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Intelligent Tinkering: Bridging the gap between Science and Practice
‘Intelligent tinkering’ was the term used by the famous ecologist, Aldo Leopold, over sixty years ago to describe his explorations into restoration of degraded prairie land. The casual approach that this term suggests is still the dominant mode of knowledge-building among ecological restoration practitioners.
Cabin, a trained ecologist, explains how scientists are often frustrated by practitioner’s perceived reluctance to employ formal scientific processes. Cabin has also experienced practitioner’s disgust at collaborations with scientists that result in findings they regard as obvious or irrelevant.
In this thought-provoking book, Cabin has attempted to unravel the issues that underlie this problem. These range from the self-evident to deep philosophical divides. Cabin explains that classic science investigations attempt to prove general rules, while locally developed projects are concerned with site peculiarities. In many cases this means that investigations critical to the practitioner are of no interest to a scientist and vice versa. Thus scientists become perceived as out-of-touch and practitioners and their work are dismissed as ‘un-scientific’ and a hindrance to ‘doing things right’. This is disastrous for projects based on collaboration and Cabin’s book is a plea for scientists and practitioners to find common ground and respect for each other’s strengths.
Cabin’s book is illustrated by his fascinating work in the restoration of a ‘basket-case’ ecosystem; the dry forests of Hawaii. National and cultural peculiarities are occasionally apparent but the joys and frustrations will be familiar to many in Australian restoration projects. Among minor quibbles, I occasionally felt that Cabin under-estimated the scientific basis of the intuition and ‘art’ of practitioners.
While the problem this book addresses may seem very specific, it handicaps progress of thousands of projects to conserve our biodiversity. Professionals, volunteers and academics seeking to combine their efforts will benefit from the variety of perspectives that Cabin brings to light.
- Brian Bainbridge
Available from CSIRO Publishing