“Fortunately, we have some curmudgeonly types who are prepared to subject officialdom to critical scrutiny. The term ‘sceptic’ has been attributed to the fox questioners. Regrettably the ‘sceptic’ is used as a universal putdown pejorative for the critic, rather than a badge of honour for any one worth their salt!

Over the years public servants and government scientists sought to liken those who questioned the prevailing view on foxes to virtual Holocaust deniers. What accusation could be worse than that! [And yet many of the logically argued questions and suggestions of the fox sceptics have grudgingly been appropriated.

Scepticism is a charge that is frequently levelled against dissenters, but rarely levelled against those supporting the prevailing consensus. Yet public decisions have been made based on simplifications, exaggerations, adjustments to data, constructions, and untested assumptions.

The author [Obendorf] has largely confined himself to questioning the science-based risk assessment and the forensic evidence to validate fox establishment on the island state. Tasmania’s main protagonist of the government fox policy is DPIW wildlife biologist, Nick Mooney.  Mooney’s expertise seems to know no bounds - he has commented not only on the ways foxes entered Tasmania and their impacts, but has personally vouched for the authenticity of the evidence and even the effectiveness of the broadscale 1080-poisoning campaign.

Mr Mooney has received a ‘free pass’ because he says the Right Stuff; Obendorf, on the contrary, is labelled the sceptic because he says the Wrong Stuff.”

SINCE I am named and treated with some sarcasm by David Obendorf in his recent posting, I would like to respond.

David seems annoyed that I seem to have a “free pass” to respond to criticisms, especially his. The main reason I have been a passionate advocate of the government led community response to foxes is because these animals, albeit beautiful, pose a huge risk to our wildlife, arguably greater than the last Ice Age. This is no academic issue and I for one do not keep a score board on the arguments.  I am lucky enough to be wildlife biologist here, now and in fact feel obliged to give this my best shot, erring on the side of the precautionary approach and make no apology for that. Simply put, if we wait until David Obendorf, Ian Rist and their ilk are satisfied, yep, we really truly do have foxes now how about that, it will be too late to do anything beyond local control.

Somebody from the response side, below politicians and senior management, has to put information forward to try and describe risks and what is and might be going on; why not me? After all, we are spending a lot of public money on actions some Tasmanian’s are nervous about and of course we should be accountable and available for sensible argument.  Discussion of the issue in this free for all forum is not restricted to critics of government, David Obendorf and I note that its criticism of government, DPIW in particular, that is the theme. I can’t remember you or Ian Rist criticising people who might have hoaxed things to trip us up as you have both claimed, people who would like to discredit one of the (if not the) most important wildlife conservation issue Tasmania will face (except perhaps global warming). If anything, Ian Rist seems to cheer those people on, often hinting he knows who they are but never informing authorities.

Scepticism is surely a means to an end, that end being to improve things. We have constant criticism and suggestion, some of it robust and not too comfortable and little of it via Tas Times or other media. Some of our Technical Advisory Panel members are sceptics and accordingly criticise things we assume or do. Good on them. Most of that criticism, and some from Tas Times (including some of David Obendorf’s)  is welcome and has indeed helped us improve as improve we must. So, I do not see that calling someone a sceptic is a criticism - it is a description that they are inclined to question and challenge.

Once scepticism drifts through extremes and becomes an end in itself it is cynicism and that is the label I put on the glib rejection of evidence with a ‘catch-all’ that it is hoaxed. Even if they were right it would only be by cynical luck. The risks such people, especially those claiming to support nature conservation, sometimes take with those same values bewilders me but it does tell me that criticism of the response might be more important to some than the response per se. Anyone raising an eyebrow about this issue search back through David Obendorf’s and Ian Rist’s postings and tell me its all responsible scepticism. As we all know, its dead easy to tap away and just hit ‘send’ and it doesn’t always end well; I know it myself.

I do not know of any government official using any Holocaust denial comparison with this issue and I question David Obendorf’s use of that comparison as to up the ante, just as it would be tacky of them if that was the case. I’m pretty dang sure I never have done so, even in one of my more hasty moments.  I think an infinitely better comparison is with deniers of global warming.

David Obendorf might feel affronted that his points are not taken as gospel but they too are subject to scepticism. Only recently on these pages he accused us of fabrication of testimony and has called us a Weapon of Mass Deception.  I can cope with being called wrong but I’m not impressed with such accusations.

In reference to David Obendorf’s sarcastic comments on my claims, I have publicly commented on several recorded ways foxes have gotten here, other ways foxes have reportedly gotten here (adding that caveat) and likely impacts of foxes once fully established (hardly rocket science), expressed confidence in baiting as a result of our and others’ research,  vouched for evidence issues I personally have been involved with and publicly stated my general confidence in colleagues (what you do in a team). Its much the same as David Obendorf has publicly claimed on many other topics.

Perhaps realise, David Obendorf, this is not about you and its definitely not about me. Its about Tasmania’s future.

Nick Mooney



Nick Mooney
David Obendorf recently posted ( The Politics and Science of Foxes in Tasmania: The role of scepticism )…