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Bring back natural history, say biologists

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In “Fostering the rebirth of natural history” (Biology Letters August 31, 2011), Stephanie E. Hampton and Terry A. Wheeler plead for a return to the study of natural history:

A broad consensus among the participants was that a lack of attention to natural history limits our science
and our ability to address major societal problems. For example, the vast majority of species are undescribed, with detailed information available for only a small percentage of species. Thus, biological and environmental studies exploit a tiny fraction of their potential. As extinctions and environmental degradation accelerate, we know little about what we are losing or the consequences of such losses, and we have high uncertainty in managing societal impacts.
The financial resources available for conservation are affected as well—people who spend less time interacting with nature spend less money on conservation

In other words, fully urban students who grow up watching nature documentaries about faroff exotic animals don’t know much about the life forms that comprise their own ecology. Many could recite school facts who have never lived with those facts. Some hold forth on behalf this policy or that, often wrong-headedly, because they lack such knowledge. Worst, many come to prefer virtual reality to actual reality, and profess not to see the difference or why it matters.

The authors hope that new technologies can help. But new technologies, for all the good they do, are the principal source of this problem. We can show readers a video of the remarkable leaping blennie of Guam but can’t root a lived understanding of one’s own environment in anyone, including ourselves. It’s a constant struggle for the urbanite, and that’s all.

A video doesn’t really take you there, but if it’s the best we can do:

See also: Study of ants shows some are much better-informed than others, questions self-organization

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

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