Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wicked Invasives; Inconvenient Issues

Final results 31 March 2008
Would you add to or plant in your garden a plant bred (hybridized) to be "deer proof" as long as it was not invasive? (Votes so far: 53 Poll closed )

64% YES; 11% NO; 18% MAYBE; 5% DO NOT KNOW

Updated polling (3-26-08)
hybridized (transgenic, non-invasive, deer resistant) hosta
62% YES; 12% NO; 20% MAYBE; 5% DO NOT KNOW

Would the same small polling sample be in favor of transgenic food?
Is there some concern that perhaps the new hosta species or cultivar might not serve as a food source for local fauna and thereby displace species whose presence might support or enhance diversity?

As I watch in amazement the results the hybrid deer-proof Hosta poll (Invasive Notes, as of March 23rd, 2008, 54% would plant this creation, 24% might, and only 25% would not plant this plant), I notice the wicked inconvenience of a wicked problem showing through the information thus far. Given whom I thought my readership might be this information comes as a surprise. My expectations were that the respondents would be against the idea but that is not what I am seeing. I would expect that if I had used the word transgenic Hosta, perhaps the wave of support would be muted. I may try that wording next.

I shared my results with Dr. Tallamy, Professor and Chair Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, 250 Townsend Hall, Department of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology
University of Delaware Newark, DE 19716-2160, who wrote to me about his response to the poll. “I was afraid of that when I saw the question. People have bought into the idea that aliens are undesirable only because of their invasiveness. If you say it is not invasive, then (they reason) there is no reason not to plant it. How many talks have we attended where big names stand up there and tell the audience exactly that. And that, of course, generates all the arguments about whether a plant is invasive, or maybe it's just a little invasive, etc. We are still a long way from convincing people that the plants in their yards have an ecological job to do, regardless of whether they are invasive or not.”

I wrote back the following:
“Please read this link: . As I try to get funding or spending authority for invasive species efforts this view point or way of thinking is what we face. Similar opinion may be found from other trade association I should suspect. I could get the license for a transgenic Hosta with no problem and actually be paid enough money to work full time on invasive species issues, but of course am horrified that I would be known not as Mr. Invasive but as the guy who introduced the Kill-deer or Eco-system Killer Hosta. I am trying to identify sources of funding so that I could spend my days working on invasive species issues as I already spend most of my free time and some of my working time each week working on invasive species issues one way or another.”

Dr. Tallamy’s one line question (“What generates such extraordinary and baseless paranoia?”) got me thinking, and I wrote back as follows: “Here is my personal explanation of the "what". From my non-scientific back-ground layman's perspective, we have a societal failure to understand the basic tenant of the scientific method. We have forgotten the root of the word science - scire “to know”: sciens, scientes "knowing". Further, we have as a people replaced religious traditional belief systems with a new religion which we call science. We assume that this new religion will answer every question with an absolute answer, forgetting that science presents a hypothesis and, then, attempts to prove over time and through many trials or experiments the validity of the hypothesis. If enough scientific research seems to get the same answer, we have a theory which over time will stand up to repeated inquiry or fall as more information (science) comes to light. Thus ,when one researcher offers a contrarian view, we, the modern body politic, assume that the majority of scientist are wrong because, as in a religious belief system, values must be or are absolute. The very idea that a theory must be tested and retested and perhaps, even to be found wanting, is anathema to modern society which has demonstrated a reluctance to wait for answers.

This lead us to the world of partisan politics and verbal warfare much like the European wars of the 16th & 17th centuries and some of our current challenges around the world today. We confuse religion and science; we are unwilling to wait for answers and uncomfortable with and uneasy with the outcome when our new religion does not rule precisely and exactly at any given time on any given issue. Instead we as a people wait for ex cathedra rulings to be handed down by our new priests of science, who never asked for such an ordination.

Several ideas seem to surround specific issues within the invasive species conversation. Property rights, Judeo-Christian-Islamic temporally linear thinking, the dynamic collision between short term need versus long term need, are among some of the abstract forces guiding the invasive species conversation. These meta-issues created the setting for a story under the guise of news such as the one I just wrote about: Invasive Earmark Reporting from NPR. They operate in one way or another below the surface of any given discussion; they are meta-issues. They conceptually define at an abstract level, one’s belief system and one’s perspective on the issue at hand. Belief system values are absolute. The very idea that a theory must be tested and retested is anathema to the body politic today which has demonstrated its unwillingness to wait for answers. It our compulsion to have it all now, that under-lays our decision making process. It is our culture which both demands an action now based on a axiomatic truth, and inspires us to seek the truth through inquiry which provide the setting for our conversations on invasive species and our personal decisions.

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