What are we going to do about this? (longish)

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Thu Oct 24 17:44:58 CDT 1996

in two successive messages, Dennis Paulson wrote:
> To turn around an argument made yesterday by John Shuey, perhaps we need to
> think about putting more environmental money up front toward *publicizing*
> ecosystems rather than just saving them.  I agree that buying up and
> preserving land is of the utmost important, but can't we find funds to wage
> our own PR campaign?  As my own pet example, I'll cite the northern spotted
> owl, which has received a veritable flood of research funds.  It's a bit
> ironic that we now probably know more about this species than all other
> North American owls put together, yet money is still pouring into spotted
> owl research. Let's *stop* studying this species right now and put all the
> money available into high-class publicity about how wonderful owls are.


> Another thought comes to mind.  Dan Janzen (with others) is accomplishing
> in Costa Rica what a lot of us are saying can't be done:  using government
> (I don't know how much of it comes from out of the country) funds to (a)
> train taxonomists, and (b) inventory the country's biota.  I'm firmly
> convinced the secret is in the forcefulness and resourcefulness, as well as
> the reputation, of the prime mover (surely the government and people of CR
> were no more receptive than those of the U.S. to such a process--but maybe
> they were?).
> We need high-profile and energetic people to accomplish some of these
> goals, but I think most of us on this list are happy to stay out of the
> limelight and carry on the research that we love.  If not high-profile
> people, perhaps high-profile organizations.  Build up the glamor of biotic
> inventory and taxonomy, then capitalize on that to compete successfully for
> funds.  Easier said than done, I know, but it has to be done.

First of all, think hard as to *where* that money to study the spotted
owl is coming from. Of all the many sources of that money, I can't think
of one organization that would give that same award to someone who said
they wanted to use it to buy ads in magazines or on TV. That's the
problem, and it's a bit of a vicious circle - about the only way to get
money that one CAN use to advertise the cause in the mass media is to
solicit directly from the public - which is best done in the mass media!
Dan Janzen is a perfect example of one way out of the trap, in that he
solicits donations *personally* every time he speaks, and he personally
oversees the use of the money. His organization is a self-contained,
self-administered unit, rather than an extension of some larger
academic, commercial, or non-profit bureaucracy.
        This is pretty much exactly what I have suggested several times
before in this thread; to create a new organization run by taxonomists,
for taxonomists. Certainly, such an entity might benefit from arising as
an offshoot of something like the ASC, and no doubt much of its
membership would overlap, in any event, so that may be a logical starting
point. Once again, I will ask whether or not this makes *sense* to the
folks here, either as something necessary or simply desirable, and if
not, what concrete alternative plans would people suggest? After all,
there is not one contributor to this thread who has expressed pleasure
with the status quo. We've amassed a long list of things we need to do,
but no consensus has emerged on how to do them. An (international?)
organization whose primary purpose is the acquisition and distribution of
funds for taxonomy and taxonomic collections - including explicit
attempts to utilize mass media in fund-raising - seems to me one possible
step in the right direction, and we may even have the building blocks of
such an organization well in place already, requiring only a new
initiative to get things going. The exact plan of attack would be
something to be worked out by the membership of the organization, but
we've certainly got people here on Taxacom full of ideas, and there are
even Web sites and such already going which could tie in nicely (e.g. the
Tree of Life site - something like that could even become a centerpiece,
and it certainly qualifies as mass media these days! You want to impress
people with biodiversity, getting a few thousand species photos on-line
certainly could be impressive, no?). Lots of potential, but I think we
have to form *some* sort of community effort to exploit that potential.
Reminds me of the classic "We must all hang together, or else we will
assuredly hang separately" (or however that went - Ben Franklin, right?).
        On that note, let me toss out an idea; suppose you were
approached by this hypothetical organization to produce a field guide to
your taxon of interest, and they would pay your salary and the production
costs, but keep a share of the proceeds if and when those costs were
recovered - would you do it? If so, then sales of such field guides could
simultaneously serve to educate the public AND put public dollars into
the program (and, from personal experience, one can engage in productive
alpha taxonomy in the process of writing a field guide). This could even
serve as an outlet for folks doing certain types of taxonomic monographs,
if they're willing to take the extra effort to put them into an
appropriate format; wouldn't it be better, after all, to get paid to
publish one's research results, rather than having *to* pay?
        Suppose, too, that the same organization that helped pay for your
research asked that you give slide shows at Audubon Society or Sierra
Club meetings or such, especially on occasions such as your taking a trip
to a museum in another city (which they might even fund directly), and
a local member of the organization there even helped with the
coordination and logistics? Would you do it? To me it seems important, if
not essential, that members in such an organization should be willing to
take on *some* personal burden. But I've rambled on enough, if I expect
any coherent responses, I should stop now.
Doug Yanega
UFMG, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

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