Science needs Nature: so why keep them apart?

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Ensia about how popular media tend to separate science and nature stories as if they’re unrelated categories. Most major online news websites have separate pages for ‘Science’ stories (predominantly technology, space and medical research) and ‘Environment’ stories (mostly pieces on nature, wilderness, environmental activism, or cute wildlife, sometimes with a few pieces on climate change thrown in for good measure). Continue reading

Can too much Innovation be a bad thing?

Innovation and disruption are ideas that originated in the arena of business but which have since been applied to arenas whose values and goals are remote from the values and goals of business. People aren’t disk drives. – Jill Lepore

Innovation is one of the most overused buzzwords in the business world. Now it’s started turning up in discussions about research and policy, in government science goals and research funding priorities.

But there are two main caveats to the pro-Innovation argument that are often glossed over. The first is the word’s corporate connotations.

Once upon a time, innovation didn’t have a great reputation. It was a punishable crime to the worst degree. It was (ironically) reinvented in the 1930s, grounded in economic theory – it became seen as a source of positive economic change at a time when things weren’t going so well for some national economies. New products would get money flowing again, so the theory went. And a buzzword was born. Benoît Godin has done some excellent research on the evolution of the term and its place in society.

If you’re an ‘innovator’, you’re now a star. You can start trends and make lots of money. And because economic growth is the goal of most countries, innovation is now promoted, not punished. Continue reading

The dangers of separating science and environment

Does the natural world have any relevance to modern science? Of course it does; but sometimes it seems like that’s not the case. This is a myth perpetuated directly and indirectly through media, policy decisions, academic disciplines, even some science engagement initiatives: that the natural world is somehow separate from science.

Read the rest of my piece published today in Ensia magazine.

© Manu Saunders 2015

On the relativity of science and nature

This week, Science magazine published a piece listing the top 50 scientist ‘stars’ on Twitter. The list contained only 6 biologists and not a single ecologist. Although the authors acknowledge that their method of selection was not rigorous, this perpetuates a common misconception that ‘nature’ has nothing to do with ‘science’. Just like recent comments from our Minister for Industry (for international readers, we don’t have a Minister for Science), which implied that industry and technology are more relevant to our society than science.

So, are science, industry and technology the same thing? No. Continue reading

Zen and the Art of Progress Trapping

I watched a very thought-provoking film the other night called Surviving Progress – it is loosely based on a book called A Short History of Progress, by Ronald Wright. I recommend it to absolutely every person, particularly those under the age of 25. The film lays a very convincing case for the idea of ‘progress traps’. To quote from the film’s website, progress traps are “alluring technologies [that] serve immediate needs, but ransom the future”.

An example is given of a Neanderthal man who learns to hunt and kill a mammoth. Then he works out that with 2 or 3 mates, they can hunt 2 or 3 mammoths at once, which equals more food. Then, as human populations increase, they realise that a whole bunch of them can hunt a whole herd of mammoths and drive them over a cliff, killing them all at once…and that’s the progress trap. Continue reading

Paper Cuts

Newspapers in Australia, the UK, Ireland and the USA have sacked hundreds of staff recently, and all are blaming the digital age – higher printing costs, reduced ‘hard-copy’ readership, and, therefore, reduced print advertising revenue. But is Homo digitalis really the culprit? Roy Greenslade, a professor of journalism and ex-newspaper editor, thinks otherwise.

Whatever the reason, it’s making me mighty anxious. The journo in me is just downright teary, while my ecologist side is sad that the poor old Environment becomes an eco-blackmail pawn yet again.

Many people eulogise the benefits of reading news online –tablets and internet-friendly mobile phones make it so thrillingly easy (and oh, so trendy) to catch up with the news on the bus, on the toilet, or even hanging off a cliff face in Patagonia. Also, you’re “saving trees” by doing so! Continue reading

Post-Industrial Adaptation

The other day I caught the final episode of ‘Arctic: with Bruce Parry’ on SBS. I had missed the first part of the series, but in this episode, the intrepid Bruce spent some time with a group of Sámi people in Norway. Sámi (or Saami) are the indigenous people of Sápmi, which covers the portions of Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Russian Kola Peninsula that are within and around the Arctic circle. Sámi are semi-nomadic and many still pursue customary livelihoods, including their well-known reindeer-herding traditions. Of course, what with modern politics and global warming, the Sámi’s traditions and lifestyles are under threat, as has happened with most indigenous cultures around the world. Continue reading