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Third book review of Klaus Rohde ed., The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press 2013.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

The third review of the book edited by me has just been published in Biological Conservation 182, 281-283 (February 2015)
Reviewer is Brian Drayton, TERC Cambridge, MA, USA, who gave me permission to use excerpts from his review.

For earlier reviews see here:

This latest review covers two books:

Green Equilibrium: The Vital Balance of Humans and Nature, Christopher Wills. Oxford University Press (2013). xxviii+280 pp.,
and The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Klaus Rohde (Ed.) Cambridge University Press (2013). xvi+413 pp.

Excerpts dealing with the book edited by me follow:

“These two books make good companions, and it is instructive to read them side by side. In doing so, the reader can reflect upon a central challenge to conservation science, and to the societies within which it carries out its business.”


“Klaus Rohde’s fascinating edited volume The Balance of Nature and Human Impact offers a snapshot of current research, exploring
evidence for or against equilibrium processes from an array of systems, interspersed with reviews of literature on selected topics. A brief gallop through the table of contents can only suggest its wealth of provocative entries.
Part I: ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in populations and metapopulations’’ examines reef fishes ……..
ectoparasites on terrestrial hosts …….. and marine parasites. Part II: “Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in communities’’ examines plankton communities ……, community stability in relation to fire ……., marine and freshwater ectoparasite communities ….. and small mammal ectoparasites …. , and bird populations and communities. Part III addresses ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium on geographical scales’’ in the context of island flora and fauna …… and arctic vascular plant diversity and spatial variation ……… Part IV: ‘‘Latitudinal gradients’’ focuses on diversity gradients… the literature providing evidence for and against equilibrium and nonequilibrium explanations,” and ‘‘effective evolutionary time.’’
Part V: ‘‘Effects due to invasive species, habitat loss and climate change’’ is by far the largest section. …….. the section marks a transition, as all the rest of the book looks at ‘‘biocomplex’’ (coupled humannonhuman)systems—where the nonhuman component may include insects … coral reefs ….. , emerging infectious diseases ……., human impacts on biodiversity …… , amphibians …….. , and reptiles ……. Part VI: ‘‘Autecological studies’’ comprises two articles: ‘‘Autecology and the balance of nature—ecological laws and human-induced invasions’’ …… and ‘‘The intricacy of structural and ecological adaptations: micromorphology and ecology of some Aspidogastrea’’.
Part VII: ‘‘An overall view’’ sets much of the foregoing into a larger theoretical and practical context, coming back to the
challenges faced by conservation biology in a world in at least one kind of chronic disequilibrium: anthropogenic climate change. Rohde discusses interspecific competition as a regulator of communities, and the status of evolutionarily stable strategies. Finally, Rohde and co-authors discuss ‘‘How to conserve biodiversity in a nonequilibrium world.’’ Here we come to the crux of the matter. As Wallington et al. (2005) argue, much conservation strategy betrays an underlying ‘‘balance’’ orientation, which often takes the form of creating reserves and assuming that they will ‘‘do the job’’……….; or of reintroducing species or otherwise restoring a system, and then assuming that short-term success will last (also not a safe assumption……………. Rohde et al. argue cogently that in the world we now inhabit, equilibrium assumptions will result in deep design weaknesses in many conservation strategies, and the kind of reflective research represented by this volume as a whole must result in substantial innovation.”


“Both books under review make the case ……. that the unexamined assumption of ‘‘balance’’ has contributed to many of our current ecological crises, and inhibits proper responses to them. In some cases, a naive reading of ‘‘balance’’ contributes to the assumption that in time, any disturbance caused by human activities will be remedied by Nature as it comes back into balance. In other cases, the ‘‘balance of nature’’ is reified without sufficient understanding of ecological systems and their dynamics, so that intended remedies result in further, different disturbance or even system transformation. Our challenge …….. is to convey a much richer, but perhaps just as satisfying, understanding of the way things work, and the implications of that understanding for what conservation must become. As Donald Worster (1994) wrote in his seminal treatment: ‘‘It is a pattern of behavior based on the idea that preserving a diversity of change ought to stand high in our system of values, that promoting the coexistence of many beings and many kinds of change is a rational thing to do. . . .Such a strategy of trying to conserve a diversity of changes may seem paradoxical, but it is founded on a crucial and reasonable insight. We may have to live with change, may even be the products of change, but we do not always know—indeed, we cannot always know—which changes are vital and which are deadly.’’

