The week before Labor Day is often slow for news, as summer dwindles to a close with people wrapping up vacations and kids getting ready for school. Stories often get lost in the shuffle, and thus it’s favorite time for institutions to release information they don’t necessarily want to spend much time explaining.
That’s why a particularly bizarre story out of Pullman caught Shift’s eye – concerning lying, the never-ending fight between environmentalists and ranchers, and academic integrity – and we waited until this week to see how much attention it would get. Since it seems to have faded, we thought we’d bring it back.
Two weeks ago, a Washington State University professor made the headline-grabbing claim that a rancher had intentionally released some of his cattle to be killed by wolves – so that the state would then kill the wolves. As the Times first reported:
“Robert Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, has radio-collared 700 cattle and dozens of wolves, including animals in the Profanity Peak pack, as part of his ongoing study of conflicts between wolves and livestock in Washington. He also camera-monitors the Profanity Peak pack’s den.
“‘This livestock operator elected to put his livestock directly on top of their den site; we have pictures of cows swamping it, I just want people to know,’ Wielgus said in an interview Thursday.”
However, a week later, Professor Wielgus’ bosses said, umm, never mind, letting the public know that “statements by a Washington State University researcher that a rancher turned out his cattle on top of a wolf den were inappropriate and inaccurate and ‘contributed substantially to the growing anger and confusion about this significant wildlife management issue,’ the university said.”
That’s right, a week after one of their own went out of his way for media headlines with a provocative story, WSU’s leaders determined that their own researcher had simply made up a story, and “disavows the statement made by the researcher, Robert Wielgus.”
Further, the professor “subsequently acknowledged that he had no basis in fact for making such a statement. In actuality, the livestock were released at low elevation on the east side of the Kettle Crest more than four miles from the den site.”
Given that stern public rebuke, one would expect some contrition from the professor. Not so fast, though, according to the Times:
“Asked to comment Tuesday on challenges to his statements by a conservation group, Wielgus told The Seattle Times that he would have no further public comment on the subject.”
The University itself went to pains to suggest that the problem was not with any of the research done by the professor in question:
“Robert Strenge, spokesman for WSU, said the university’s statement did not concern Wielgus’ lab, research or work. Nor was it about expressing his opinion. It was solely about the inaccuracy of the statements. The university would be taking ‘internal steps’ to prevent such statements in the future, Strenge said.”
Perhaps one of those ‘internal steps” would be firing an educator that would blatantly lie.