Conservation biologists often wonder why their work fails to change the world. Here's an editorial that displays some of the reasons for failure. It's a plea from Giovanni Bearzi, in Conservation Biology: When Swordfish Conservation Biologists Eat Swordfish.
Bearzi wants conservation biologists to "walk their talk" and do things like stop eating swordfish. Why? Not to change the world, but to lead by example. But what is the example? He offers no reason to believe that not eating swordfish will change the way people catch swordfish. It comes across as self-denial with no clear benefit, and that's a hard thing to get people to do.
Bearzi's views on how to persuade people seem to be vague hopes. He dreams of a time when
"our conservation elites have abandoned our unsustainable habits"and expects that
"only then will there be convincing evidence that responsible individual behavior can spring from science-based understanding of cause-effect relationships and only then will there be any hope that, beyond theory and preaching, the inspired and knowledgeable choices of a few visionaries may affect a larger community in a growing spiral of understanding."Is he serious? Does he really believe this?
Scientific understanding is NOT the basis for behavior, at least for most people. There is plenty of evidence that people are often irrational in their behavior and choices.
And who is going to look to conservation elites for models of how to live their lives? Most scientists do not look like role models, we tend to look dorky and unappealing to most people.
To be fair, Bearzi says his plea for conservation elites to "just say no" to swordfish and SUVs is not meant to be a recipe to change the world. But he does hope it helps inspire others to do the same.
A better inspirational example would be to do something more effective, and hope that action spreads. Here's a better idea...
Conservation biologists should dedicate their time to attending meetings of fishery managers where decisions are made about fishing regulations. I've been at many such meetings, and independent conservation biologists are extremely rare. For people who care so much about conservation, why not show up where conservation decisions are made? Tweet