Dr. Kartington’s advice to all conservation

Kartel Shockington catches up with a formerly unknown but clearly destined-for-greatness scientist.

One of the privileges of our role as Kartel Shockington is that we get to meet some of the brightest minds of our generation—and not just each other. Yesterday Kartel Shockington had the great privilege of meeting, if only in our mind’s eye, a new titan in conservation: Shoktel Kartington.

Shoktel is an entity who will one day take his place among the great conservation scientists. This is no exaggeration. It is an objective fact verified by at least two other conservationists. Kartington has not just done mundane things like discovering new species, or promoting social science in conservation. He has identified new fields of research endeavour. And he is amusing. He has even written a fake letter to one of the Great Journals, whose ‘t’s we do not deserve to cross, AND it was published. Not many of us can claim to have hoaxed any journal, let alone that one, let alone inadvertently

We must try and learn from such people before they go completely bald and can no longer be taken seriously. Which may mean in our case that time is against us. But fortunately, we have been able to interview him via text messages. Here are his pearls of wisdom when we asked him for any advice he might have for young conservationists.

Dr. Kartington, what would you say to a conservationist seeking to expand their intellectual horizons?

Conservationists already have the broadest minds, but these days there seems to be a strange tendency to make gestures towards social science. I understand the need to gesture, even gesticulate, but anything more than that, anything meaningful, is totally misplaced. Understand society? Seriously?! We are conservationists! We understand Nature. The fact that any conservation happens through social change is completely irrelevant. We must stick to our basics. And that must mean something totally biological and preferably at the top of the food chain. Tomorrow’s conservationists need to study the largest bears, fiercest sharks, and most ravenous tigers, and also, preferably their parasites or gut flora. The next time I see someone inspecting an anaconda’s anus, I will personally walk up and congratulate them. 

That’s very convivial of you Professor Kartington. But what should we do if we do meet a social scientist?

Well, try and be careful. Prevention is better than a cure and all that. You need to make sure you are wearing all the right protective gear—Foucauldian inhibitors, anti-Gramsci spray and the devices that suppress class consciousness—that sort of thing and then generally the moment simply passes you by. But if you do get caught out and have to do things like converse, then remember that this sort of interaction is all about appearance. A good deal of social science comprises only surface and image. It is basically like warm wax: it is the science of impressionable substances. If you listen carefully to a social scientist talking (and stay a safe distance away when doing so) you will rarely hear any actual words, or even intelligible syllables. There will be lots of arm waving, gazing intently at the ceiling, and mumbled conclusions to sentences. Just do likewise and you will be talking true social science in no time. 

If more sustained interactions develop, then it may be necessary to begin to make your points in question form, but without invoking a question mark. Then you require your listeners to answer these non-questions for you. This is the key to sounding clever in social science. Thus, you might say ‘I think the issue you are raising here is the question of Nature’. Or ‘This is too normative, you need to approach this issue as a question of class contradiction.’ Or ‘You are invoking the younger Foucault, with a hint of Hegel, which I find most provocative’. I find that those three statements if uttered in that (or any) order, can get me through any awkward seminar discussion.

Do you think, Lord Sir Kartington, that conservationists these days are maybe not passionate enough about their subject?

Quite the opposite actually. They are ridiculously passionate. In this age of social media, far too many scientists have simply lost all semblance of objectivity. They not only emote, which is bad enough, but they do so in public. True science is about suppressing all emotion. I will admit that once, in my youth, I might have got excited about some of my science. When I got really close to gut flora, well, that was really a special moment. But I was resolute, I was firm, I did not give in. So, I simply cannot understand why the conservationists I see in conferences are always getting so excited—about new discoveries, or publications, or species they have saved. These are things for which the only proper reaction is polite applause and a quiet feeling of satisfaction. Much as my wife did after we conceived our first child.

Do you not feel that sometimes all major discoveries have already happened in our field? How can a new scientist start out afresh?

You’re right to ask this—if you are a researcher then it is vital to establish a brand. But that’s the wonderful thing these days, there are plenty of new disciplines out there waiting to be discovered. One enterprising young scientist has discovered both Conservation Geography and then Quantitative Conservation Geography in consecutive months! What panache! It really doesn’t matter that these fields might have existed for some decades or centuries. Just (re-)invent them anyway. I personally am about to discover ‘environmental history’, ‘ecological economics’ and ‘social medicine’. I thought about inventing political ecology but that would obviously be an oxymoron. There are no politics in ecology.

Finally, O demi-god Kartington, you must tell us—what was the journal that you inadvertently hoaxed?

I am dying to tell you, I honestly am, but our time is up. I will divulge all in due course!

Thank you so much for your time, O wondrous deity. We do hope that you will be back to dispel more pearls of wisdom as soon as possible.