Mars rover Curiosity is doing it. School children strolling through the woods with binoculars are doing it. Charles Darwin was doing it. Observing the natural world around them was how the early naturalists started what would later become known as ecology the science of how living things interact, depend on each other and how their habitats and communities change over time.
In their book, "Observation and Ecology," ecologists Rafe Sagarin and Anbal Pauchard make the case that if scientists are to tackle the enormously complex problems the world is facing, researchers and funding agencies have to leave their comfort zone of well-controlled experimental manipulations.
"We argue that observations of the world whether handed down through the hunting stories of tribal elders, taken by citizens counting neighborhood birds, or compiled from millions of satellite observations of a rain forest have enormous potential to help us understand a rapidly changing planet," said Sagarin, an associate research scientist at the UA Institute of the Environment.
He called the book a back-to-the-future story in which the old and sometimes forgotten ways of doing science through intensive natural observation and a sense that studies of the biological world have direct relevance to human societies meet today's enormous environmental challenges, modern observational technologies and greater openness in science to observers from all walks of life.
When existing scientific methods fall short
The scientific method as it is usually taught to college students works by formulating a hypothesis, then devising an experiment to test that hypothesis, do the experiment and either reject, accept or modify the hypothesis depending on the outcome. But this approach, the authors say, falls short when tasked with untangling the myriad of factors that influence global process such as climate change or changes affecting entire ecosystems.
|Contact: Daniel Stolte|
University of Arizona