the People at Nuggets
letter was originally published in the Otago Daily Times 25 May
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.