Join us online as Professor Mark Vellend (Université de Sherbrooke, Biology) discusses the potential role and implications of researchers' values in biodiversity science with Professors Carly Ziter (Concordia, Biology) and Matthew Barker (Concordia, Philosophy).
Values have a profound influence on the behaviour of all people, scientists included. Biodiversity is studied by ecologists, most of whom align with the “mission-driven” field of conservation biology. The mission involves the protection of biodiversity, and a set of contextual values including the beliefs that biological diversity and ecological complexity are good and have intrinsic value. This raises concerns that the scientific process might be influenced by biases toward outcomes that are aligned with these values. Retrospectively, Professor Mark Vellend has identified such biases in his own work, resulting from an implicit assumption that organisms that are not dependent on natural habitats (e.g., forests) effectively do not count in biodiversity surveys. Finding that anthropogenic forest disturbance reduces the diversity of plant species dependent on shady forests can thus be falsely equated with more general biodiversity loss. Disturbance might actually increase overall plant diversity (i.e., including all of the species found growing in a particular place). In this discussion, Professor Vellend asks whether ecologists share values that are unrepresentative of broader society, discusses examples of potential value-driven biases in biodiversity science, and presents some hypotheses from behavioral economics on possible psychological underpinnings of shared values and preferences among ecologists.
About the speakers
Dr. Mark Vellend is Professor in the Département de biologie at Université de Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke. His research focuses on how plant individuals, populations, and communities respond to environmental changes of various kinds, including climate warming and human-mediated disturbance. He also has a strong interest in overarching theories in ecology and evolution and in facilitating efforts to synthesize knowledge of ecological dynamics and biodiversity change across a variety of ecosystem types. He has published extensively in the scientific literature, including recent work on bias in biodiversity science.
Dr. Carly Ziter is Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Concordia University. Her research examines how landscape structure, land-use history, and biodiversity interact to impact multiple ecosystem services, particularly in an urban context. While this work is strongly grounded in landscape and ecosystem ecology, Dr. Ziter also recognizes that addressing complex ecological problems is inherently interdisciplinary and thus strives to develop research partnerships both within and outside the university, valuing community engagement as integral to her work.
Dr. Matthew Barker is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Concordia University. His research is aimed at uncovering and answering philosophical questions about scientific categories, including the categories of species and individual in biology and well-being and humility in psychology. His work also takes up connected issues, including ethical concerns about biotechnology and the environment, the role that values must and should play in science, and how to infer probabilities of hypotheses from existing data. His primary research areas are philosophy of biology, general philosophy of science, and philosophy of psychology; secondarily he sometimes works on virtue ethics and applied ethics, and the history of the philosophy of science.