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Nugget Point May 2005

Keep the People at Nuggets

C Perley


This letter was originally published in the Otago Daily Times 25 May 2005

THE support by some scientists for the Nugget Point peopleless preserve (ODT, 12.5.05), despite centuries of cultural connection, raises some interesting questions about the purpose and methods of science.

Their support is based on an ideal of an objective "nature" unsullied by the added complications of people. They presume that nature and culture are separate. Putting the two together raises all sorts of problems if your scientific aim is statistical significance rather than a wider understanding of the world and our place within it. The fewer variables, the narrower the perspective, the better. The solution to these scientists is to make a practical decision and advocate the removal of the cultural pollution from the experiment.

There is a dangerous trap when this sort of narrow practicality and illusions of error-free certainty overrides a wider context. They risk answering largely irrelevant small questions rather than even asking the big ones, and to build a dead store of information rather than a living network of knowledge and wisdom - which requires the involvement of people outside science. They also risk unforeseen consequences through feedbacks and wider system effects to which they have voluntarily blinded themselves.

The public continues to lose trust in the propensity by some authoritatively minded scientists, technologists, economists, managers and policymakers of the past few decades to look at the world in isolated bits, to value only what is measurable, and to constantly appear surprised when things go pear-shaped and someone suggests they may have missed some (likely unquantifiable) thing. Unfortunately (for them), understanding what things are important is a function of wisdom, not mathematics or some faithfully applied method independent of context. A little more humanity in University of Otago science please, for the sake of science as well as our future. Do the science at Nugget Point, but keep the people.

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