Two Scientists Left U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Over Issues of Science Fraud on Endangered Beetle Assessment

Update 5/3/19: The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed downlisting the beetle from Endangered to Threatened.

What happened: The American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) has been listed as endangered since 1989. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is currently reassessing the status of the American burying beetle on the endangered species list. In late 2017, two scientists who study the endangered beetle, Wyatt Hoback and Douglas Leasure, were offered the chance to work with FWS to help assess the threats farming posed to this beetle. The two scientists say that FWS asked them to conduct a scientific analysis that is not methodologically sound in an impossibly short time period (literally one day). The two scientists, finding these conditions untenable and the methodologies not grounded in good science, left FWS after approximately one month’s time and asked to have their names pull from all resulting reports and publications.

Why it matters: The two scientists told the Washington Post, who broke the story, that the agency exhibited poor scientific practices and biased decision-making processes. In the words of one of the scientists, Wyatt Hoback, a Professor of Entomology at Oklahoma State University, “It felt like the Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to conclude that agriculture is not a risk to the beetle and were going to use the data in a way that made that conclusion, no matter what.” When outcomes are pre-determined then the scientific process cannot produce accurate results, and if policies are informed by inaccurate scientific findings then these policies are ineffective. Furthermore, this is a clear violation of the science-based mission statement of FWS and demonstrates a lack of science integrity. Federal scientists need to be able to work in an environment that allows them to conduct science freely, not an environment where they are coerced to rationalize a foregone conclusion. Pressure on scientists to use unethical research methods should not be occurring at our governmental agencies as it sets up a dangerous precedent.

Read the full story on how these two scientists were asked by FWS to conduct flawed, fraudulent, slapdash research on this endangered beetle.

Last Revised Date: 

September 13, 2018