Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash
THE TRUTH MATTERS
The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY) was famous for saying that “everyone is entitled to [their] own opinion, but not [their] own facts.” These words are as important today as they were the first time the Senator uttered them.
Americans’ trust in major institutions is declining. Gallup released findings showing that trust in the media was at its second lowest point since the analytics company began yearly polling around this issue. The Pew Research Center published a video that paralleled the Gallup data but added that the general distrust of media is tempered by trust in particular news sources – highlighting the importance of personal connection to positive attitudes towards news outlets.
In the America of today everything is politicized. From masks and vaccines to wolves on the landscape – it is all too common for various sides to take zero sum positions. Questioning the integrity of others and undermining trust and confidence in objective science-based decision-making is far too common in the U.S. and acts to divide us into separate groups where we tend to favor those that think like we do. As Mike Brooks, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today:
“If we can easily become judgmental and hateful of outgroup members based on random, fabricated, and trivial distinctions, just imagine how strong such feelings can be when they are based on more profound or emotionally-laden distinctions…
A 2021 article published in FACETS, a multidisciplinary open access science journal, highlights how misinformation and polarization harm conservation efforts. The authors write:
…[H]unting, animal welfare and conservation organizations may not share the same ethical, instrumental or utilitarian values toward wildlife, yet all of these groups advocate for better conservation outcomes for wildlife…[w]hen these groups are pitted against one another over a subset of values (e.g., consumptive use of wildlife; evidence vs. anecdote; science vs. emotion), it generates conflict and weakens their collective ability to affect change on commonly shared values (e.g., the persistence of wildlife populations)…
There is, of course, a different path but it requires that we, collectively and apolitically, expect the fair and objective dissemination of facts from those that we entrust with our attention. Spin and opposition research may be fair chase in politics but it should not be so on issues of wild spaces and wildlife.
Rachel Tilseth, the founder of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, has written about the value of empathy. I echo what she has written and add my personal view that empathy for those that disagree is a virtue. Rather than assemble a dossier of cherry-picked facts let us build a table together and construct seats for those with diverse opinions. Let us break bread, enjoy coffee, share in the pleasantries of life – and yes, have open, honest, and real discussions about our planet and our place within it. I am not perfect but I am committed to this task. I am passionate about gray wolves and their place within our ecosystem and I believe in the science that I have read. However, I have not read all of the science there is to consume – but I am committed to growing and learning. My worldview may be different from that of others but I invite a respectful and empathetic conversation.
“[H]unting, animal welfare and conservation organizations may not share the same ethical, instrumental or utilitarian values toward wildlife, yet all of these groups advocate for better conservation outcomes for wildlife”
Too often it seems that those with influence yield it without regard to the long-game or with the idea that differing groups may actually have shared goals. No side is immune from this and we can all point to examples of irresponsible advocacy or politicking that, objectively, should not have been shared. Of course, there are exceptions, but I have to believe – perhaps I want to believe – that our shared goals can be a uniting force. A pithy soundbite may be great for clicks but it is likely not productive. As it relates to the gray wolf, questions of recovery goals, recovery range, management and environmental impact are too important to be debated in 280 characters or less, through a narrow-minded video or a one-sided podcast interview.
The truth matters and if we care about our wild spaces and wildlife we will not settle for the ping pong match of misinformation and polarization that is all too accepted today. It is easy to source opinions that we agree with but let us pledge to engage with those with whom we disagree and see what common ground we can forge.