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Primer on Natural Resource Science

By Fred S. Guthery

Publication Year: 2008

In wildlife, fisheries, forestry, and range management departments around the country, natural resource scientists and their students advance understanding of the natural world largely through the collection and analysis of data. These students learn how to acquire data in the field and analyze them using modeling and other statistical methods. What they do not learn, contends author Fred S. Guthery, is what science means as an intellectual pursuit and where natural resource science fits in the scientific tradition. He argues that without education about the nature and philosophy of science, the wildlife field has become enamored with its methodologies at the expense of gaining real knowledge, leading to what some have characterized as “a crisis in how wildlife science is pursued.” With A Primer on Natural Resource Science, Guthery intends to put learning about the nature of science into the natural resource scientist’s university curriculum. In the first part of the book, “Perspectives,” Guthery describes the principles of the scientific endeavor, discussing the nature of reasoning, of facts, of creativity and critical thinking. In the second part, “Practice,” he presents the “mechanics” of science, explaining the roles of experiment, observation, models, and statistics. He also demystifies the essential activity of publishing, telling students and researchers why they must do it and how to do it successfully. Throughout the book, Guthery uses his long experience and the body of his own research to relate the philosophical underpinnings of science to the realities of field biology. By providing real-life examples in the practice of natural resource science, Guthery offers practical, occasionally painful, and sometimes humorous lessons on the human urge to know about nature through science.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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pp. vii-

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pp. ix-x

My introduction to the philosophy of science occurred in 1987 when I was charged with teaching a graduate course in wildlife research methods; the course was to include lectures on the philosophy of science. I realized then that I was a Ph.D. with 17 years of wildlife research experience, and I had not been exposed (nor had I exposed ...

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pp. xi-

R. Dwayne Elmore, James H. Shaw, Markus J. Peterson, and Eric C. Hellgren kindly reviewed the entire manuscript in draft form. Bret Collier and Ralph L. Bingham reviewed selected chapters. Thank you for your lucid critiques. The material in some chapters was developed for refereed articles in collaboration with colleagues. For contributions here, I ...

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Chapter 1. The Nature of Science

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pp. 3-13

Science ranges across a vast panorama of endeavor. At one extreme of the range, we have detailed description, generally associated with atomization of subject matter (reductionism): particle physics, chemistry, molecular genetics, cell biology. At the other extreme we have the study of small to large systems: Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics ...

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Chapter 2. Hypotheses

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pp. 14-22

Scientists widely regard hypotheses as key elements of science; indeed, most would say hypotheses are central. A hypothesis is generally viewed as a speculative thought, especially one that might explain something and is worthy of further investigation. Words such as guess, conjecture, supposition, surmise, and speculation are approximate ...

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Chapter 3. Induction, Deduction, and Retroduction

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pp. 23-35

Nobody argues with the assertion that accumulation of reliable knowledge is the prime goal of science. Yet there is considerable difference of opinion among philosophers and practicing scientists on how to judge the reliability of knowledge gathered under different methods of reasoning (induction, deduction, and retroduction). ...

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Chapter 4. The Nature of Facts

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pp. 36-45

Science is, among other things, a search for facts about the status and properties of nature. Collected facts serve as the foundation for more elegant knowledge on the patterns and processes of nature. So, to conduct natural resource science in a manner that leads to reliable knowledge, we should have a clear idea of the nature and properties of facts. ...

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Chapter 5. Being Humans

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pp. 46-54

Here is a sampling of newspaper headlines from March 10, 2006: “Truck Blast Kills Seven Iraqis.” “Pakistani Bus Blast Kills 26.” “Afghan Terrorists Kill Policeman in Gun Battle.” “Nine Die in Suicide Pact.” “Alcohol May Have Fueled Alabama Church Fires.” “Chinese Catholic Leader Condemns Vatican for Anti- communist Cardinal.” “Michael Jackson Fined over Neverland Labor Miscue.” “American ...

