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Monday, March 13, 2017

Stand Up For Science

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

 - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Over the years, one of my ongoing frustrations with the zoo and aquarium community has been its general unwillingness to take a stand... at least on issues that really matter.  Sure, it's easy to sit in New York or San Diego and rail against the horrors of ivory poaching or shark finning, but that's because those are safe targets.  90% of our guests in the US probably never even gave a thought to purchasing ivory, even fewer probably considered a bowl of shark fin soup.  

Telling visitors about those environmental challenges lets us feel good about ourselves, but ignores the fact that there are greater challenges affecting animals and their habitats - challenges that some of our visitors could actually do something about.  We just have to be brave enough to talk about them.

That's why I was so surprised - and pleased - to see a statement that''s just been released by Dan Ashe, the new President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  Head of the US Fish and Wildlife Service during the Obama Administration (the organization that AZA zoos collaborate with on many reintroduction programs in the US), Mr. Ashe understands better than many the threats that imperil wildlife and wild places, from global climate change to the spread of invasive species.  In his statement, however, he calls out our most insidious enemy - not just apathy, but willful ignorance.  The War on Science, so to speak.

"In a time when "belief" in science is waning [Ashe writes], AZA members are educating millions of visitors on a variety of issues including climate change, the growing problem of plastics pollution and why conservation of species and habitat is crucial to all of our futures. Science, and public confidence in scientific information, are key factors in our success.

Many media reports are predicting drastic cuts to federal agencies and programs that support critical scientific discovery. This is disheartening to say the least. Keep in mind, however, that Congress decides how our tax dollars are spent, and your voice, and AZA's collective voice, to Congress can help turn the tide."

For reasons that baffle me, "science" is increasingly becoming a partisan issue.  Which is ridiculous.  Global climate change is going to occur whether or not the occupant of the Oval Office wishes to acknowledge it or not.  Discounting evolution does not mean that highly pathogenic diseases such as avian influenza will not continue to mutate and spread.  You can discount the importance of wetlands as much as you want - get rid of them (and the shoreline protection that they offer) and see how that works out for you the next time a hurricane comes rolling in to town.

I'm proud of AZA for stepping up and speaking out, encouraging its member institutions to support the March for Science on Earth Day this year.  It's a risky move - there's a decent chance that about half of the country will take political issue with the March (and those affiliated with it).  That would be unfortunate.  Science doesn't care if you are a Republican or a Democrat.  It doesn't care if it ends up being convenient for you or not, or if special interests really want you to ignore it.  To tell you the truth, science doesn't care, period.  

It just is.  Whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

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