Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

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Michelle Marvier: Effective Conservation Science - Data not Dogma

Effective Conservation Science - Data not Dogma, the new book edited by Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier and Brian Silliman, was released this month. The book tells stories of conservation scientists following the data — to wherever they may lead.

Within conservation, the scientific field that aims to protect Earth’s species and ecosystems, advocacy and righteousness can sometimes interfere with the ruthless objectivity of science. The consequence is that inconvenient data are sometimes muted for fear that the media and policy makers could draw the “wrong conclusions.” Those who daylight these data or challenge orthodoxy may face questions about their dedication to “true conservation” and find their ideas labeled as “dangerous.” However, science thrives only because new data and analyses vanquish old ideas and assumptions.

There must be a way forward for conservation that neither delivers unnecessary ammunition for opponents of conservation nor squelches critical dialogue. Part of that way forward must recognize how easily we all fall prey to confirmation bias and how seductive simple stories can be, even though their very simplicity obscures important conservation opportunities.

The book argues the single most important principle should be “follow the data.”

recent article in Slate highlights how Marvier tackles the philosophical and scientific issues that have divided the field of conservation biology in recent years.