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Science for Parks conference, part 3

3. NPS Science Advisor, Dr. Gary Machlis

The YouTube video of Gary Machlis’s talk in the final session of last week’s conference (3:10 pm, Friday) is not for the faint of heart. (For just his talk, titled “The Future of Science and the National Parks,” go to 28:24 minutes into the link provided above.)

I wrote in my notes: “This guy is brilliant”! In this instance he was talking to people, almost all of whom have a science background of some kind, but there is important and understandable take-away here for anyone willing to pay attention to what he has to say.

Gary E. Machlis has recently been appointed the first-ever science adviser to a National Park Service director. We can hope that Director Jon Jarvis will be able to take his advice to heart. Machlis is also Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson University, a South Carolina public university ranked highly among science and engineering schools. And he has written and co-authored numerous books about parks, biodiversity, and related topics. His most recent is Warfare Ecology, the historical effects of violence and warfare on places such as World War I Slovenia or many parts of Africa.

Dr. Machlis provides a stellar example of how to organize a lecture of just over twenty minutes and yet plant important ideas that will take root in the minds of his audience. He begins with a mention of a 1942 book (C. C. Furnas, The Next Hundred Years), full of predictions such as that the technological limit for a wireless receiver will be a two-pound backpack. Go figure.

Machlis’s own predictions for what is “just over the horizon” in technologies that will be useful to park managers include quantum biology that will help explain how birds migrate; new ocean research platforms like the newly launched USS Neil Armstrong, designed for ocean research; “CubeSats,” tiny satellites that can gather date wherever they are; and citizen science that he foresees will involve young people up to high levels of serious participation.

Also totally new to me is the idea of “de-extinction”: cloning and re-creation of extinct species, which could involve major ethical decisions. And there was much more.

Near the end of his talk, Machlis brought out the statistic that 87% of scientists believe that human evolution took place over time, while 32% of the general public believe this. But he ended on a definitely upbeat note, showing a picture of the young girls who won awards a few days ago at the White House Science Fair.

SciFairGirls_2015-04-02 at 11.07.15 AM
Screen shot of Science Fair winners and Barack Obama.

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