Species in a world that thinks there is a clear division between basic and applied science

Humans are an inconsistent lot, but you would think that might not apply as much when it comes to science, and yet it does.  Even in science are still plenty of ways in which topics lead to opposing and confused viewpoints.  Around my institution these days the terms “applied” and “basic” science are being kicked around at the same time we are discussing “species” as a theme that cuts across research programs.  In terms of birds, this comes just as the much anticipated last volume of Handbook of Birds of the World arrived in the mail (sent to the Bird Division by Lynx Editions because of photos Mary Hennen took from our collection for the volume). It includes articles describing 15 new bird species from Amazonia, and as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, Jason Weckstein and I were co-authors on two of these descriptions with Jason overseeing the gathering of DNA sequence data that helped support the descriptions.  In all, ten of these 86 recently described species involve Field Museum staff and collections in some direct way. Then there is also the description of the new species of Hero Shrew, on which I am a grateful co-author based on work by mammalogist colleagues including Bill StanleyJake Esselstyn and Julian Kerbis with appeared in Biology Letters several weeks ago.

Another Thursday night for the Bird Divsion

Over the course of a year we do plenty of evening events of all kinds.  It is always fun to go support people who work in the Bird Division when possible, but last Thursday (2 May) there were multiple events happening across the city at the same time.  Research scientist Jason Weckstein was down at the University of Chicago with graduating senior Jennie Lee who presented her thesis work on population genetics of Ramphastos toucans.  Jennie gathered all her data in the Pritzker Laboratory and we’re looking forward to having her continue with us this summer.  She did a great job on this project and drew rave reviews from the faculty reading her paper.  We expect it will be ready to submit to a scientific journal shortly.

Will we maintain our connections to other natural history institutions around the world?

Another interest of mine that I hope does not get left out of the refocusing that is currently underway at FMNH is our connections to other institutions like ours across the world.  I feel like we could do so much more with respect to helping other natural history institutions in the myriad of countries where we work.  I’m going to finish this post with a letter that I submitted in response to a 2004/2005 article that Mac Chapin wrote for Worldwatch entitled:  A challenge to conservationists: Can we protect natural habitat without abusing the people who live in them?  Chapin was taking the large conservation organizations to task for being insensitive and overbearing with respect to the issues of local people when trying to create protected areas across the world, but to me, Chapin made a common error in leaving academic institutions (natural history museums, universities and research stations) out of his discussion.

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