ATBI "Self-Destructs"

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri May 16 15:53:08 CDT 1997

Well, the visionary ATBI's painful demise has hit the presses bigtime
with a brief report in SCIENCE, pg 893, May 9, 1997 'Unique, All-Taxa
Survey in Costa Rica "Self-Destructs"'.

Jocelyn Kaiser reports that it apparently died "because it seemed
to benefit science more than the Costa Rican people."

She quotes R. Gamez as saying "The ATBI was a beautiful scientific
project, but there are social and economic considerations that are
more relevant than scientific ones."

No doubt.

But, on what scale of time horizon shall we measure these
considerations, and ultimate losses based on this seemingly innocent
observation?  Surely, the short term loss of opportunity is
unprecedented in the history of biological inventory. No project of
this scale and intensity has ever been attempted (I think?). And, for
now at least, it won't be.

And, long term, was it extremely short-sighted to seek (what?) social
and economic considerations at this stage of development of the ATBI?
Was it avarice, and not short-sightedness? Was it concern over the
not repeating the long, sordid history of economic and social
exploitation of second and third world societies that cautioned
against proceeding?

I bet the answer to those questions are all resounding Yesses. Makes
it complicated, and it makes it everyone's loss.

And, wasn't it quite late in the several-years-long process of creating
this particular ATBI, to question the structure (the scope and focus)
of the inventory? Seems like a bad-faith participation, if one just
looks on the surface of the SCIENCE report.

Too bad, Costa Rica. Too bad, Systematics. Too bad, Environmentalists.

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