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Making sense of scientists and “sound science”: truth and consequences for endangered species in the Klamath Basin and beyond


The National Research Council’s 2002 “Interim Report on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin” and 2004 “Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin: Causes of Decline and Strategies for Recovery” have become the collective cornerstone of what is arguably the most controversial scenario in the history of the Endangered Species Act. The Klamath Project, a federal irrigation venture that conflicts with the needs of three threatened or endangered species of fish in the upper Klamath Basin, is now the poster child for a congressional movement to reform the Endangered Species Act. This movement has acquired much of its perceived validity from misinformed interpretations of the two National Research Council reports – interpretations which the National Research Council has not challenged. To alleviate some of the confusion surrounding the reports, this Comment provides a basic introduction to the scientific method, engages in a review of the analytical process that the National Research Council used, accounts for several key sources of scientific uncertainty in the Klamath Basin, and remarks on the potential effects of the so-called “Endangered Species Data Quality Act of 2004.” In particular, the Comment demonstrates why there is little evidence to suggest the Klamath Project is harming listed fishes, but even less evidence to suggest that it is not. And, it explains how the orthodox standards of scientific peer review can be, sensu stricto, incompatible with the proactive objectives of the Endangered Species Act.