Australian universities: cracks open up in the ivory towers. Neoliberal economics at its ugliest

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

A number of years ago I was sitting in the breakfast room of a hotel in Münster/Westphalia next to a German professor, we were talking about the university system in Germany. He dropped some remarks about universities in Australia: “yes, and in Australia degrees are for sale, at least that is what I was told by an Australian colleague.” I was sceptical about that remark, because during my active days at an Australian university I did not encounter cases of degrees for cash. But the situation has changed. Governments have cut funding for universities, funding is based on student numbers, and a large proportion of universities’ funding is supplied by fee-paying foreign students. Foreign students represent one of the largest sources of income for the Australian government. Students expect something (a degree, not necessarily quality) for their money, and so standards have continually been watered down, even at the most prestigious universities. Students have even employed agencies to have their essays written for them and employed people to sit in for them at examinations. And these are not exceptions, such cases are widespread. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 22.4.2015 gives a brief and concise overview of what is happening. See here:

” Fifty per cent of all work submitted now is plagiarised, according to one source – a huge increase on what was happening only five years ago. Students who can barely speak English are initially failed, and then, when their work is re-marked, are given a pass, allowed to register as professionals, and enter the workforce.”
Lecturers “know which students are cheating, and which are plagiarising the work of others; they know whose English is too poor to pass, and who lacks the knowledge or intelligence to graduate. It is when they attempt to act on what they know in an intellectually honest manner, however, that they find obstructions in their way.”
“Decades of government policies in higher education which have destroyed the traditional university as an independent community of scholars and turned it into a degree factory serving the ephemeral interests of the economy are the real cause.”
“The expectation that all courses in all faculties must have some vocational end in view; the destruction of student life with the end of compulsory unionism; the insistence that all research must have immediate practical application – these different trends, all of them market-based, all of them philistine, have all transformed our universities for the worse.”

The government has plans to make the situation even worse by deregulating university fees, i.e. allowing universities to set their own fees in order to get their hands on more cash. These plans have so far been blocked by the Senate, but the government has not given up. Neoliberal economics at its ugliest!

The end of the university?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

This is what Terry Eagleton, the noted Catholic-Marxist literary critic, has to say about the university today in an interview in Times Higher Education

“What I would say about the university today,” he says, “is that we’re living through an absolutely historic moment – namely the effective end of universities as centres of humane critique, an almost complete capitulation to the philistine and sometimes barbaric values of neo-capitalism.”

He sums it up in a nutshell!

2nd book review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

The review, by Professor W.E.Williams, was published a few weeks ago by Choice Reviews, copyright American Library Association.

For copyright reasons only short extracts are included here. For a previous review see

……… specifically addressing two questions: the extent to which equilibrium processes, particularly competition,…..describe natural ecological systems, and whether ……..human disturbances–climate change, land-use change, introduction of invasive exotics, and so on–primarily upset existing equilibria or instead amplify disequilibria already present. Twenty-four papers and three concluding chapters examine these questions in widely different ecosystems, ….. plankton, coral-reef fishes, Australian birds, animal parasites, and many more. There are 29 contributors to the volume, ………Each chapter contains its own extensive list of references, and the book’s index is quite good……….. the book will appeal primarily to academic ecologists, although some essays are general enough to be useful to those more broadly interested in human ecological impacts. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers/faculty, and professionals.

The results of misinformation about climate change in the U.S.

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Inspite of recent announcements by the American president, nothing important has yet happened with regard to climate change. Large sections of the American public remain unconvinced that human activities are responsible. Why? Lack of scientific evidence certainly is not the reason. See here:

A quote from this article:

“The disinformation campaign can only survive for so long. We saw, as in the case of tobacco, there was a similar disinformation campaign decades ago to obscure the science and the scientific link between the use of tobacco products and lung cancer. But eventually the truth of what the science had to say became accepted. There are some positive signs that we are moving in that direction; the rest of the world is moving increasingly towards renewable energy …. We are lagging behind but we are slowly making progress ourselves.”

– Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center

Linguistic imperialism. Basque, Catalan, Alsatian and Corsican speakers deliver petition to UNESCO in Paris asking for “cultural asylum”

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

According to a recent television report, Australia is the world leader in extinguishing languages. There are two reasons for this, the large number of native languages that invite to be extinguished, and the attitude of those who do the extinguishing.