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Chapter 6. Creativity

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pp. 55-64

Creativity is a hallmark of the human condition. We know human creativity started at least 40,000 years ago (probably much earlier) with cave paintings by Cro-Magnons. By the late twentieth century, it gave us The Beatles and Bob Dylan. You see my bias here. The bluebloods among us might think of creativity in terms of Mozarts ...

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Chapter 7. Critical Thinking

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pp. 65-80

We might define critical thinking as use of the mind to form thoughts that analyze or judge the material in our knowledge base, including the material we see in technical articles. Analyzing implies assessing for logical consistency and freedom from bias, and judging implies the act of drawing a personal conclusion on whether you accept the ...

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Chapter 8. Observational versus Experimental Science

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pp. 81-89

This chapter begins with descriptions of the methodology in 2 studies that show contrasting approaches to knowledge accrual in natural resource science. Cornaglia et al. (2005:36) “conducted experiments under laboratory and greenhouse conditions to determine the effect of soil water content on seed germination and initial seedling ...

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Chapter 9. Mathematics

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pp. 90-99

A dilettante is a dabbler in art or knowledge. I admit to being a dilettante in mathematics. The dabbling started several years ago when my wife and I forced our daughter to take high school calculus. Oh, there was great moaning and gnashing of the teeth on her part. To appease my daughter, I agreed to work in unison with her, page for page, ...

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Chapter 10. Statistics

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pp. 100-112

Statistics as we know it today is a relative newcomer in the toolkit of scientists. It had origins in the work of Sir Ronald Fisher (1890– 1962) of the United Kingdom, primarily in the 1920s and 1930s. He developed experimental design and statistical tests, among other contributions. Fisherian statistics so caught the fancy of scientists ...

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Chapter 11. Model Selection

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pp. 113-124

The idea of selecting a best or a small set of better statistical models from a set of candidate models has been around for some time. For example, there have long been forward and backward selection algorithms for regression models. With the appearance of Burnham and Anderson’s (1998) book on information- theoretic model selection, the community of wildlife ...

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Chapter 12. Interpreting Single-Variable Models

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pp. 125-136

The last chapter concluded with the observation that “significance” or “Akaike bestness” does not preclude a model from being weak, useless, or even humorous. That circumstance provides a sort of negative motivation for model interpretation. We do not want worthless models to enter the permanent record, nor do we wish to appear doltish ...

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Chapter 13. Interpreting Multivariable Models

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pp. 137-147

Edwin A. Abbott (1838– 1926) published Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions in 1884. The book was about a culture that lived in 2 dimensions. This sexist culture was highly class conscious. Women, the lowest class, were straight lines. The social scale for men ranged from lower- class isosceles triangles to middle- class squares to upper-class ...

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Chapter 14. Means, Ends, and Shoulds

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pp. 148-156

Are scientific methods (means) more important than knowledge (end), or is knowledge more important than scientific methods? Most scientists would agree that knowledge is the more important of the two, but they would condition that opinion on the fact that sound methods are essential for growing knowledge. From my perspective, ...

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Chapter 15. Publishing

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pp. 157-168

Why publish your thesis or dissertation research? I think the reasons might be classified as egotistical, practical, and noble. Egotistically, the publication of your work is a source of pride. This is not at all important to the world, but it is important to your world. It simply feels good to be published, in the same sense it feels good to succeed at any chancy or competitive endeavor. ...

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pp. 169-170

More than 20 years have elapsed since a teaching assignment piqued my interest in the nature of science, especially natural resource science. In the interim I have read stacks of books on the topic and walked hundreds of miles thinking about the nature of natural resource science. I have also had the practical experience of doing or directing scores of studies, the results of which are part of the permanent ...

Literature Cited

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pp. 171-182


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pp. 183-190

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443968
E-ISBN-10: 1603443967
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603440257
Print-ISBN-10: 1603440259

Page Count: 206
Illustrations: 3 tables. 17 b&w figs.
Publication Year: 2008