Why we do science: the paradox of natural history

Lyman Entomological Museum

There are few things on Earth that I would willingly be the President of. A couple of months ago I assumed the Big Chair of one of them — The Natural History Network, a fine organization dedicated to the rebirth, respect and relevance of natural history. Now that I’m ostensibly the leader of this excellent initiative, I’ve spent a lot of time this fall thinking about where we are, and where we’re going, as naturalists, especially in the world of academic science. I’ve come to some interesting realizations about the place and perceptions and standing of natural history in academia.

When I give seminars at other universities I generally get drawn into (or initiate, if I get impatient) conversations about the place of natural history in science. Multiple themes run through these conversations, mostly centered around how we actually define natural history and how it’s perceived within academia. One…

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