However, Australia is not alone, France -for example- is doing its best to get rid of minority languages in its territory. The only reason why it is not a world leader is that the number of minority languages is rather small. See here:

Climate Science is a Hoax

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

A just published scientific article examines the mind of so-called climate change sceptics.

NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax

An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science
1. Stephan Lewandowsky1
2. Klaus Oberauer1,2
3. Gilles E. Gignac1
1. 1University of Western Australia
2. 2University of Zurich
1. Stephan Lewandowsky, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia E-mail:
Psychological Science March 26, 2013, 0956797612457686

Although nearly all domain experts agree that carbon dioxide emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a platform for denial of climate change, and bloggers have taken a prominent role in questioning climate science. We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.”

(Cited from

Why are the Chinese so clever, and why will they become even cleverer? A perhaps astonishing aspect of Communist politics. And 100 other problems that might and should worry or inspire students and others

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Chinese have had a long history of “eugenic” selection, by putting those in positions of influence who had passed rigorous state examinations. It seems that this policy has now been brought up to date by incorporating findings of modern science. How has the “West” responded?

See this very interesting article by an evolutionary psychologist. And see many other responses to the question of what one should worry about most.

Die deutsche Sprache und Universität heute

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Bei einem kürzlichen, zwei-monatigen Besuch in Deutschland (August/September 2011) besuchten meine Frau und ich Frankfurt, Würzburg, Berlin, Hamburg, Lüneburg, Bremen, Büsum, Münster, Osnabrück und Paderborn, und das jeweilige Umland. Mein Eindruck: beeindruckender Wohlstand, aktives kulturelles Leben (Konzerte, Opern, Theater, obwohl während unserers Aufenthaltes Theaterpause war und unsere Informationen daher auf Theaterprogrammen beruhten). Aber auch: Verlotterung der Sprache (unglauliches Überhandnehmen anglizierten Jargons) auf Reklamen, vor Geschäften usw..

Weit wichtiger ist jedoch, wie die deutsche Sprache an den Universitäten behandelt wird. Bei Besuchen in Insituten der Universität Münster viel mir auf, dass Kurse zum Teil auf Englisch angekündigt werden. Ein deutscher Professor, dem ein Ehrendoktor an einer anderen deutschen Universität verliehen werden sollte, sagte mir, dass er aufgefordert worden sei, seine Vorlesung zu diesem Anlass auf Englisch zu halten, obwohl man wohl annehmen darf, dass die meisten Zuhörer deutsch sind. Wer macht diese Regeln? Und was ist ihr Zweck? Steht dahinter vielleicht die Absicht, die tradionelle Stelluhg der Professoren in einem archaischen System zu sichern? Wie von Professor Caspar Hirschi, einem schweizer Wissenschaftler, der an der ETH (Eidgenössischen Technischen Hochschule Zürich) auf dem Gebiet der Wissenschaftsgeschichte lehrt und forscht, unten ausgeführt, ist Deutschland nur auf einem Gebiet noch führend, und zwar ist es Exportweltmeister junger Wissenschaftler, die im Überschuss produziert werden und nur im Ausland eine Zukunftschance haben. Man eportiert also Expertise auf Kosten des eigenen Landes, mit auf lange Sicht fatalen Konsequenzen.

Hier jedoch ein kurzer Abriss von Hirschis Thesen, beruhend auf einem Artikel in der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung vom 9.3.2011.

