Cichlid hobbyists and CARES

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Over the years I have posted a few times about the CARES Preservation Program. Yesterday I came across a Facebook post (shout out to Pete Liptrot) linking to a short article about CARES in New Scientist magazine. For more information about the program, check out the interview I did with Greg Steeves. If you want the complete lowdown on CARES, you can go straight to the their website.

The New Scientist article provides a nice synopsis of the CARES program and why participating hobbyists are important to it. There is a lot to be said about the relationship between hobbyists and scientists. This falls within the category of “citizen science,” a subject on which I’m well versed. There are myriad ways that hobbyists can contribute to science. One of the most beneficial is by documenting their observations. I won’t bore you with the details of how citizen science can contribute to the scientific community, but you should definitely Google it.

Nevertheless, the second to the last paragraph of the New Scientist piece has a quote that bothers me. One of the contributors to the article, Jose Valdez from Aarhus University in Denmark, says the following when referring to fish hobbyists:

“Since they are passionate and are directly involved with these fish they are more knowledgeable than scientists, who don’t have the luxury to study a small subset of fish in a particular lake or travel to remote areas for a scientifically non-important fish species,”

It’s the very last part of that sentence that I find problematic. What exactly is a “scientifically non-important” fish? The context of the article, and Valdez’s reference to, is threatened species. ALL threatened species are scientifically important, in my opinion. I understand that all species of fish (or any other living thing) may not represent something “scientifically” noteworthy. However, this whole article is predicated on threatened and/or extinct or near extinct species. Anything related to fish preservation, which is the point of the CARES program, by default makes any threatened species scientifically important, in my opinion. I don’t think Valdez misspoke. I think his intent was correct but his choice of words and phrasing was poor.

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