The Journal of the History of Biology is publishing a special issue on environmental history under the guest editorship of Libby Robin and Jane Carruthers. It’s not yet in print, but all of the articles are now available online, including my “A Difficult Time with the Permit Process.”
In the article I show how biologists at the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Barrow, Alaska, were prevented from radio-tagging bowhead whales in the late 1970s by pressure from Iñupiat whalers, animal protectionists, and marine mammalogists worried about the potential for public backlash.
The big-picture argument is that the relationship between environmental scientists and the environmental movement isn’t nearly as simple as we tend to think it is. In the United States, laws such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act placed science at the heart of policy-making, but they also placed scientists under intensified public and governmental scrutiny. One of the surprising results was that many scientists became ambivalent about the laws they had played a key role in passing, sometimes even campaigning to have them weakened so as to free science from its new hobbles.