Biogeographers ain’t doing ‚Dead Science. And Something about the Greatness of Blogs.

5 Mrz

To post in a weblog can be knocked off, quick and sometimes sloppy. Other people prefer Tumblelogs, because these are even faster. But there you find a different sort of posts (see for example tumblr.). I’ve just posted (Dead Science? A Biogeographers Call for More Blogging) summarising an article by the biogeographer Richard J. Ladle (Catching fairies and the public representation of biogeography, in: Journal of Biogeography 35, pp. 388-391, 2008). Then I thought: „Done, let’s blog more!„. Suddenly, things started – questions in mind, thinking about biogeography, bloggin‘ and Ladle’s article. So what I thought to be finished as appropriate, has turned out to be another starting point.

What does it mean, ‚dead science‚? Is biogeography a ‚dead science‚? Do I know any ‚dead science‚? Biogeography is an alluring science. Biogeographers gaze at the nature around us and at remote places (- the fathomless, enigmatic and wonderful vibrancy of biogeography), and at the culture, its phenomena interwoven with organisms, biotic communities and ecosystems (- the lovely, capricious, shifting, surprising, seductive, puzzling body of biogeography). Biogeography is the study of the distribution of organisms over space and time, the analysis their distribution and abundance. Associated topics are ‚conservation, ‚climate change‘, global warming‘, extinction‘, ‚invasive species‘, ‚biodiversity‘, ‚habitat loss‘, ‚habitat fragmentation‘, ‚islands‘, ‚hotspots‘, ‚ecoregions‘, ‚evolution‘, ‚ecology‘ (Ladle, p. 389). These topics are common? Sure. Very hospitable biogeographers would add ‚zoos‘, botanical gardens‘, ‚museums‘, cities‘, ‚films‘, ‚domestic animals and plants‘, ‚pets‘ etc. So what else should I say? I’m very interested in biogeography, I spend lots of time reading stuff from biogeographers —

I looove biogeography.

Is it true, that too few people, although interested in the current and target states of our environments, adore this inconspicuous beauty in the brothel of scientific disciplines? Are they putting on a beauty contest there? Biogeography’s clients are called up by R. J. Ladle (p. 391) to create and make more use of weblogs, in order to find a louder public voice and to enhance the awareness of the importance and relevance of biogeography. To bring to market the beauty and peculiarity of biogeography. Weblogs, this relative new medium, the voucher for the participation in an advertency-fair? What should biogeographers tell the people in the web? What about the message?

„The Medium is the Message.“

We know, this phrase is coined by Marshall McLuhan in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. The form of a medium imbeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. Do we believe in M. McLuhan? Is the medium superseding the content, the information? Not really. Mark Federman (former Chief Strategist of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology) reminds us that the content of a medium is another medium in itself (see Federman’s essay What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message?, available here). What’s the use, the advantage of bloggin‘ for biogeographers? Are blogs great?

„Blogs are great – here’s why“

(Understand Media Blog. Media Literacy on the Web, February 20, 2008):

1. Blogs help communicate unique ideas. […] Blogs help individuals present their ideas to the world using the same technologies as the big media companies, helping put everyone on an even playing field.
2. Blogs help connect people worldwide. Never before has it been so easy to publish something and have it read by thousands of people worldwide within moments of publication. This is one of the great powers of blogs. Good information spreads quickly through the blogosphere.
3. Blogs help create collective intelligence. When someone posts something to their blog, they’re likely to get responses from readers who have their own perspectives and points of view. The writer’s ideas mix and match with the reader’s ideas, and a new idea emerges from this collision of differences. In the end, everyone has learned something new from everyone else.

To use the greatness of blogs it is necessary to allow comments and trackbacks. Blogging, as any other medium, is a „change in inter-personal dynamics“ (Federman). Retribalization in a global village, as McLuhan entitled it (see Ronald Düker in, 1.6.2004, here). The clients of the bitch goddess Biogeography are coming out, calling attention in the web, open for all – who are interested in. Bloggin‘ can be busy, time-consuming – time lost instead of writing articles for journals. Bloggin‘ about biogeography extends the writing activities of biogeographers. This extension, every post, is mirrored in search engine hits. A commensurable success. But the medium (blog) can blind the reader. The information about biogeography and the biogeographical information could be hidden behind. Reach one’s target (weblog), anybody else left behind (the reader, the public)! This could occur presumably, if the information is not adapted to the medium. Connecting people (biogeographers) is one outcome of a blog, another one is the distribution of information and new ideas. The information is not independent from the distributive medium. Hence, bloggin‘ should not add up to ’selling old wine (journal-adapted articles) in new bottles (weblogs)‘.
If so, I think:

„The Medium is the Massage“

This is another term coined by M. McLuhan in his book The Medium is the Massage. An Inventory of Effects, co-authored with the graphic designer Quentin Fiori, 1967.
If the purpose of the blog is, to enhance the search hits of Google etc., to present the community of academic biogeographers as numerous and up-to-date, and to present biogeography as a true and hard science, then the creation of a weblog is a self-relaxation massage. Probably this is inescapable! We (I see myself as a biogeographer) should take the chance to diffuse new ideas about biogeography and, what I think is more important, about ourselves, our motivations and our relationship to this wonderful, hybrid, metrosexual science – this bitch goddess we are fallen for. To be aware of the changes bloggin‘ entails, means to think about the medial character of the information. We can, – no, we should think about the way we give information and about the nature of that information. The blog (any blog, any new medium) can or should change our mission of writing primarily for journals and, as its outcome, of communicating primarily with ourselves. We can now be more personal, more bodily, more open, more emotional – more like an excellent showman and conceited, too.
Absurd? John Fraser Hart have written the following in a Presidential Address of the Annals Association of American Geographers 72 (1982), pp. 1-29 (The Highest Form Of The Geographer’s Art)

Good journalists have learned that people are much more interested in the feelings and opinions of other human beings, even when hey disagree with them most vigorously, than they are in objective but disembodied truth, and the journalist tries to include a human touch whenever possible. Scholars can learn a lot from journalists.

In addition, what we can learn from urban ecologists, is that plant diversity in city regions (although artificial) is explained by family income, housing age, socioeconomic status (see for example Hope et al.: Socioeconomics drive urban plant diversity. In: PNAS 100, no. 15, 8788-8792, 2003 – available here). We can assume that the knowledge about biodiversity, extinction, ecological integrity, climate change etc. is likewise dependent on these variables. In the web, especially in the blogosphere, telling the truth by distributing peer-reviewed information is not the only recommendable strategy. Lots of writer’s in the web are telling (their) truths, proclaiming objectivity, intelligence and thoroughness. Some of the most popular weblogs are handbagging the state of knowledge, although (or precisely because) this knowledge is peer-reviewed. And lots of people searching for information in the web, don’t know the difference between reviewed information and other forms of knowledge (another case of the shifting-baseline syndrome). ‚Truth‘ and ‚objectivity‘ are very nebulous and hard-fought categories in the web. Information in the web can be (a) proper and useful, (b) very sophisticated, (c) very banal and commonplace, (d) very scatterbrained, looney, off-the-plot or simply wrong, (e) hardly recognizable as information at all, and (f) reproduced or summarised peer-reviewed information (but beware of the pitfalls). I reckon that distributing information in the web, mean should be coupled with an assiduous, candid, and open attitude.


Eine Antwort to “Biogeographers ain’t doing ‚Dead Science. And Something about the Greatness of Blogs.”

  1. Tristanse März 22, 2008 um 2:49 pm #

    thanks much, dude

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