Thanks for a Great Review of Observation and Ecology

Anibal and I were really excited about this latest review of our book in Basic and Applied Ecology by Christoph Kueffer.  I loved that he used the word “manifesto” in the first sentence, as I always called the book “our little green manifesto”.

Christoph notes that by putting this fairly concrete concept of “observation” at the core of the book, rather than a more theoretical concept like “holism” or “complexity” it makes the book more accessible to multiple audiences, especially students, which is what we were going for.

His main critique–guilty as charged–is that we don’t delve deeply, or even give much of a nod to theory.  Rather than a “love-hate” realtionship with theory, I personally have a kind of “hate-try to avoid” relationship with it, and it’s burned me plenty.  I just got yet another NSF rejection–this one from NSF Anthropology (Anthropologists love their theory!)–and the main criticism was, “there’s no overarching theory.”  On the other hand, I do have many arguments with my wife, an anthropologist (she loves her theory), and she inevitably gets me to acknowledge the importance of theory to help make sense of a complex world, in some cases.

I think Kueffer put it really well in the review of our book, “Only based on observations, would we by now believe in climate change? I doubt it.”  So, I’ll acknowledge theory has a key place, but I’ll also warn you – if the prospect of venturing forth to make discoveries in the world without a nice thick theory to prop you is unacceptable, you might not like our “little green manifesto”.

Just remember, though, Ricketts and Steinbeck in the Sea of Cortez, and Darwin before them, built theories after their observations, or as the former two said of the latter, “out of long, long consideration of the parts, he emerged with a sense of the whole”.

-Rafe

 

 

Kueffer_BAE_2013

About Rafe

Rafe Sagarin is a marine ecologist and environmental policy analyst at the University of Arizona. In both his science and policy work, Sagarin connects basic observations of nature to issues of broad societal interest, including conservation biology, protecting public trust resources, and making responses to terrorism and other security threats more adaptable. Dr. Sagarin is a recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and has recently published two books, Learning from the Octopus (Basic Books, March 2012) and Observation and Ecology (Island Press, July 2012), which show how nature observation--when extended across large scales and enhanced with both new technologies and greater deference to traditional knowledge sources—is revealing profound new insights about our dynamic social and ecological world. He was a Geological Society of America Congressional Science Fellow in the office of U.S. Representative (and later U.S. Secretary of Labor) Hilda Solis. He has taught ecology and environmental policy at Duke University, California State University Monterey Bay, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles and University of Arizona. His research has appeared in Science, Nature, Conservation Biology, Ecological Monographs, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security Affairs and other leading journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the editor, with Terence Taylor of the volume Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World (2008, University of California Press).
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