Science

By Bekoff, Marc | Endangered Species Update, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Science


Bekoff, Marc, Endangered Species Update


"Back off man, I'm a scientist." This bumper sticker has been percolating in my brain for many years. Here's why.

Science supposedly tells us why things are the way they are. However, science isn't value-free. Numerous prejudices are embedded in scientific training and thinking. Scientists, as humans, have individual agendas--personal, social. economical, and political.

I'm a scientist. I study animal behavior and am interested in the health and integrity of individuals, populations, species, and ecosystems. I love what I do; it's fun. Because I have a utopian dream of reconnecting humans with the souls, spirits and hearts of other humans, other animals (anima = soul), and with inanimate landscapes, and because I'm a sentimentalist, some think my science is flawed--too "soft," too subjective, not impersonal. I believe science should be more open to individual's world views. There are so many diverse problems it's unlikely there's only one sound scientific method.

Historically, scientists have been placed on pedestals by nonscientists and scientists themselves. Scientists were trusted, their autonomy and authority unquestioned. Most worked in a safe, insulated microcosm. Those who questioned science were considered anti-intellectual, perhaps Luddites. After all, scientists busily discover cures for countless diseases, the structure of the human genome, how to make weapons for global destruction, ways to get to the moon and elsewhere, how to generate and process information faster, how to engineer better food, how animals behave, and how nature works. Alas, how to make our lives longer and presumably better. And indeed science has chalked up innumerable successes. But it can do better.

Nowadays more people, including some scientists, question science. Non-scientists are more aware and inquisitive, but aren't anti-intellectual. Rather, many feel science hasn't delivered. They're also concerned with the politics, economics (rush for patents, financial gains), and arrogance of science. Indeed, scientists make errors, and it's our fallibility that keeps science afloat. Increasingly science isn't seen as a self-justifying activity, but as another institution whose claims on the public treasury must be defended.

What about science and nature? While we've learned much about nature, one reason traditional science often falls short is that it fragments the world. Reductionistic science dissects, disembodies, and splits wholes into parts. It produces linear, mechanistic views of the universe and objectifies and devalues animals and nature. Science reduces the dynamic multidimensionality of our interactions with nature into static, dimensionless flatlands, rather than stimulating the understanding and appreciation of variegated landscapes. However, we aren't very good at reassembling wholes--reconstructing Humpty Dumpty. We often discover wholes are greater than the sum of their parts and we're unable to understand how whole systems emerge from complex interdependent interactions among their constituents. Laudably, the National Science Foundation now supports a program in biocomplexity. Macro-ecology and the Biosphere project are good examples of large scale holistic thinking.

Reductionist science also misrepresents the world. …

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