by Tibor Hartel
The book of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) ‘On the origin of species’ is one of the great works which should be read at least two times.
First time by young, ‘innocent’ scientists to realize how nature ‘works’.
Second time, after some years of ‘hard core’ science (conservation- and evolutionary biology) to realize: modern conservation biology in facts says virtually ‘nothing new’ after this book of Darwin, published in 1859.
Fore example, he write: ‘Thus in a patch of mown grassland … from 20 species of plants that grew there, nine species perished, because the other species were allowed to grow’ (i.e. because of the cessation of mowing note TH). This applies extraordinary to the Saxon landscapes of Transylvania and everywhere in Eastern Europe where the cessation of traditional mowing indeed result in visible spread of some plants (e.g. reed) against others (e.g. cotton grass). The pictures below show such a situation in a valley from Southern Transylvania (2004-2010).
An other example is:
‘It is therefore very plausible that the presence of high number of ‘felidae’ (i.e. cat like animals – note TH) in a region can determine the aboundance of some species of plants through interventions on mice…’.
These are so beautiful and very actual things and generalizations – and there are even more! – that I would say that there is no need for any subsequent knowledge and wisdom after these. It is very funny that many top ranked conservation biology journals wants very generalizable manuscripts.
I was thinking for the situations when these journals would decide sometihng like this:
‘From 2012 July, the journal ‘…’ will be canceled. If the reader want relevant informations about conservation biology please read the books of Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Gerald Durrell etc. These people wrote everything we need to know about biological conservation. Thanks for the many hundreds of authors and referees which supported our journal till now. The editors of this journal encourage researchers to focus on important things and problems in their community in order to solve them. Don`t waste energy for publications instead of that go and talk to (your) people. Cheers, The Editorial Team’.
Tibor — are you familiar with Darwin’s “activist”/advocacy bent? (http://johnvandermeer.blogspot.com/2011/08/darwins-sacred-cause-potent-message-for.html). Although it is certainly an “n=1” situation, it is nevertheless true that one of the greatest scientific minds of all time — Darwin — was also a (gasp!) political advocate! And indeed, John argues that you could plausibly say his ideology drove his science, or at least, his scientific questions in terms of what questions pertained *values* he deemed important.
It seems to me that the debate on the proper role of scientists in societal change has been based on conjecture, legend, and personal preferences for the most part, and much less on any evaluation of whether certain so-called objective approaches actually ARE better, or we simply FEEL like they’re better. (Or at least, some of us feel that way.)
I believe Wallace was also a social advocate, and I know that Tansley and Haldane were quite outspoken. And it seems the von Liebig ended up writing with admiration to Marx about how market overexploitation of the soil might swamp out the effects of the “law of the minimum”…
Hi Jahi – many thanks, the blog post is very interesting. I like this sentence: ‘The social conditions of the times created the background into which that question was posed.’ So true, and indeed it was true till an extent in the case of Lamarck too – who seem to be a bit ‘cared’ to point out more boldly the idea of evolution because in his time the ‘intellectual basin’ was not ready for it (i.e. religious views dominate more in his time). Darwin lived in other era – when an intellectual release happened in many fronts – I also believe that evolution was in the air (so nice to approach these with the theory of resilience and regime shifts, but applying the slow and fast variables to these social conditions which change slowly).
It is interesting indeed. And I would wonder if the ‘…social conditions of the times created the background into which that question was posed.’ pointed out very nicely in the blog entry (and the hood of your comment was this I guess no? Sorry still early morning here) is not applicable even today – but in a slightly different context: see the recent entries about the amount versus quality in science (also, the philosophy of some modern high profile e.g. conservation journals to accept only what they call novel approaches in science in order to send your ms to review – in my view what ‘novel’ is for them is nothing else just an other level of complication – for nothing basically. So the hunger for novel can be also a kind of condition.) .
I think – unfortunately or not – no matter how scientists we will be, we cannot depart from human conditions. Some can do that while others less.
I would not even blame people for this. Good to know that such traps and influences may exist to avoid them, but beyond these these people really told some interesting things which seem to be always actual.
‘cared’ = ‘scared’
When will society give up on the “ideal” of the rational, dispassionate scientist?
Excellent article. To know more about Darwin take a look at this new novel about him (http://sbpra.com/robinhawdon) and read the Darwins’ own blog (www.charlesdarwinblog.com).