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Restoration ecology versus conservation biology

Writing in the journal Biological Conservation, Truman Young wrote:

The conservation mind set is one of more or less permanent loss; the implicit assumption is that all trends are down, and that our goal is to slow or stop degradation (declining population paradigm) or to maintain the remnants as small fragments of the original (small population paradigm). Delisting endangered species is met with (justified?) suspicion.

The restoration mind set is one of recovery after temporary loss. Conservation problems are viewed in the context of this future recovery. When restoration ecologists hear a statement like, ‘This endangered population of 250 individuals has a 50% chance of extinction over the next 100 years’, they think, ‘Why would we let this population languish at 250 individuals for so long? Let’s restore it!’

One may even say that restoration ecologists tend to be optimistic, and conservation biologists pessimistic. This has led to conflicting interpretation of trends (Richter, 1997; Dobson et al., 1997. I would argue that both contain elements of truth.

I find that distinction fascinating; I can really relate.  At heart, I think more like a restoration ecologist than a conservation biologist, but I can see both paths.  One is optimistic, almost to the point of being naive.  The other is pessimistic, sometimes to the point of despair.  It’s like poetry – reading what you have always felt, but never quite figured out how to say…

Young, Truman P. 2000. Restoration ecology and conservation biology. Biological Conservation 92:73–83. doi:10.1016/S0006-3207(99)00057-9

Critical thinking and creationism

In his review of Expelled, Mike Biedler writes:

You’d think that Expelled‘s deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, both in terms of movie production and presentation of the scientific evidence, would make me angry. Not so much… So what is making me angry? Honestly, it’s the fact that one year ago I would have fallen for Stein’s presentation—hook, line, and sinker. I’m also angry at how easily Christians fall for half-truths and outright lies. I’m angry at how often we Christians check our brains at the door and are perfectly willing to serve as messenger boys for the most outrageous urban legends, folk sciences, doctrines, and just plain idiotic belief systems.

There’s a large segment of American Christianity which sees itself as a persecuted minority threatened by a secular mainstream culture intent on its destruction.*  When you’ve locked yourself in a bunker you are almost obligated to believe that they people inside are on your side.  If you applied critical thinking to the situation you would have to admit that you have locked yourself in a room with people who are actively working to promote lies and deception.  And that realisation is probably far too terrifying.

*There’s an interesting case you can make here that the “new atheists” feed this mentality, that they make the problem worse.  I think that’s a mistaken perception.  The bunker doors have already been locked.  They already see secular society as evangelically atheist.  A book by Dawkins or Hitchens just confirms what these people already “know”.  I think the net effect is trivial.  Of course, I may be wrong – I am going on nothing but a gut feeling, devoid of data.  Just like the critics of the “new atheists”.

Derbyshire on Expelled

I’m no fan of conservative columnist John Derbyshire, but he’s worth reading on the issue of intelligent design.  Writing in the National Review, Derbyshire comments on the rank dishonesty of the creationist movie Expelled and intelligent design creationism as a whole.  He writes

I think this willful act of deception has corrupted creationism irredeemably. The old Biblical creationists were, in my opinion, wrong-headed, but they were mostly honest people. The “intelligent design” crowd lean more in the other direction. Hence the dishonesty and sheer nastiness, even down to plain bad manners, that you keep encountering in ID circles

I can’t say I agree with him on the first part – that biblical creationists are “mostly honest people”.  After all, not only is Hovind in jail but many creationist claims are just blatant falsehoods.  But it’s true that they are more honest than the IDists on a certain level – they are honest about what they are campaigning for.  They are willing to admit that they are motivated by their own (mis)reading of the bible (or other religious texts, presumably).  The IDists, on the other hand, built their whole movement on dishonesty and deception.  They claim that theirs is a scientific objection to evolution (and science as a whole, actually).  They claim that their endeavour is not religious, despite the fact that they have built a “big tent” in which young-earth creationists and old-earth creationists can put their differences aside and work together.

But Derbyshire’s main point isn’t the dishonesty of the IDists.  He sees it as an attack on one of the proudest achievements of Western civilisation.

Western civilization has many glories….And there is science, perhaps the greatest of all our achievements, because nowhere else on earth did it appear. … None of them ever accomplished what began in northwest Europe in the later 17th century, though: a scientific revolution. Thoughtful men and women came together in learned societies to compare notes on their observations of the natural world, to test their ideas in experiments, and in reasoned argument against the ideas of others, and to publish their results in learned journals. A body of common knowledge gradually accumulated. Patterns were observed, laws discerned and stated.

The Discovery Institute‘s Wedge Strategy makes it pretty clear that their enemy is the Enlightenment.  Their problem is with modernity.  Derbyshire writes

The “intelligent design” hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization. It is an appeal to barbarism… made by people who lack the imaginative power to know the horrors of true barbarism.

Gotta give credit where it’s due.  I disagree strongly with much of what Derbyshire has to say, and even here I don’t much like the way he spins things.  But he makes some excellent points.

H/T Jeffrey Shallit