By Guy Knudsen
Probably posting this in the wrong place, but the only place where I could figure out how to post it. I did buy Dan Botkin’s book (Moon in nautilus etc), got the kindle version which was cheapest, and am still deciding whether it was a good purchase or not. Anything that makes me think has some value, I guess. My three main problems with the book are 1) Very wordy, he goes on endlessly elaborating on isolated examples (wolves on the island as one instance), they are anecdotally interesting but his use of them to derive grander principles seems contrived. “Cherry-picking” is the term that comes to mind; 2) He repeatedly states the obvious and well-known (e.g., change rather than permanent steady-state is the ecological norm), sets up straw men to compare himself with (e.g., the idea that most ecology is based on, and ecologists believe, that nature is a steady state phenomenon, which is patently false, similarly his trivial and inaccurate exposition of the logistic equation in population biology, which he then proceeds to knock down), thereby proclaiming himself a “renegade naturalist”; 3) endless self-promotion (I guess that’s really just a variation on #2). When I read him, I’m reminded of Walter Mondale’s comment on Gary Hart’s self-proclaimed “big ideas”: Where’s the beef? One example that’s about as vegan as an idea can get, not in his book but on his website (modestly titled “Daniel B. Botkin: Solving Environmental Problems by Understanding How Nature Works”), where he provides “The Rules of Ecology” (so far there’s only one), which includes statement such as “The evolutionary goal is simply to stay around.” If you think just a little bit about that statement, you hopefully realize either that it’s flat-out wrong, or else he’s using the term “goal” metaphorically, much as Dawkins did when he talked about “genes maximizing their representation in the gene pool.” Again, this is metaphor, which is not explanation, and it would be helpful if Botkin would explain and acknowledge that, rather than throwing it out as part of “Botkin Rule of Ecology #1”.
Wondering if maybe I was alone in my discomfort with this book, I did locate one review (coincidentally in one of my favorite journals, Trends in Ecology and Evolution) which takes on Botkin’s book, both the good and bad aspects, much more eloquently than I could: http://sev.lternet.edu/~jnekola/nekola%20pdf/TREE-28-506-507.pdf