Monday, May 2, 2016

NATURE has never been WILD : Fred Pearce & the New Wild

Published last year by Boston's Beacon Press, Fred Pearce's eye-opening new book,  "The New Wild", has had a little controversy, but unfortunately, not nearly enough.

Conservationists, eugenicists, racists and ecologists (pardon the redundancy) should be raging, blood red in interview and post, over its message - but they're not.

Here's why :

Please don't ever be fooled when scientists appear to quickly respond quickly to science-based criticism --- that actually only occurs if the criticism is seen by them as 'never laying a glove on them' intellectually.

So responding to Intelligent Design, to them, is like shooting fish in a barrel - a much enjoyed scientific blood sport.

 Science : passive aggressive

In reality, science as a profession, is fundamentally passive aggressive.

Thus the general approach to any intellectually troubling criticism (any new scientific information and concepts that threatens Science generally/one of its major discipline and thus scientists' sense of self worth) is to ignore it in public but then back stab it in private, among trusted friends.

This is because tenure as a university teacher and a PhD in a general discipline are in terms of earnings and social prestige totally useless, in practise, to mid to high level academics.

It is their individual contributions to a sub branch of that discipline that has made them well off and respected.

And that sub branch is usually tightly tied to a particular concept.

Cue here Pearce.

He is a science journalist - rather than a scientist - but that's a feature, not a bug.

For his easy to read, vivid but scientifically acute book is giving millions of scientifically informed readers (including many scientists outside the narrow field of ecology) an arresting and disturbing insight into the high school science take on ecology, one they've trusted for years.

The losers in this current debate - the well secured middle aged men and women running major ecology departments and major conservation organizations  - are just hoping that ignoring Pearce will let them reach retirement without having to re-adjust a lifetime of ideas-recruited-by-rote and hopefully let their intellectual legacy survive their deaths.

In a religious terms (always the best way to look at atheist science) Pearce dares to dis Ecology's Saint Clements and anoint the sinner Gleason - in public.

For a century now, Frederic Clements' view that a near permanent climax population exists on top of every ecosystem (a tightly bound super-organism ecosystem he claimed) ruled Ecology's roust, the foundation securing all the work published (and the successful academics careers) based around that concept.

But since 1945, the opposing views of Clements' defeated rival Henry Gleason have found ever more support inside the academic Ecology trade.

Gleason the catastrophist vs Clements the uniformitarianist

Gleason's was a sophisticated version of "Catastrophism" -- it gives far far more weight to sheer chance :  so local environments are not 'climaxing' or 'successing' at all but merely 'are'.

Yesterday's new aliens are today's old term residents and tomorrow's locally extinct - change is the only constant.

So Pearce reveals to us, strangers to current ecology controversies, that all those pristine nineteenth century rain jungles in the Amazon and the Congo, as first 'discovered' by middle aged white guys, were actually only of recent duration - the areas had been cleared areas of high human activity only a few centuries before.

So what on Earth was truly pristine ?

In my opinion, this revival of long dead Gleason ideas was the result of the twin impact of Auschwitz and Penicillin gradually working their way through our collective mental universe, particularly among the young.

Not because the young are smarter than their elders - far from it.

But not having devoted a lifetime of hard slog to promoting Clements' incorrect concept and then securing fame and fortune as a result, they found it much easier to take up an old concept that better fitted 'the facts'.

Actually the facts hadn't change at all from Clements' time a century go - nor had his and Gleason's concepts.

All that had really changed was how these younger would-be scientists viewed the world while growing up, well before they hit university.

Published science is all about uncovering new facts, to simplify wildly.

 But popular science is basically something best studied by social scientists, as social science.

Scientific thumb sucking

(By popular science I don't mean the work of science journalists like Pearce but rather (a) the thumb sucking done by senior scientists, done over the import of these new facts and (b) the relative success of the rival new theories, among senior scientists and the power elite.)

For example, the rival concepts promoted by Clements and Gleason a century ago.

The winning scientific thumb sucking exercise rarely tells us anything eternally useful about the universe outside the human mind, but it is always an acute insight into the human mental  universe during the era when it was popular...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Longer comments, something for readers and blogger to set their teeth into, preferred