Category: Science Culture

The Cooler: Bob Paine Looks Forward

Legendary ecologist Bob Paine — inventor of the “keystone species” concept as well as the “kick-it-and-see” school of ecology — gives a wonderful interview to the website Biodiverse Perspectives. Will nature become so diminished and boring in the future, he wonders, that ecology will go extinct?

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Quick Study: Counterinsurgency, Anyone? How Conservation Can Better Prepare for ‘Wicked’ Problems

Conservation still uses a straightforward, engineering mindset that’s inadequate for tackling today’s complex problems, argues a new paper from Conservancy scientist Eddie Game. So what can we learn from counter-insurgency, business, psychology and other fields?

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Quick Study: Why Conservation Science Needs to Get Interdisciplinary–and Why It Hasn’t

Being multidisciplinary isn’t enough for today’s conservation science, says a new study by Conservancy scientist Sheila Walsh Reddy and others–we need to get out of our siloes in order to help solve the world’s most pressing problems. But being truly interdisciplinary can be costly and difficult.

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The Cooler: Towards a Deeper Conversation on Invasive Species

You know the story: invasive species are bad, bad, bad. But what if that old story is a bit more…complicated? “Ecological hit men” Jeffrey A. Lockwood and Alexandre V. Latchininsky confront an invasive grasshopper on a remote island. And the more they look, the less clear the picture.

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Locally Based Monitoring: Are Scientists at Risk of Losing Their Day Jobs?

Are scientists at risk of losing their day jobs? Well, maybe. A recent study shows that people from remote areas of Papua New Guinea are able to collect quantitative data as accurately as trained scientist, but for a fraction of the cost. This is the second essay in a three-part series featuring blogs by the student prize winners at the University of Queensland’s Student Conference on Conservation Science,

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Debate: Randomized Control Trials in Conservation

In the medical field, randomized control trials (RCTs) are widely used to eliminate bias and demonstrate causality. Does a certain medication actually work, and will it work across all populations of people? To answer these questions, medicine has relied on RCTs for the past 50 years. But are RCTs an effective way to measure the success of conservation strategies? Does conservation need RCTs?

Craig Leisher, senior social scientist, advocates for RCTs, saying they can help show that conservation strategies actually benefit people. Eddie Game, conservation planning specialist, argues that RCTs are unrealistic and unnecessary for conservation.

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Sawmills and the Limits of Conservation Science

Science must be the foundation of conservation work, of course. But here’s the thing: science can only get conservation so far. On Prince of Wales Island, forest restoration is an important part of conservation, but so too are relationships with loggers and sawmill owners.

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The Cooler: Conservation’s Identity Crisis

Teenagers go through it, mid-lifers too — the angst of figuring out who you are. In recent years even conservationists have been grappling with it. What does conservation mean in a world that will soon have 9 billion people?

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JournalMap: Where in the World is that Research?

Scientific journals are stuck in the 19th century, says Conservancy scientist Bob Unnasch. They index their articles by topics and concepts and not locations — making them difficult to search for place-based conservation scientists. Enter JournalMap, an ecological literature search engine that allows users to track down relevant scientific research based on location and biophysical variables as well as traditional keyword searches.

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Photography as a Conservation Science Tool

More than pretty pictures: Photography is one of the field biologist’s most reliable tools, helping monitor conservation results and helping share stories of people and the land with new audiences. Conservancy scientist Joseph Kiesecker shares his own odyssey with the art and science of field photography around the world.

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Book Week: ‘Field Notes on Science and Nature’

Peer over the shoulder of noted field biologists in this engaging collection of essays on the science — and art — of note taking. And you might just become a better writer, and better scientist, in the process.

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The Cooler: Does Environmentalism = Totalitarianism?

French philosopher Pascal Bruckner says environmentalism is addicted to apocalyptic thinking, self-hatred and behavior control worthy of totalitarianism. Is his “ecology of admiration” the cure?

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Kareiva: Consumption, Competitiveness and Conformity

Dasgupta, P.S., P.R. Ehrlich. 2013. Pervasive externalities at the population, consumption, and environment nexus. Science 2013 Apr 19; 340(6130):324-8 doi: 10.1126/science.1224664

I give a lot of public talks about the future of conservation and always do my best to paint an optimistic vision.

Inevitably, someone in the audience raises their hand and says, isn’t the real problem consumption and aren’t we doomed to an environmental collapse because of our patterns of ever-expanding consumption? I always admit consumption is a big issue, emphasizing it is not that we consume, but what we consume, and I warn about that preaching about consumption can be a turn-off. But I have not been able to frame a really strong answer.

In a recent article, Partha Dasgupta and Paul Ehrlich give me the seeds of a stronger argument.

