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The ivory towers at Oxford?

We are surely all familiar with the term “ivory tower”? Used since the 19th century to identify an environment of intellectual pursuit disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life.  Like a university perhaps?

Universities surely provide a legion of scientific articles via their “scholars” on all sorts of issues. The general public has few means of evaluating the content, as that largely requires having studied at an ivory tower in the past. So what the general public does is place “trust” in what emanates from universities ranked by their importance. In other words, something written by a professor at the Southern Campus of the Eastern Community College of Self Improvement in Arizona ( I made that up, it is fictitious) will not be given equal billing to an article written by a professor at a much bigger ivory tower like Oxford.

But while in the 19th Century, “intellectual pursuit” might have been “disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life”, these days universities cannot exist without funding. And such funding in the past has certainly influenced the very confusing reports emanating from various universities. Remember eggs? Bad for you and then good for you? Or fats in food? Always eat low-fat food and then now low-fat is bad for you? And let’s not even begin to talk about the positive benefits of nicotine shown by studies sponsored by the tobacco companies.

It would now seem that David Macdonald, a professor at Oxford University and head of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) can simultaneously take two opposite opinions, without necessarily having been influenced by any funding.

First, Macdonald was recruited by then Minister Rory Stewart (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to produce a report on the conservation “benefits” of lion trophy hunting. Macdonald obliged and concluded that trophy hunting was fine and dandy (if conducted properly, sustainably, legally, with the right controls, etc). Rory only read the bits outside my brackets and that is now UK Government policy.

Second, Macdonald then produced an article to say that lions are highly endangered and that we might lose them like we lost sabretooth “tigers” many thousands of years ago.

One wonders how Macdonald can justify and correlate such opposite stances. You do not add to the mortality of a highly endangered species via sport hunting that has been shown (in other papers by Macdonald) to have had significantly negative impacts on lions even in nationally protected areas in Zimbabwe where WildCRU has a research project. Remember Cecil? That lion was a part of WildCRU’s research project.

In addition to the concept of the “ivory tower”, we have also become used to the rather quaint concept of the “confused professor”, the “nutty professor” etc. But we cannot accept confusion and a disconnect when talking about the real issue of the extinction of one of planet’s most iconic species. Lions need straightforward and relevant conservation plans, not self-contradiction by Oxford and WildCRU.

Because perhaps then we will find Macdonald holding future lectures about lions posed next to sabretooth cats in the Oxford Museum of Natural History? And publishing papers about how both these large cats were extincted by humans?

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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:25