Nature is cooler than the Joneses

Have you noticed the wild flowers are becoming scarcer every year? It may be that their wise men have told them to depart till man becomes more human.

~ Okakura Kakuzō (1906) The Book of Tea

Nature doesn’t depend on Technology. There is not a single natural process or ecosystem that needs artificial technology to function or exist. But much of human society does rely on technology. It is surprising how much ‘artificial’ technologies are increasingly seen to be central to scientific research, by both scientists and non-scientists. This view is particularly mystifying in ecological science, which is arguably the least technological of the sciences.

In a 2010 critical review of using GPS telemetry in field biology/ecology research, Hebblewhite & Haydon ask “what insights into ecology and conservation has all this extra technology really provided us with?” The disadvantages they list outnumber the advantages and they reckon the strongest advantage is being able to collect data that aren’t biased by the human observer’s ability or presence – things like nocturnal animal behaviour, or migratory patterns. Fair enough…but we did collect information like that before the advent of technology. It just required much more patience, and therefore time, than we think we have now. It also often relied on traditional knowledge gathered from indigenous people or past civilisations, most of whom were much more connected to Nature than we are now. Continue reading

What’s Science Mummy?

[an edited version of this is published at The Conversation: ‘Science education the key to better public debate‘]

Late last year, the Media reported gleefully that Australians were “more interested in science than sport!”. This news came via a poll run by ANU which you can download here.

The first lot of data presented in the report shows the respondents ranking their interest in “a range of topical issues”. This data shows that we are more interested in health, medical, general scientific and environmental issues or discoveries than music, politics, ‘sports news’ or films.  Well, ‘sports news’ isn’t necessarily ‘sport’ is it? I prefer to watch an actual game of rugby than a sports news bulletin, and I’m sure others do to…but that’s just being nitpicky.

But the report doesn’t tell us the demographic range of the respondents. All it tells us is that the sample size was relatively small (only 1200 people), and less than half of those surveyed (43.2%) actually submitted their responses!

The really interesting bit is the rest of the report that didn’t make the news. Continue reading