This column is my second to last as your AFS President. My last President’s Hook will introduce an issue dealing with the wonderful history of our Society and will not be as opinionated. It has been an honor for me to serve you, the AFS membership, over the past year. We have tackled important issues such as human‐caused climate change and the role of standardization in fisheries science; we have discussed the importance of continually sharing fisheries and other science with the general public; we have moved meetings into a new online age; we have dealt with social strife and its effects on science; we have started the celebration of our wonderful historic 150th anniversary.
As I close my tenure as President with you, I have one final ask of you. This is my most important request. Vote.
Many commentators are comparing events of today with events in the late 1960s. I was a young boy in the 1960s and remember the chaos. The Vietnam War casualties accrued every night as we watched CBS’s Walter Cronkite report on our fuzzy TV set. The shocking assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. played out in front of us. One of our neighbors was shot during riots, riots that swept across cities based on these events and the Vietnam War. Hong Kong flu swept across the world with a high death toll. I remember my mother remarking the country seemed as if it was coming apart.
In areas of social strife and illness, the late 1960s seem comparable to what we are experiencing now; however, science bound us together. I remember science as a bright shining success story during the late 1960s, a discipline well‐respected by most of the population. The Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon. James Watson published The Double Helix , which described the discovery of DNA structure. Heart, lung, and liver transplants were conducted for the first time. New methods were designed to clean up pollution. Science and scientists were celebrated—no matter on which side of the political aisle you happened to be. As a child, I eagerly followed the astronauts’ missions, ate “space‐food sticks” and drank Tang in solidarity with the travelers in space. I was impressed by the deep knowledge of park rangers when our family attended evening “ranger talks” at national parks. Doctors were trusted for their scientific knowledge. The few people holding conspiracy theories not backed by science were typically thought of as “crackpots,” “nuts,” and “loons.” Part of the great reputation of the United States in the world was based on its incredible scientific achievements.
Now we are at a juncture. For the past several decades, a dangerous trend has taken hold. Instead of politicians and others generally accepting scientific findings then using social or economic arguments to help guide why we may or may not want to follow those findings, politicians and conspiracy theorists are attacking the basic science and scientific methods themselves. We see it in human‐caused climate change, vaccination, COVID‐19, and a variety of other issues. The use and celebration of science to help solve problems, especially in many sectors of the United States, are in jeopardy.
This trend hurts the power of science to advance our society. Allowed to continue, this era will become the opposite of the “Age of Enlightenment.” This is heading backwards. Is science perfect? Of course not! However, given the choice between using scientific data to make a decision or just “gut feeling,” the data almost always wins. No matter our affiliation—Democrat, Republican, independent, Libertarian, Green Party, etc.—it should frighten us to see science and the scientific method believed only if it suits a set of narrow interests.
This is now a sad era where we are often forced to choose who to vote for not based on social issues, economic issues, or how the established science is used, but based on whether the politician accepts the scientific method itself as part of the basis for decisions. It is as if some politicians accepted algebra and others thought it was a hoax. It is as if some politicians accepted the occurrence of the American Civil War, and others declared it a made‐up myth. An advanced society cannot elect people who exhibit such departures from reason if it is to remain advanced.
November 3 is coming up. Vote. Convince others to vote. Mail in your vote; drive to the polls; crawl to the polls. Vote for the candidate that supports science; from county council, to state representative, to senator, to president, if we wish to maintain a decent world for ourselves and our kids. In this election it is usually not hard to tell which candidate supports science and the use of science in making decisions. Voting is a critical right of democracies and we need to exercise it—now more than ever before.
Want to stay at home? Want to not be involved? Want to use your vote as some sort of protest, to support a write‐in candidate or someone who has no chance of being elected? Don’t throw away your opportunity. Everyone’s vote makes a difference. According to the vote count in the swing state Florida, 1,784 votes separated the two presidential candidates in the 2000 election. Ask yourself: What would have been the results for our society if a few people didn’t vote and Stephen Douglas was elected president instead of Abraham Lincoln? What would it have meant for conservation if Alton Parker were elected instead of Theodore Roosevelt? We are now at a place where two roads diverge. November is approaching. You will help decide our future, and the choice you make will be critical for everyone. You know the importance of science and conservation. By accepting employment as a conservation professional, you tacitly signed on to support the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, a credo that says scientific management is the basis for wildlife conservation, and you are required to hand down an intact environment to the next generation. One can argue that this is as important to you as the Hippocratic Oath is to physicians.
Again. Vote. Convince others to vote. Hand down an intact environment. Vote for candidates who support science and conservation as if your life depends on it. Because it does. It really does.