[Taxacom] Citizen Science

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sun Oct 26 02:20:11 CDT 2014

Jason, is this a fair summary of what you believe to be true?

1) There are fewer naturalists around these days. The people who like to look at and image nature aren't really naturalists, they're just photographers.
2) The online nature image banks aren't that useful, either to specialists or to people who want to use them as online references.
3) Naturalists aren't collecting like they used to, for 'ethical' reasons, or because they think an image is as good as a specimen. (I think you're also arguing that naturalists should be collecting *more* than ever, because we're in a biodiversity crisis and somehow that will help, but that's another story.)
4) (I'm inferring this) Nature study isn't marketed or taught enough. ('Maybe it comes down to marketing. Teaching kids that digging holes, looking under stones and keeping stuff in jars to look at can be fascinating.')

I disagree with each of these points. In my experience of Australia and southeast Asia,

1) There are a lot more naturalists around today than there have ever been. As in the past, the breadth, depth and sophistication of their interests varies from naturalist to naturalist. Some are just casual photographers, some are experts without formal qualifications. There are more of the latter than there have ever been.

2) The online nature image banks are a subset of the nature-image-sharing world. The most useful banks are the taxon- and habitat-dedicated ones. To take just one example taxon, Flickr Collembola (today) has 234 members and 5300+ images, and Frans Janssens' collembola.org has a huge gallery of contributed images. In addition to the banks, a great deal of sharing happens between and among naturalists and specialists by email (as I mentioned in my post about Australian millipedes). It's pointless to look at the largest pools and say that because they're not as good as they could be, then the whole principle is dubious. That's like saying most of the music people share is crap, therefore music sharing is of no benefit to real musicians, real composers and real aficionados. People and images do move from crap to quality.

3) Imaging is better than collecting for many of the purposes nature study is done. For an orchid enthusiast, an image of a live flower is better than a dried-out, pressed herbarium specimen. But serious naturalists are still collecting, still supplying museums and herbaria and specialists with specimens. That's not *instead of* imaging, it's *in addition to* imaging.

4) You might not like the packaging, but nature is marketed harder today than it ever was, on TV and You Tube. A lot of that has a conservation or 'adventure' message driving the content, but a large proportion is driven by the sheer wonder of the content. There's so much nature marketing that many culture vultures are convinced people won't go out and look at nature for themselves any more, as though the nature documentaries were the reason for increasingly sedentary and urban-based lives. Same with teaching in schools. There are fewer excursions nowadays, but that's for admin, cost and insurance reasons, not because teachers don't want to teach nature study and because kids don't want to do it. All the stories I heard from this and last year's National Science Week and similar events here in Australia were positive: thousands of people through museums, many bringing bugs, bones or stones for ID, and 'bug walks' with tens of families. Ken Walker joined these Taxacom threads 
 after spending a day in the Victorian bush on a Bug Blitz with ca 100 school kids. And overseas I read about popular 'bio blitzes', introducing families to the biodiversity in their local areas.

I don't think the difference between our views is the glass half-full, half-empty difference. I think your gloominess is based on inadequate experience.

You also wrote: "There is this sense that if you pick a flower you are destroying nature but building over virgin land, spraying your garden repeatedly or having your moggie collect the local avifauna just doesn´t register. There is the faint whiff of hypocrisy and it is irritating that it is used as a weapon of social pressure."

It's only hypocrisy if the same people are involved, and that's an over-simplification. Here's real hypocrisy: someone with 2+ kids arguing that we should stop buggering the Earth for posterity. In creating that posterity, they're buggering the Earth. 7 billion and enthusiastically breeding, and expecting more and more resource use per person.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania
Home contact:
PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195

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