Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Repeated Misrepresentation of Native Plant Advocates in NY Times

There's a narrative being pushed in books, on websites, and periodically in the NY Times, that attacks people who are concerned about invasive species. Are we all xenophobic, militaristic, hateful members of a religious cult? Who knew. I've written a couple detailed critiques of these misrepresentations, dissecting their tactics. The narrative about nature is being kidnapped by people who lack basic training in the natural sciences, and the results are deeply skewed. Below is a link, and an excerpt.

Skewed Logic Thrives in NY Times Article on Invasive Species

One expects quality from the NY Times, but for some reason it periodically weakens its standards to publish an oped or article attacking native plant advocates and biologists who study biological invasions. (See list and previous detailed critiques here.) The tactics are always the same: a blurring of important distinctions, a failure to explain to readers the basic concepts of invasive behavior in plants and animals, the creation and tearing apart of strawmen, an embedding of bias in word choice and sentence structure, and a lot of mean-spirited pejoratives. This curious, recurrent smearing of those who seek to understand and tend nature's garden is fueled, as best I can tell, by a never-ending stream of resentment emanating most stridently from a couple California-based websites, then given undeserved validation by journalists who lack training and field experience in biology and ecology.

The latest, by veteran science writer Erica Goode, is a polemic loosely disguised as an article in the Science section. Entitled "Invasive Species Aren’t Always Unwanted", it portrays invasion biology as a xenophobic, militaristic, quasi-religious cult that has invented a false enemy and caused people and governments to behave in violent ways. We are asked to accept this dark psychological portrait largely on faith.

Like attacks on climate science, the article claims to shake the foundations of a major area of scientific study while offering barely enough cherry-picked evidence to nibble around the edges.

Though readers are starved of information and distinctions basic to understanding the issue of invasive behavior, the article provides significant psychological payoffs. For the critics the article quotes, there's the pleasure of projecting onto others the negative qualities they themselves exemplify. Readers, in turn, are supplied a menacing "Other" to look down upon (invasion biologists), and the relief that comes from being told that a big problem our culture and global trade have created may not be so big after all. The vast unintentional damage we do to nature is viewed as largely inevitable, while the intentional efforts to mend the damage are attacked. (rest of post)

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