Friday, July 22, 2011

Professional Ethics and Values in Biology and Ecology

A Question of Values
Here is a review that I have written:
Errington, Paul L.  1987.  A Question of Values.  Iowa State University Press, Ames.  ix + 196 p.  $18.95.  Edited by Carolyn Errington.

     This book is a selection of 15 essays written by Dr. Paul L. Errington, renowned for his influential views in the field of wildlife management and conservation.  The first three essays discuss predation and factors determining population levels of prey species.  Next, four essays describe the cyclic nature of the "terms in a biotic equation" of marsh habitats and the populations supported by these habitats.  Five essays tell of the author's experiences in the wilderness of northern Minnesota and Canada with special reference to wolves.  These give the reader insight into the personal life of the author and a feel for the outdoor work environment.  The next two essays discuss conservation.  This is where the central underlying theme of a "question of values" is raised.  The last essay is a discourse on what an enlightened civilization might be able to learn from studies of animal populations.  Taken all together, the essays revolve around a challenging speculation.  If the environment has qualities of value recognized by diverse interests, which values are to be included in decisions about management?  In addition, the maturity of the reasoning used to make decisions must be examined.  Included at the end of the book is "In Appreciation of Aldo Leopold," as well as, "An Iowa Boyhood," and a dedication to Dr. Arthur Karr Gilkey.  The bibliography contains a complete listing of Dr. Errington's publications:  214 books, journal articles, and reviews.  There is also a list of 10 biographical citations.
     This book will provide excellent supplemental reading for students of wildlife management, ecology, mammalogy, conservation, and those interested in the philosophy of values.  Researchers engaged in current ecological research will not find any new ideas, or explanations proposed, however, the narrative is descriptive and complete enough to point out areas where fundamental questions have not yet been answered.
     By using examples of his own experiences, Dr. Errington elucidates differences in reasoning between the public attitude concerning outdoor values and the studies of ecologists.  Predator-prey patterns in relationship to environmental quality, habitat availability, and behavior are discussed.  He points out that the studies of ecologists have led to standards of conduct, judgement, and philosophy.  He boldly states that:
"Recognizing that there have to be compromises, I should say that a civilized attitude would be to try to preserve a good deal of Nature in as natural condition as we can, if only for the sake of our own mental health.  From our own selfish standpoints, the good life needs more than man and the man-made.  To at least some civilized people, opportunities to enjoy and to reflect in the natural out-of-doors are as important as material comforts."
     Dr. Errington also asks that professionals, as well as the public, examine the maturity of their thinking and decisions.  "Reputable bird students have been among those who have outdone themselves in applying epithets to the horned owl, and we read of voraciousness, bloodthirstiness, blazing eyes, untamable savagery, and other attributes that are considered unattractive in wild animals.  These words may be applied to man, who coins such terms, but not to wild animals, acting under the compulsions of their natural way of life."  He also points out mistakes in management practices, such as cleaning up areas that should have been left alone, advocating control of native vertebrates, and campaigning against predatory species.  He attributes these mistakes to decisions based on faulty ideas, even when there has been adequate study.
     Iowa State University Press and Mrs. Errington are to be commended on the quality of the printing and editing.  Not only is the book thought provoking, it is also pleasing to the senses and an inspiration to those working in the field.

 Here is a STEM Lesson on Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains:

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