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NYT fails on science reporting

I am a frequent critic of the “science” reporting in The New York Times, and this article on chronic wasting disease is a prime example of crap science reporting. It’s full of speculation, dotted with manipulative wording, and short on facts.


The author of this piece, Jim Robbins, is a well known freelance writer covering environmental issues. He writes in this piece that chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first discovered in wild deer in 1981, and “the origin of the disease is unknown.” He didn’t mention that CWD was first discovered in a captive wildlife research facility in Colorado, then at a similar facility in Wyoming, and the disease spiraled out from those two locations. Check out the original research conducted by the late Dr. Beth Williams – a scientist who was both beloved and respected by many.


Robbins claims that the thousands of elk on the National Elk Refuge are there because they are “displaced by cattle ranches” – effectively ignoring the human development footprint that is the community of Jackson Hole. He cautions: “if the disease gets into game farms like the ones in Wyoming …” but neglects to mention that Wyoming doesn't have “game farms.” Wyoming does have elk feedgrounds, but not game farms: the two things are not the same. Robbins has adopted the word-play tactics of activists who like to call elk feedgrounds "feedlots," and M-44 cyanide devices "bombs."


The notion that CWD arises largely because ecosystems have too few predators and scavengers is a notion that should have been challenged or fact-checked by the author. How about checking the facts about the abundance of predators and scavengers? CWD was detected in wild ungulates outside the wildlife research facilities when predator and scavenger populations were booming after the banning of predator poisons and DDT – items covered by the NYT at the time.


The writer either failed to do the research, or is driving a predetermined narrative for the gullible masses. It's not science.


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