February 6, 2023

Science in Theory From a Dumb Ole Maine Boy

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Science is an interesting subject. Most humans hate it but love the results – well, not always. In science class, most students, myself not excluded, did what we HAD to do because, well, we had to do it. To me science is a system of proving or disproving theories until we come up with one that just might work.

It’s the process of getting to those “end results” that bothers me a little. No human is impartial, unbiased or politically unaligned, therefore the methods one chooses to use to prove or disprove theories is affected by these human traits. This isn’t to say that scientists don’t do a good job or that their personal agendas get in the way of good science.

Henry Clay, an American politician in the early 1800s once wrote, “Statistics are no substitute for judgement.” Rex Stout, English writer who lived to around 1975 also wrote, “There are two kinds of statistics: The kind you look up and the kind you make up”.

As a writer it is easy to read someone’s statistics as quoted by someone else’s study and use them in support of your idea or to refute someone else’s. Before long, like the childhood game of telephone, the message doesn’t end the way it began.

Being that I am a simple man and not a scientist, I look at things in a simple way. Is that bad? or wrong? Does that make my ideas something to disregard? Probably, but I see what I see as do millions of other Americans.

I grew up in a rural Maine setting spending hours in the woods. During those years I watched many changes happen in the woods I frequented most often. Some of those changes were natural and some of them were the result of man’s influence.

For example, when a logging operation moved into a large woodlot in my favorite hunting grounds, things began to change. These changes are too numerous to cover them all but I do know that each little change can and usually does affect other things. In simple terms as a deer hunter, the deer move out and go some place else to find their food and cover.

As new growth begins after the cut over, wildlife that wasn’t there before the cut move in. The reason is because habitat was created from the logging operation that these particular species like. Over time as the habitat evolves and grows, so too does the animals that live there. It is an ever changing section of woods.

These changes that occur in my hunting grounds, change on yours too. The entire state of Maine is an ever changing woodland for the creatures who live there.

What happens when let’s say lightning strikes a big pine tree in the forest resulting in a forest fire that burns thousands of acres? Obviously this is a natural occurance. The fire is devastating, isn’t it? Immediately after the fire, it seems that it will be years before anything will live there again but we soon see that life takes over but with a multitude of changes.

The new habitat is good for some species bad for others and as the forest evolves from healing and grows, changes will happen similar to how they do after a logging operation.

If we take a look in Washington state we can see the results of the evolution of wildlife and habitat around Mount St. Helens. When that volcano erupted over 25 years ago, everything in its path was leveled leaving us all wondering if the landscape would remain a desert. Much to our surprise, things began growing almost immediately after.

As the small plants and shrubs began to grow again, it soon became prime habitat for elk in that region. It was ideal, open terrain with young growth that the elk love to forage on.

Because of the abundance of habitat, the elk flourished and multiplied. As numbers grew, the elk began to eat up the vegetation. As the habitat changed and the growth became bigger, the smaller forage that elk depend on diminished leaving hungry elk. Now the elk herd in that region is suffering bigger than expected die-offs from starvation and disease.

Apart from the debateable influence of man into this equation, much of this evolution is natural. It tells us that natural disasters, climate changes and man’s influence creates an ever changing habitat for our wild animals.

A new study just released shows that it was mostly climate changes and a failure of animals such as the wooly mammoth, wild horses and other large mammels, to adapt to the changes that killed them off, not man hunting them to extinction. This recent study shows many things but the one that jumps out at me is that whether on a small scale, like my favorite hunting grounds, or all of North America, there have always been changes. Some of those changes have been tiny in comparison to something as large as Mount St. Helens.

It also shows that man isn’t killing off everything. This report shows drastic changes in climate and habitat before man was around in these parts. Man hasn’t been keeping climatological data but for just over 100 years – a drop in the bucket compared to the existence of earth.

In scientist’s quest to prove or disprove theories, sometimes their “feelings” have an affect on their science. If those feelings become more of a personal agenda, that is most often when those infamous statistics begin showing up and as George Canning wrote, “I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.”

Sometimes we just need to put down the statistics and use our own judgement to know what’s going on around us.

Tom Remington