Frederic Wagner

Stick to the Facts

Recorded: September 9, 2013

Professor Emeritus, Frederic Wagner, explains why everyone should have a basic understanding of science and understand how scientists think and make decisions. As an ecologist and author of a book on climate change, Dr. Wagner explains how policymaking today could benefit from the examination of facts and evidence. He shares two examples of how science has been ignored over politics.

Frederic H. Wagner, a native Texan, got his B.S. in Biology at Southern Methodist University, his M.S. in Wildlife Management and his doctorate in Zoology/Wildlife Management from the University of Wisconsin.  He is now Professor Emeritus at Utah State University where he was Associate Dean of the College of Natural Resources and Director of The Ecology Center at the time of his retirement.  Between 1998 and 2003, he coordinated the Congressionally-ordered 9-state Rocky Mountain-Great Basin Regional Climate-change Assessment.  He has recently published, with 32 coauthors, Climate Warming in Western North America/Evidence and Environmental Effects.

Dr. Wagner has received many honors during his long career. To name a few, he has been the Recipient of The Wildlife Society award for the “Outstanding Publication in Wildlife Ecology and Management”, the Earle A. Chiles Award by the High desert Museum, in recognition of his contributions to teaching research and public service, and the Wildlife Society award for “The Outstanding Publication in Wildlife Ecology and Management in the Book Category.”  He became a Fellow of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, CA. His publications are too numerous to cite and date from 1948-2010.

Fred Wagner:  I’m a scientist and it just, it’s totally – science is totally absorbing for me because it explains reality.


Fred Wagner:  I have always liked all aspects of the out-of-doors, the vegetation, the animals, the climate, the scenery, the topography and so on – and when you put all that together, it’s really, it really comes together in the field of ecology.  So I really call myself an ecologist.  I have been interested in the applied aspects of it and environmental problems, management of natural resources, etcetera.  And that interest has sort of drawn me into the public policies involved in managing those resources, so I got involved in policy issues.

I also got interested in the policies of national parks and I looked at what policies were managing the national parks, and in particular, whether they were well supported by the underlying science.  When I got involved with Yellowstone, I felt that the science that was being done in that park had been adopted because of politically directed policies to manage the park. The science was being misused and I didn’t think the policies were honest, so that got me at cross purposes, not only the policy makers, but quite few people in the environmental – in the environmental world who were supportive of what Yellowstone was doing.

But now I’m into the global warming thing and obviously that is red hot politically and I’m aghast at how many politicians are in denial on global warming when there are mountains of evidence supporting this reality.  There is no question that it’s real.  I mean there are thousands of scientific papers and 70 professional scientific societies and national academies of science, including our own here in the U.S., are all on board attesting to the reality of climate change.  So there’s just no doubt in the minds of people who have remotely looked at the facts and the evidence.

The deniers are simply ignorant of the facts and evidence and we have so many politicians who are deniers and they’re in positions of responsibility on setting climate policy.  So its very scary is that ignorant people are setting our policies.

I’m concerned that our society and really the society of most of the world doesn’t have any really, real understanding of science. When it has – science underlies almost everything in our lives.  I mean, our medical science that keeps us healthy, science has produced the wealth of food that we have, science is the basis of all our technology for heaven sakes, television and so forth, all comes from scientific research in the first place but nobody understands that.

And so what I do, I needle my friends here on this campus who are in the humanities and I say, “You should teach a course in science as a humanities course and it should be required of every student on this campus.”

Huey Johnson:  Good for you.

Fred Wagner:  And the main things that should be taught are the ubiquitous nature of science under everything, underlying everything in our lives number one.  But secondly what should be taught is the way scientists think.  And its nothing incredibly complex or terrific, it’s just that scientists won’t form opinions on things for which there aren’t facts and evidence.  And if you don’t have facts and evidence, you simply say, “I don’t know.”  You don’t grab onto some wild idea pushed on you by some – I’ll refrain from saying the types of people.