are putting radio collars on the critters and painting their hindquarters with fluorescent paint in hopes of heading off any "accidental" shootings. Said a representative of the American Cattle Growers Association to the Washington Times, "What are they going to do next, spike their hair? That's no way to treat a wild animal. The whole thing has reached the point of ridiculousness."

Areas of the United States with higher levels of radon have been found to have LESS lung cancer, a result that has been rather disconcerting to government types trying to convince Americans that the slightest whiff of radon gas in the basement constitutes a major health hazard. In fact, it has long been suspected that human beings have a "threshold" response to radioactive material, with exposure below certain levels resulting in fewer cancers, not more.*

Now a study in the Feb. 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology offers a way to deal with this embarrassing "problem": just ignore ecologic studies of radon and concentrate on the "overall evidence." Unfortunately, the overall evidence isn't all that convincing either. EPA estimates of annual lung cancer deaths in states with the highest levels of radon consistently overshoot the mark. Not only are there far fewer lung cancer deaths than estimated, but they are obviously and overwhelmingly due to cigarette smoking.

Men can breathe a sigh of relief; their sperm counts are not dropping. Numerous scientific studies in recent years have suggested that sperm counts in the United States and throughout the world have dropped as much as 50 percent due to exposure to hormones, pesticides, and other environmental hazards. Now researchers from Columbia University are saying, "Oops, never mind."

It seems that, prior to 1970, 87 percent of U.S. sperm-count studies were performed in New York City--an area where sperm counts tend to be one-third higher than the rest of the country. Including the New York data skewed the results, creating a false downward trend when later studies from other regions were included.

The authors of this revision, published in the February issue of the Journal of Urology, looked at all 29 U.S.-based sperm-count studies between 1938 and 1996, then factored out the New York-based samples. The result, "no significant change" over time.

Of course, the question remains, why do sperm counts vary so widely from place to place? The possibilities, said the Columbia researchers, include geographic differences in "climate, seasons, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, or other unknown factors." Perhaps they should look at the tendency of New York men to grossly exaggerate everything!

The German Red/Green coalition government has announced in Bonn that it is moving ahead with plans to end that country's reliance on nuclear power. The first step won't cost the government a cent, said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Together with the Greens, he plans to enact a law that would bar German power plants from sending spent fuel abroad for reprocessing; then he plans to stiff British and French nuclear fuel reprocessing companies for broken contracts. What's next? Nationalizing industries? Confiscating private property? Closing the borders? Early morning aerobics in front of the Rathaus?

On Thursday, January 28, the Council of the American Geophysical Union will release its policy statement on global warming at a press briefing in Washington, D.C. Three points should be noted:

  • The statement is being released with Council members' full knowledge that it contains language that can mislead reporters and the public.

  • The statement was prepared by a panel, but then "edited" just before it was presented to Council members, few of whom have expertise in the climate sciences. Details are given on the SEPP web site (

  • The statement should not be construed as representing the views of the AGU membership, since the statement was approved without input from the 35,000 AGU rank-and-file. Indeed, the rank-and-file have not seen the approved statement, nor have they been given an opportunity to comment on it.

In 1989, then-members of the AGU Council voted down two proposals to issue a policy statement on global warming, saying the issue was "too political" and that issuing a statement was not in keeping with AGU Council guidelines.

Apparently, current members believe the global warming issue is no longer "political" and that their action does not violate their defined roles.

How do they know? Well, before voting on the final draft of the Council Statement, back in December, the Council member presenting the draft inexplicably read a tactfully diplomatic telegram from Pope John Paul II to an environmental conference held in Rome in July. The Pope imparted his apostolic blessing, invoked the intercession of St. Albert the Great, Patron Saint of scientists, and expressed the Pope's confidence that the Rome meeting would lead to a deeper awareness of man's moral responsibility for the good of creation..."

Perhaps the AGU should open its press briefing with a message from the Dalai Lama...

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

Correction to TWTW (Jan 4-10, 1999): The Week That Was referred to Prof. Jorge Sarmiento as giving a half-life of 30 years for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Prof. Sarmiento did not use the term "half-life" (implying an exponential decay) but has published that half of injected CO2 will be absorbed by the ocean within 30 years. For those who may have missed the subtle distinction, we quote from page 78 of Fred Singer's book Hot Talk, Cold Science:

"Lifetime" is related to the fraction of emitted CO2 retained in the atmosphere. There is no single lifetime since there are different physical processes that remove CO2 -- from rapid absorption through surface layers of the oceans, to a medium-term absorption into expanding forests stimulated by CO2 fertilization, to long-term absorption into the deep ocean mediated by the rate of downwelling. IPCC WGI (1996, p. 76) states, "an approximate value of about 100 years may be given for the adjustment time of CO2 in the atmosphere, the actual adjustment is faster in the beginning and slower later on."

* There seems to be a "hormesis" effect, meaning that a little exposure to radiation may be good for you. Epidemiological studies by Professor Bernard Cohen of the University of Pittsburg found that lung cancer incidence initially dropped as radon exposure increased. It was not until radiation went above 4 pico-curies per liter that the incidence of lung cancer began to rise. The same immunizing effect of radiation doses was also found in laboratory studies of DNA, seeming to support the hormesis hypothesis.

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