06 December 2010

Broken Windows

The State of Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has threatened Montana State University with a total loss of financial support over a peer-reviewed paper on wolf populations and hunting.

The threat has to do with a debate over a study published by Scott Creel and Jay Rotella of MSU's Department of Ecology which discussed the sustainable yield of wild wolf populations. Some substantive aspects of that debate can be seen in the comments that appear with the open-access article:
Creel S, Rotella JJ (2010) Meta-Analysis of Relationships between Human Offtake, Total Mortality and Population Dynamics of Gray Wolves (Canis lupus). PLoS ONE 5(9): e12918. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012918
The FWP did not appreciate learning about the paper via the media following a press release rather than directly from the researchers or the university.  And apparently there is a history of bad relations.

None of that justifies the threat from the State to the university in a letter from the FWP fish and wildlife divsioin administrator, Dave Risley, to the MSU President Waded Cruzado:
By writing this letter, we hope to make you aware of this situation before the only recourse is to permanently and completely dissolve the financial and intellectual relationship between FWP and MSU.
After the letter became public Risley appears to have stepped back a bit from the threat:
"We wanted to get the attention of the university, of the president," Risley said. "In no way, shape or form would we want to stifle academic freedom. We were just looking for professional integrity."

Risley said his letter to Cruzado was not intended to threaten the university. He said his previous letter of complaint to Creel's department head received no response.

Risley said he felt "like when a kid throws a rock at a window" to get someone's attention and inadvertently "breaks the window." He said it had gone further than he expected. "I didn't expect to get a call from the Chronicle," he said. "We wanted to get it to their attention and see some action."
Risley is no doubt seeing some action.  The President of the MSU Faculty Senate had some wise words:
Marvin Lansverk, MSU Faculty Senate chair, said he didn't have many details about the dispute, but if FWP is calling for more communication, that would be fine.

If FWP scientists disagree with Creel's conclusions, Lansverk said, "They have the right and obligation to respond with publications of their own."

However, Lansverk said, "If an administrator disagrees with scientific results, I think it would be inappropriate and detrimental to good science and the public interest to try to intervene or suppress publication of research or to put pressure on an institution to stop doing what universities do. I hope that's not what FWP is trying to do."