[Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae

JF Mate aphodiinaemate at gmail.com
Fri Oct 24 07:45:43 CDT 2014


Only John and Doug seem to have actually understood what I meant in my
original email, so I will paraphrase my opinion:
social media is not, on its own, enough to arrest the loss of amateur
´natural historians´ that I have seen over the last couple of decades.

How this statement can be confused with criticizing scientific public
engagement is beyond me. I think it is probably due to the confusion
over the term ´Citizen Science´. Citizen science is older than real
science itself. Decartes, Darwin, Newton, Einstein and many more were
´Citizen Scientists´, but they were called "Amateurs".

Amateurs were the original scientists and much of science until the
mid 1800´s was done by amateurs. Because science was mostly
gratuitous, most amateurs had to have alternate sources of income and
at least some spare time, so most amateurs were either gentlemen or
professionals (doctors, vicars, landed gentry, etc). Afterwards
working as a patent clerk was an option, but in general a stigma of
elitism and flippancy (maybe some of it earnt) was attached to
amateurs.

So, as science became more complex, specialized and costly, different
fields moved beyond the grasp of private individuals and into the
realm of professional science, where institutions could pool resources
to tackle increasingly complex questions. However ´natural history´
retained a sizeable (and often preponderant) proportion of amateurs.
These amateurs produced most of the taxon records, were the local
"go-to person" to identify some plant or animal and often became
authorities on their own in particular groups. These are the people
who are disappearing fast.

I have no doubt that the individuals posting pictures online are
indeed ´biophiliacs´ and that engaging with them is positive but one
has to wonder, why do they need to ask a curator in a Museum about a
common insect they photographed? If you look through the images you
will notice that the majority are common things, stuff that you can
work to at least family with any picture guide book or that appears
several times (and has been identified already) in the same site. Its
like if an amateur astronomer sent posted a picture of the moon or
mars asking to have it identified. Or a birdwatcher a picture of a
starling. I think that BowerBird, ProjectNoah etc are just the symptom
that many people love nature, but they don´t really want to go any
deeper than labelling pictures.

Best

Jason



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