They emphasize that two of the strongest universal human traits are competitiveness and conformity. We conform because we strive to find ways to relate to one another — after all we are a tribal species. And competitive consumption has been noted in almost all societies — rich and poor.

It is just that as wealth accumulates, the global impact of competitive consumption also grows. All true. But those same traits can also provide the momentum for change and improvement. Just think of the students at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, who chided Chinese couples to not serve shark fin soup at their weddings (a traditional symbol of prosperity) with the poster campaign that labeled shark fin soup as “so 80’s.”

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‘Let’s Get Back to Ecology’: A New Interview with Peter Kareiva

Nature Conservancy Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva recently gave an interview to Biodiverse Perspectives, a blog written by more than 100 graduate students in biodiversity science around the world. It’s an excellent Q&A, with one of the best distillations yet of Kareiva’s thinking on conservation’s focus on biodiversity versus the benefits of a broader focus on ecology.

Read the full interview here. But here’s a quote to whet your appetite:

“I have what some think is a heretical view of biodiversity.  Look – I do want to prevent extinctions.  But I think what should be a reasonable concern for biodiversity has turned into a numerological and narrow counting of species, and has led to an over-emphasis on research aimed at rationalizing why biodiversity should matter to the general public.  Ecology matters to the general public because ecology is about water, pests and pestilence, recreation, food, resilience and so forth. Perturbations to ecosystems in the form of massive pollution, land conversion, harvest, species loss can all distort ecology.  But focusing so narrowly on producing graphs that on the horizontal axis display number of species and on the vertical axis report some dependent ecological function (that is distantly related to human well-being) strikes me as not worth so much research.  Let’s get back to ecology – understanding how systems work, what controls dynamics, the role of particular species as opposed to the number of species, to what extent do ecosystems compensate for species losses, what factors contribute to resilience, whether there really are thresholds – all those are terrific research questions.  Counting species, and trying to produce what is, as far as I can tell, usually very weak evidence for the relationship between biodiversity per se and ecological function is off-track.

“Early on in my job at TNC I presented to business leaders some of the empirical data plots from classic biodiversity and ecological function studies. These are studies we all interpret as strong evidence for the importance of biodiversity. I can tell you unequivocally when they saw the actual data they were totally unimpressed and unconvinced. It caused me to look more objectively at the data.”

As always, let us know what you think in the comments.

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The Cooler: Is ‘Slow Science’ Bad for Developing Countries?

Welcome to The Coolerwhere we note interesting links and developments in conservation, science and conservation science. Suggestions welcome.

Bob Lalasz is The Nature Conservancy’s director of science communications. 

Who could be against “Slow Science”? Isn’t that just another way of saying “science”?

Well, there’s the slowness of science (the glacial pace of peer review, journal editors, grant proposals, not to mention the actual research and writing and wrangling of co-authors).

And then there’s…Slow Science.

An offshoot of the fast-growing Slow Movement — which has brought us Slow Food, Slow Art, Slow Travel, Slow Parenting, Slow Consulting, SlowTime®, Slow Fashion and Slow Software Development, among so many other manifestations — Slow Science has been a semi-branded concept since 2010, when it was announced by the Berlin-based group Slow Science Academy on a web page that is simplicity itself.

The Academy’s manifesto begins: “We are scientists. We don’t blog. We don’t twitter. We take our time.” (In the next paragraph, they admit that they “say yes” to blogging, as well as “the accelerated science of the early 21st century.” They also have a Facebook page.)

Still, they have a serious point: that “science needs time.” Or, as the Facebook page puts it:

“[Slow Science] is based on the belief that science should be a slow, steady, methodical process, and that scientists should not be expected to provide ‘quick fixes’ to society’s problems. Slow Science supports curiosity-driven scientific research and opposes performance targets.”

The devil driving science to haste, according to a “Slow Science Workshop” held in Brussels this March, is its preoccupation with marketable findings.

“Science has come to be seen mainly as a purveyor of technological innovation and increased competitiveness on a globalized market,” the workshop’s web page reads. “This shift not only restricts the choice of research topics and curricula but also threatens the quality of knowledge.” (A lament that Fischer, Ritchie and Hanspach published last year in TREE made ecology labs sounds like sweatshops.)

It’s no surprise that Slow Science was born in Europe, where big lab groups and research consortia have become the rule and young researchers get caught in a spin cycle of endless postdocs, frantically pumping up their publication numbers in order to impress hiring committees.

But is Slow the correct pace for the rest of the world’s scientists? No, says a provocative new essay by Rafael Loyola in SciDev.net. In fact, it’s dangerous for the careers of developing country researchers.

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Diverse Conservation

Call for Inclusive Conservation
Join Heather Tallis in a call to increase the diversity of voices and values in the conservation debate.

What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

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