A Critique for Ecology

A Critique for Ecology

by Robert Henry Peters
     
 

ISBN-10: 0521400171

ISBN-13: 9780521400176

Pub. Date: 07/26/1991

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

The motto of the Royal Society is 'nullius in verba' because, in science, words alone are empty. Scientists are interested in verbal statements only to the extent that they represent hypotheses to be tested and questioned, that is, to be criticized. Because science grows by first recognizing its faults through self-criticism, and then moving to correct those faults,

Overview

The motto of the Royal Society is 'nullius in verba' because, in science, words alone are empty. Scientists are interested in verbal statements only to the extent that they represent hypotheses to be tested and questioned, that is, to be criticized. Because science grows by first recognizing its faults through self-criticism, and then moving to correct those faults, existing conceptual constructs and theories must be criticized.

This book offers a critique of contemporary ecology. It accepts that science is a device to provide information about nature but argues that much of ecology cannot be science because ecology often provides no formation and, when it does, that information is of such poor quality that it can only be soft science. Although these deficiencies have often been identified, their pervasiveness has not been fully acknowledged, nor have the many similarities of problems in different areas been appreciated. If ecology and environmental science are to meet the needs of the present decade and next millenium, ecological researchers will need far more acute critical abilities than they have yet demonstrated.

Ecologists have minimized the importance of predictive power in assessing scientific quality. Instead, they offer logical rationalization, historical explanation and mechanistic understanding. Given this context, ecologists fall prey to a number of minor failings that complicate and confound any assessment of the science. Even when predictions are possible, they are often vague, inaccurate, qualitative, subjective and inconsequential. Modern ecology is too often only scholastic puzzle-solving.

Ecology can be effective. Informative and predictive ecology is already a reality in autecology, community ecology, limnology and ecotoxicology. Ecology can become a useful practical science, providing the tools we need to defend the earth and protect our own future, but first we must recognize present inadequacies. This book was written to promote such a development. It is suitable for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in ecology and the environmental sciences. It should interest professionals in both areas, as well as geographers, landscape architects and all those who now try to extract useful information from contemporary ecology.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780521400176
Publisher:
Cambridge University Press
Publication date:
07/26/1991
Pages:
382
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.83(d)

Table of Contents

Prefacexi
1Crisis in ecology1
Some preliminary disclaimers2
Ecologists against ecology4
Sociological evidence against ecology6
Evidence from the deepening environmental crisis10
Academic ecology poses unanswerable questions13
Summary--Scientific growth depends on scientific criticism14
2Criteria17
By definition and example: logic, science and theory18
Hypothetico-deductive science21
Criteria for judging scientific theories26
Summary--A hierarchy of scientific criteria36
3Tautology38
Tautologies and deductive tools38
The principle of evolution by natural selection60
Summary--Two tools for two jobs73
4Operationalization of terms and concepts74
Operationalization of concepts76
Typologies and classifications80
Conceptual variables--stability and diversity92
Non-operational relationships96
Atheoretical concepts97
Concepts in ecology: the effects of poor examples100
Summary--The costs of non-operational concepts for ecology104
5Explanatory science: reduction, cause and mechanism105
Prediction and explanation: alternate goals for science106
Reductionism: an unattainable goal110
Causality128
Instrumentalist research136
Summary--The twin perils of mechanistic and causal explanations146
6Historical explanation and understanding147
Scientific explanation and understanding147
Historical explanations and ecology154
Legitimate roles for historical understanding in ecology170
Summary--Explanations in ecology176
7Weak predictions178
Relevance178
Accuracy189
Imprecise and qualitative predictions196
Generality and specificity211
Economy216
Appeal218
Summary--Practicality and appeal219
8Checklist of problems220
The Introduction221
Methods229
Results235
Discussion239
Extensions and hypotheses250
Summary--The challenge of good science254
9Putting it together--competition256
The prevalence of competition257
Operationalization259
Tautology263
Historical explanation266
Mechanisms of competition268
The theoretical status of 'competition theory'270
Summary--The muddles of ecology273
10Predictive ecology274
Eight classes of model theories in predictive ecology274
The attractions of predictive ecology290
Summary--A scientific alternative for ecology304
References305
Index of names and first authors345
Subject index352

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