Do academics live in ivory towers?

During the discussions yesterday at the workshop in Paris organised by the Biodiversity Knowledge initiative (see my Blog on 17 January), an interesting question was raised. How do scientists and academics relate to local natural resource users, and how do the researchers know which biodiversity-related issues local people are concerned about? The point was made that small scale landowners and resource users are not particularly interested in biodiversity research findings and presumable do not care a lot about the definition of ecosystem services. Yet, these are the very people that manage the natural resources we all talk about in our workshops and seminars, and they therefore constitute a principal stakeholder group for a biodiversity knowledge initiative.

Dutch wetland from

Dutch wetland with willow trees; photo from

Case studies were provided from woodworkers in the UK and coastal residents in Western Australia. In both cases, the local knowledge and understanding of natural resources and ecological processes is vast, but this is not recorded in a scientific manner, and the knowledge is generally not readily shared with outsiders. One observation was made that people who live on the land and who depend on local resources often do not want to participate in facilitated workshops or discussion groups organised by outsiders. The challenge for scientists and academic researchers is to find a way to “connect” with them.

The perspective of local concerns was quite refreshing after all the academic presentations earlier in the morning and the previous day. The fact that literature research often does not deal with reports that are not peer-reviewed, and that are not published in recognised scientific journals had caused some debate earlier. The presentation of the local issues illustrated the point that many academic researchers are working in a bubble, and living in ivory towers.



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