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Conservation Scientists Confront Extinction Denial

The wolverine is proposed as threatened in the United States.
The wolverine is proposed as threatened in the United States.

Denialism isn't just for climate change anymore.

A new paper published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution calls attention to "the creeping rise of extinction denial."

Lead author Alexander Lees says conservation scientists are increasingly dealing with denialist rhetoric around the biodiversity crisis.

"What underpins this sort of denialism? Well, I guess it's the same sort of motivations we've seen with climate change denial," he said.

The paper describes three categories of denial - literal, interpretive and implicatory - and offers suggestions for how conservation scientists can counter such messaging.

"It's super important that the public is aware of these challenges," Lees said. "In the paper we sort of create this roadmap for scientists to see how to deal with communicating biodiversity loss and then combating this extinction denial and pseudoscience. And we also make it super clear that it's important to talk about the conservation successes - you know, it's not all bad news."

Human activities have caused the world's wildlife populations to plummet by 68% in the last 50 years, according to a report published this month by the World Wildlife Fund. At the same time, conservation action has prevented the extinction of up to 48 mammal and bird species since 1993, according to study - which Lees contributed to - recently published in Conservation Letter.

"Conservation does work, but we have to invest in it," Lees said.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu. This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Maggie Mullen is a fifth generation Wyomingite, born and raised in Casper. She is currently a Masters candidate in American Studies and will defend her thesis on female body hair in contemporary American culture this May. Before graduate school, she earned her BA in English and French from the University of Wyoming. Maggie enjoys writing, cooking, her bicycle, swimming in rivers and lakes, and most any dog.
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