Category Archives: Opinions

Why Pseudoscience Gives Me Nightmares

Whilst pseudoscience is nothing new, it seems a lot more prevalent these days. So what can the scientific community, and the public in general, do about it? (Image Credit: Becker 1999, CC BY 2.0)

Fake science – or pseudoscience – has been around forever and somehow like that really annoying guy at the party just won’t go away. How is it in an age ruled by smart phones and CRISPR sci-fi level biotech are people still buying crystals and talking about super foods (don’t get me started on Goop). While I try to adopt a Californian “you do you” attitude to almost everything, people purporting even the most innocuous pseudoscience need to be stopped by both you and me.

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Policy for the Masses: Thoughts from a Day with IPBES

Bill Sutherland was one of two keynote speakers in last week’s seminar on biodiversity and ecosystem services (Image Credit: Øystein Kielland, CC BY 2.0)

I’ve been on a bit of a policy trip lately. The latest Norwegian Ecological Society conference was heavily policy based, so much so that it inspired me to get in touch and set up a meeting with local freshwater managers in a country in which I do not speak the local language. So when the CBD hosted a one-day seminar on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (mercifully usually referred to only as IPBES) rolled into town, I was right on board.

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Ecology in Media: Thoughts, Questions and the Insect Apocalypse

Recent reports of collapses in insect populations were eagerly devoured online. But were the reports exaggerations, and if so, how did they make it into the headlines? (Image Credit: Barta IV, CC BY 2.0)

Two weeks ago, an article on the Insect Apocalypse hit my Facebook feed. It popped up everywhere. People seemed genuinely concerned about the plight of the world’s insects, which was a first for me.

An hour later I was sitting at a conference seminar in which the speaker bemoaned the poor data that had contributed to the key statistic in the article: that biomass of flying insects had decreased by 75% over the last 27 years. The methods used in the report apparently show huge bias towards large bodied species, which may have exaggerated the findings significantly. So here lies our quandary. Read more

Policy-Relevant Ecology: Thoughts from the 4th Conference of the Norwegian Ecological Society

The city of Tromsø, in which the NØF 2019 Conference took place last week (Image Credit: Mark Ledingham, Tromsø kommune. Image slightly cropped, CC BY 2.0)

I spent last week up in Tromsø, Norway, for the 4th Conference of the Norwegian Ecological Society. A two-hour flight further north might not seem like a big deal, however if I were a species alone to myself, my northern distribution limit based on temperature would be Trondheim, where I currently reside. It’s just too damn cold for an Australian in the Arctic Circle! Yet Tromso was surprisingly mild last week, coming off the back of a particularly warm winter. And whilst that might sound great, warming temperatures in the Arctic may cause a plethora of negative effects on local wildlife, including starving local reindeer populations and reducing the vital mosquito population.

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Seeing Ourselves in Animals: The Pitfalls of Anthropomorphism

The thought of an orca playing with its food – a cute seal – can be a grim one. But is it useful to project our ideas of morality and emotion onto other species? (Image Credit: Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0)

Guest post by Mary Shuttleworth

Scene: A lone seal on a piece of ice, surrounded by an expanse of deep and frosted blue. The scene would be romantic, except the water is rippling. Every now and then dark fins with streaks of white emerge, jostling the ice. It is an orca, and it is in training. Members of its family, or pod, are nearby, watching it as it practices how to take down its prey. The seal is in distress, stress resonating throughout its body. If they have noticed, the orcas take no notice. They are learning how to hunt. More than that, it appears that they could even be playing.

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Does the Individual’s Fight For Sustainability Matter?

Plastic manufacturers and fossil fuel corporations seem to be responsible for the majority of the environment’s problems. So can individual choices make a difference? (Image Credit: Jnzsl’s Photo, CC BY 2.0)

There seems to be a pattern of thought currently floating around regarding sustainable living. How recent it is, I’m not sure exactly. But the take home message goes something like this:

It makes no difference whether an individual tries to live sustainably, big corporations are the ones making all the difference anyway.

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The Concept of Certainty in Ecological Science

Go through any scientific paper and you’ll find it littered with uncertainty. Scientists qualify parameters, give standard errors, make way for random processes even when experiments have been planned to the finest detail. Even when we get the answers we want, we provide alternative explanations that fly in the face of the assumptions we’re trying to test. Honestly, sometimes it seems like we don’t really ‘know’ anything.

I’ve written about our reluctance to declare that we know things in science before, but here I want to try and answer a couple of questions. Why is uncertainty such a crucial part of science? How does this affect the non-scientific public’s perception of science? And does this relationship with knowledge need to change in the future?

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