Glendon research examines quality of debate on invasion biology

Research York University
Research York University

A study investigating the quality of debate around the topic of invasion biology has found that the language used, and the uncertainty of evidence around invasion biology, distorts the tone of debates and impedes the development of constructive dialogue.

Radu Guiasu
Radu Cornel Guiaşu

Professor Radu Cornel Guiaşu from the Biology and Environmental and Health Studies programs at Glendon Campus, York University, reported on findings in the study “Logical fallacies and invasion biology” in the journal Biology & Philosphy. The study was published in September, and was co-authored by Christopher Tindale of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Windsor.

Leading invasion biologists sometimes dismiss critics and criticisms of their field by invoking “the straw man” fallacy. Critics of invasion biology are also labelled as a small group of naysayers or contrarians who are sometimes engaging in “science denialism.” Such labels can be seen as a way to possibly suppress legitimate debates and dismiss or minimize reasonable concerns about some aspects of invasion biology, including the uncertainties about the geographic origins and complex environmental impacts of species, and the control programs against species perceived as invasive.

The study assesses the quality of the debate in this area, examines the validity of the use of various strategies – including the “straw man” concept – and explores a range of potential logical fallacies present in recent prominent discussions about invasion biology and so-called “invasive” species.

The goal is to add some clarity to the concepts involved, point out some problematic issues and improve the quality of the debates as the discussions move forward.

Researchers investigated the following:

  • logical fallacies relating to debates about invasion biology;
  • the “guilt-by-association” fallacy with respect to perceptions of non-native species;
  • prejudicial attitudes towards non-native species in invasion biology;
  • the presence of bias in debates;
  • the value of informed dissent;
  • the arbitrary nature of key terms in biology; and
  • the vague concepts of “native range” and “invasive.”

A major section of the article examines the “guilty until proven innocent” approach some invasion biologists take towards species of animals and plants perceived (fairly or unfairly) as non-native, said Guiaşu.

“In our view, as authors of this article, such an approach is obviously prejudicial and can lead to poor management decisions when it comes to these species, and perhaps less-than-optimal spending of the limited resources allocated for conservation,” he said. “Having a more open-minded approach towards non-native species can lead to a healthier and more sustainable relationship with nature.”

By drawing attention to the challenges around the discussion on invasive species, the study aims to encourage balanced and respectful discourse among scientists debating the topic.

The study further develops some of the ideas initially explored in Guiaşu’s book Non-native Species and their Role in the Environment: The Need for a Broader Perspective, which was published by Brill (Leiden and Boston) in 2016.