Caspar Hirschi beginnt damit, Annette Schavan , die Bundesministerin für Forschung und Wissenschaft lächerlich zu machen, die behauptet habe, dass das deutsche Wissenschaftssystem so effizient wie kein zweites in der Welt sei. Er weist darauf hin, dass es wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zur Effizienz von Staaten gäbe, In solchen Untersuchungen liegt Deutschland hinter den USA, Grossbritannien, Kanada, der Schweiz, Schweden und Israel. Die deutsche Effizienz ist etwa so hoch wie die Österreichs und Frankreichs. Nur in der Physik und in den Ingenieurswissenschaften erreiche Deutschland noch Spitzenwerte,; in einer “Sparte” besitze Deutschland allerdings eine “weltweit nicht erreichte Effizienz, nämlich in der Überschussproduktion junger Wissenschaftler.” Deutschland sei da “Exportweltmeister”. Hirschi bespricht die historischen und kulturellen Hintergründe dieser Entwicklung, darunter die immer noch “bildungsbürgerlichen Verehrung für Geistesakrobatik im Allgemeinen und für Forschung im Besonderen”. “In kaum einen anderen westlichen Land sind das Ansehen der Wissenschaft und das Prestige von Professoren so hoch wie in Deutschland”. Dadurch ist es einerseits relativ leicht, junge Leute ins Studium der Wissenschaften zu ziehen, andererseits führte es zum Überleben sklerotischer Strukturen, vor allem der “ Konzentration der akademischen Macht bei einer kleinen Minderheit unbefristet angestellter Professoren (etwa 10% der Wissenschaftler). Die meisten der anderen haben befristete Verträge und arbeiten unter Professoren. In anderen Worten, wenn junge Wissenschaftler es nicht schaffen aufzusteigen, bevor sie zwischen vierzig und fünfzig sind, müsen sie ins Ausland abwandern, wenn sie nicht “in Armut absinken wollen. – Die deutsche “Forschungsbürokratie” steht im Dienst des “professoralen Grössenwettbewerbs”, gefördert durch die Gründung der “Sonderforschungsbereiche 1968 und der Exzellenzinitiative (2005). Vor allem in den Geisteswissenschaften wirkt sich dies dahin aus, dass grosse Geldmittel in Peronalstellen gesteckt werden. Die in den Geisteswissenschaften übliche Verbundforschung arbeitet ohne “präzise Problemstellung”, “konkrete Kooperationsform” und “klare Erkenntnisziele”. Infolgedessen kreisen gewaltige Wissenschaftlerschwärme”in projektteilig inszenierten Formationen um “Allgemeinbegriffe.” Nicht wissenschaftliche Erkenntnisse, sondern “personeller Umfang” dient als Leistungsnachweis. “Bewertung erfolgt nicht nach, sondern vor der erbrachten Forschungsleistung”. – Die Zahl der Mitarbeiterstellen ist zwischen 2003 und 2009 um 33% gestiegen, die der Professoren um nur 2%. “Selbst der Wissenschaftsrat räumt ein, dass die meisten Mitarbeiter an deutschen Universitäten keine Zukunft haben”. “Eine umfassende Strukturreform der deutschen Universität wird….nie aus Professorengremien heraus erfolgen”. – Im Gegensatz zu den deutschen Verhältnissen sind in Grossbritannien und den USA mehr als die Hälfte hauptberuflicher Wissenschaftler auf unbefristeten und unabhängigen Stellen”, und jeder kann sich nach erfolgreicher Promotion bewerben.

Vorschläge von Hirschi: die meisten Ordinariate samt Mitarbeitern bei der Emeritierung auflösen und “je nach Grösse in zwei oder mehrere unbefristete und unabhängige Lehr- und Forschungsstellen umwandeln. Jede Stelle nach der “Pensionierung wieder auf die Ausgabngsposition zurückstufen”. Evaluationsverfahren auf die Forschungsergebnisse verschieben.—Dies würde die Überschussproduktion von Wissenschatlern beenden, die Hierarchien abflachen, die Patronageabhängigkeiten reduzieren “und junge Wisenschaftler könnten sich den Luxus leisten, ohne Gefahr originelle Würfe zu landen”.

Diese Ausführungen Hirschis decken sich im Detail mit dem, was ich in einem langen Brief an das Kultusministerieum in NRW schon in den sechzigern schrieb: eine Reformierung der morroden deutschen Universitätssystem sei aus Kreisen der Professoren nicht zu erwarten, enorme Mittel würden verschleudert, weil junge Wissenschaftler in korrumpierenden Abhängigkeitsverhälnissen ständen und sich nicht frei entefalten könnten. Die Habilitation sei nicht viel mehr, als junge Leute so lange wir möglich abhängig zu halten. – An meiner Universität in Australien gibt es eine ganze Reihe junger deutscher Wissenschaftler, die wahrscheinlich nicht gekommen wären, wenn sie in Deutschland eine entsprechende Stelle gefunden hätten.

Darüber hinaus, Deutschland hängt kritisch von der Qualität seiner Wissenschaft ab. Der laufende Export der besten verschiebt diese Vorteil, in anderen Worten, das deutsche Wissenschaftssystem , das vom deutschen Steuerzahler bezahlt wird, trägt aktiv dazu bei, den Exportvorteil in Ausland zu verlagern.

Kann man auf Rettung hoffen? Sicherlich wird sie nicht aus der Ecke der Professoren kommen, die vor allem darauf bedacht sind, ihre Vorrechte und Vormachtstellung zu sichern.

