Ethical Debate: Clean Energy and the State of the Union

I’ve been critical of President Obama’s policies concerning science, technology and education in the past. I think he uses a lot of great-sounding rhetoric, but I have yet to see very much in the way of actual results. Despite lofty promises about climate change, we remain without a cap-and-trade system or any sort of meaningful response plan. To make things worse, the administration recently fired their primary adviser for climate change policy. Is all hope lost? Perhaps not.

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Ethical Debate: Evolution, the big easy, and putting your money where your mouth is

One of my favorite parts of being a scientist is attending conferences. In addition to getting feedback on your research from leaders in your field and staying current on other people’s work, conferences are a lot of fun. When the daily sessions end, it’s basically a bunch of cool people who share your interests looking to have a good time after a long day. While most people (including myself) care more about the knowledge transfer than the celebrations (exhibit A- I’m going to a conference in Minnesota next summer) , I’ve known more than a few people who have chosen not to go to certain conferences because the host city was “boring”. This makes it all the more surprising that the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), one of the largest scientific societies in the United States, announced that their 2011 conference would be held in Salt Lake City and not New Orleans (as had originally been proposed).

Guess which city this celebration took place in? Image from

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Ethical debate: Can an endangered species be a business partner?

Two of the strongest environmental laws in the world are the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Among many other statutes, these laws make it a Federal crime for anyone to harass endangered marine mammal species such as the West Indian manatee.  By the accepted definitions of the word “harass”, this means that  people cannot swim with and certainly cannot touch a manatee. However, at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, visitors can do both of these things- and it’s totally legal!

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Ethical Debate: Killing sharks for science?

While attending last year’s American Elasmobranch Society conference, I was asked to fill out a survey concerning my views on lethal shark research. My response, along with those of many other participants, has now been analyzed and written up into a new essay in the Journal of Conservation Biology. Michelle Heupel and Colin Simpendorfer argue that lethal sampling of some individual sharks is sometimes necessary in order to get the data needed to protect those animals’ entire species. However, attitudes about conservation in general and sharks specifically are changing, and many (including these authors) feel that this is starting to affect marine biology as a science.



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Ethical debate: saving owls by killing owls?

Image from

This month’s Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment has a brief article about a new proposed conservation strategy that seems perfect for a Southern Fried Science ethical debate.  Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) are one of the most famous endangered species in the United States. While solutions to the destruction of their habitat by logging have been debated for years, a new threat has been recently identified- encroachment on their limited habitat by another species of owl (the barred owl, Strix varia).  Some conservationists now believe that we need to kill barred owls to protect spotted owls.

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