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

The Science of History

With all the troubles in the world, you’d be forgiven for giving up on humanity completely. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s sometimes felt like running away to a hut in the mountains, just to get away from it all – I haven’t bothered yet, because I know it wouldn’t be long before I would be interrupted by some wayward product of civilisation. Continue reading

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

Scientific Evidence

Here’s an educational piece I had published on “scientific evidence” – that infamous term that so many politicians and corporations throw about, but so few actually explain to their audience! If someone tells us they have scientific evidence to back up their new product or proposed political decision, how can we trust the evidence they are referring to?

This piece aims to give a brief background on how research works, for those who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the industry. It also presents some questions to think about that may be of help to those wanting to check the facts themselves.

© Manu Saunders 2013

Re-thinking science education

Following the publishing of an edited version of What’s Science Mummy? on The Conversation, I was invited to submit a related short piece to the ACEL Online (Australian Council for Educational Leadership) newsletter. You can view the front page here, but full access is restricted for non-members. I have printed the article below – thank you to ACEL Online for publishing this.

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Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world with science education, and this is becoming more apparent as disagreement over enviro/scientific issues increases in the public domain. A recent poll highlighted how Australians are interested in science, but don’t feel well-informed about it. This is despite the marketing/education projects many organisations deliver in an attempt to increase the public’s knowledge of scientific issues. One of the reasons these kinds of projects may not have the desired effect is that they are mostly available post-education, when many people have already formed personal interests and beliefs and values systems. Continue reading