Um auf die Sprache zurückzukommen: die Einführung des Englischen als Unterrichtssprache in Masterkursen usw. ist nur eine Komponente unter verschiedenen Techniken, junge Leute später ins Ausland abzuschieben.

Allerdings: das Englische ist ohne Zweifel im Augenblick die dominierende Wissenschaftssprache, und man muss auf Englisch publizieren, um anerkannt zu werden (ganz abgesehen davon, dass man kaum noch Zeitschriften findet, die deutsche Arbeiten veröffentlichen). Damit zusammenhängend ist es sinnvoll, in fortgeschrittenen Forschungsgruppen auf Englisch zu kommunizieren. Jedoch sollte auf jeden Fall verhindert werden, dass das Deutsche als Unterrichtssprache verdrängt wird. Die Sprache ist die “Seele eines Volkes”. Und ich schliesse mit einer Erfahrung, die ich in Santa Fe, Neu Mexico, USA machte:

Ein Navajo-Indianischer Geistlicher hielt einen Vortrag in Santa Fe, Neu Mexico:

Als Kind sei er von seinen Eltern getrennt worden. Es wurde ihm verboten, die Navajosprache zu sprechen. Er verlernte seine eigene Sprache und konnte sich, nach der Rückkehr in die Heimat, nicht mehr mit seinen eigenen Eltern verständigen. Er lernte Navajo jedoch wieder, denn die Sprache ist, wie er sagte, “die Seele des Volkes”. Auf eine Frage einer Zuhörerin, ob man seine Identität nicht auch ohne die Sprache bewaren könne, antwortete er, nein, das sei nicht möglich. Die Sprache sei das entscheidende. – Die gleiche Situation übrigens in Australien, Aboriginals wurden in grossem Rahmen von ihren Eltern getrennt und gezwungen, Englisch als einzige Sprache zu lernen (“Lost generation”).

Vielleicht sollten die Deutschen von den Indianern lernen. Seid stolz auf Eure Sprache. Und daneben, bewahrt Euren Respekt vor der Wissenschaft. Vergesst aber nicht, dass das nicht synonym mit Respekt vor den Professoren ist. – Und dies ist sehr wichtig: man wird wahrscheinlich nicht ewig ein Spitzenlicht im Wohlstand sein. China, Indien, Brasilien usw.usw. holen rasch auf. Wie will man sich dann definieren? Was macht das Deutsche aus ? Man muss sich wieder mehr auf die Kultur und hier insbesondere auch auf die Sprache besinnen.

Man-induced climate change revisited

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

In previous posts I drew attention to the fact that media reports claiming falsification by researchers of data showing man-induced global warming, coincided with the Copenhagen conference on climate change. No falsification had been shown, but the aim was achieved: a general cooling towards the idea that steps to counter warming were essential.

Now, 255 members of the US National Academy of Science including 11 Nobel Prize laureates issued a very strong statement (according to the Sydney Morning Herald 7.5.10) “defending the rigour and objectivity of climate science. They called for an end to “McCarthy-like threats” of criminal persecution of researchers.”

We all know what the reactions in Australia were. Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition (a former environment minister) called man induced climate change “crap” and went as low as announcing to primary school students not to worry, the world was warmer at the time of Jesus of Nazareth. Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, “postponed” legislation to introduce an ETS scheme, after it had been blocked in the Senate by the Opposition and Greens (by the latter for being too weak). Are there any other countries were discussion has descended to such a low level? After all, we are dealing with a problem that may have very serious consequences for future generations. We cannot afford to wait until we are 100% sure about the evidence, science does not work that way.

Perhaps it was too optimistic to expect that the electorate would see through the stupidities, but is it not extraordinary that Tony Abbott and his party were awarded with a high jump in popularity in the latest opinion polls? Senator Fielding of the Family First party, who waved around a poster showing the supposed temperature decline in the last decade (a poster which he had picked up at some meeting in the US) and Abbott were apparently duped by the press reports about falsification of climate data. After all, according to some press reports, the (in)famous climate change denier Lord Monckton (who is not a climate scientist but a business consultant etc.) appeared in the media 455 times during his recent visit to Australia, the scientist and head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor of Earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University, appeared just 61 times. Four out of five books denying climate change, according to a press report, were linked to conservative think tanks and there were few PhD’s among the authors.