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Observational Life Science

The renewed role of observation in science
by

Rafe Sagarin

on 4 December 2012

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Transcript of Observational Life Science

Observation and Life Science Dr. Rafe Sagarin rafe@email.arizona.edu What is observational science? Why is observation important now? How did we get here? How is it done? Is observational science really science? Who does it? How are observations educational? How do observations impact policy? non-experimental Rebecca Gooding Colfer et al. 2003 not manipulated for scientific purposes What it's not What it is “the tendency was to treat as not serious, as unscientific, any kind of work that was not carried on with laborious minuteness in the laboratory” – Teddy Roosevelt “To my deep mortification my father once said to me, ‘You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family” – Charles Darwin Natural history is ancient Natural history is artistic Natural history is the basis of biology Natural history is political Natural history is synthetic Natural history is inspirational "the practice of natural history goes back to the dawn of our species" - Tom Fleischner “When morning came, everything appeared delightful..all nature seemed sparkling with life” “A description … of objects in nature, as minerals, plants, animals, etc. and the phenomena which they exhibit to the senses"
- Webster’s Practical Dictionary, 1910 We started with natural history "Who would see a replica of man’s social structure has only to examine the abundant and various life of the tidepools..." "A study of animal communities has this advantage: they are merely what they are, for anyone to see who will and can look clearly; they cannot complicate the picture by worded idealisms, by saying one thing and being another...” “the present system of international relations is biologically unsound” Natural history is holistic “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again” But is natural history scientific? Daniel Simberloff E. O. Wilson "Ed, I don't think we should use 'ecology' as an expression anymore. It's become a dirty word." -Elso Barghoorn 1953 “The skill of observing
… is something that every science student must possess”
-Geerat Vermeij Citizen science “Contemporary Natural History is for cyborgs: creatures simultaneously human and machine. The distinction between a naturalist cyborg and just a cyborg depends on the traits that have been traditionally associated with natural history, and which include finely honed ethical and esthetic instincts, biophilia, and the observational powers and intuition that result from long hours in the field.” – Carlos Martinez del Rio Local Ecological Knowledge Social science "...and the phenomena which they exhibit to the senses" story telling time travel space travel The power of observation is increasing
while
the power of experiments is decreasing keystone species Bob Paine Ecology has thrived in the experimental era It is difficult to experiment with complex systems cyborgs Accidental Ecological Knowledge Traditional Ecological Knowledge Reality & Our Perception of Reality Have Changed Anthropology sensory observations Our world is more connected
and holds more knowledge
than ever before... ...and it is changing in unprecedented ways Global Unpredictable Catastrophic Irreversible Urgent But we can perceive this change in unprecedented ways Hypothesis driven Replicable Incremental Controlled What 20th Century Science
Should Be Observational data can be a powerful catalyst for policy Rowland & Molina 1974 Farman 1985 Montreal Protocol 1987 Ecology at the smallest scales... ...and at the largest scales In real time... ...and in real space Merging natural history & technology natural experiments long term monitoring Cooperative knowledge Karl Popper What do they have in common? Develop baseline in case of oil spill museum collections population surveys What's missing? Oaxaca Tatoosh Island What is Art? What is Science? "Correlation does not imply causation" You can't determine mechanisms from observations or patterns Induced knowledge isn't reliable Roubik, 1978 Hazen, 1978 What 20th Century Science
Should Be "Correlation does not imply causation" You can't determine mechanisms from observations or patterns Induced knowledge isn't reliable “My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts.” “The modern process – that of looking quickly at the whole field and then diving down to a particular—was reversed by Darwin. Out of a long long consideration of the parts he emerged with a sense of the whole” Observational knowledge
Lots of layers of data
Ability to process the data "Pattern at any spatial scale, studied by itself in a
multicausational world, cannot reveal process. Stated more directly, correlation does not reveal causation." - 2010 "Ecological patterns do not alone imply a specific process." - 2004 “Although experimental approaches will always be required to demonstrate mechanisms underlying ecological phenomena, observational studies complement…an experimental context” Humans are the primary driver in all ecological systems today Paul’s passion for science, firmly rooted in observation, has exposed people to nature and taught them to observe and think deeply about potential mechanisms responsible for the patterns they are seeing. "It was not until much later that each of us realized that
observing nature, discerning patterns, and thinking about
the mechanisms that shape them was not second nature
for most people. This skill or art, in fact, was something
that we had been taught through experiential learning in
the field as children by our parents."
- Gage & Anaika Dayton, 2011, Marine Ecology "The skill of observing needs to be honed and perfected and must be taught and encouraged." Learning from the Octopus Basic Books, 2012 Adaptation is about leaving your comfort zone Or being forced from it Ecology of Fear “We determined to go doubly open so that in the end we could, if we wished, describe the sierra thus: ‘D.XVII-15-IX; A.II-15-IX,’ but also we could see the fish alive and swimming, feel it plunge against the lines, drag it threshing over the rail, and even finally eat it. And there is no reason why either approach should be inaccurate” - Ricketts and Steinbeck not always planned Li fe Sci enc es
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