The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently

Science and the Citizen

In a causerie hosted by the Department of English on 18th January 2017, Dr. Madhusudan Katti spoke to the audience about his research and Science in relation to the layperson.
Dr. Katti is an Associate Professor at North Carolina State University. He is an evolutionary ecologist who grew up as a nature-oblivious kid near Bombay. He later studied the wildernesses in the Himalayas and Western Ghats. He returned and studied cities, becoming a reconciliation ecologist.

He focuses on human dominated ecosystems, applying ideas towards reconciling biodiversity conservation along with human development. Other research he is involved in includes the behavioral consequences of human activities on other species, such as the effects of urban noise on bird song.
Through his study of urban biodiversity, he has found that a large number of native species, at least 60 percent of them, continue to survive in the city. “Ecology exists not just away from the cities, but within the cities as well. The differentiation between humans and the wilderness is an artificial construct. We should stop thinking of them as separate entities.

Humans have interfered with every environment.” He mentions this to emphasize on his belief that not everything that humans interfere with has a negative impact.
Katti further expanded his argument by talking about the wildlife that he had observed in Mumbai. He noted that seasonal Flamingos has started to arrive in a port area ten years ago. No one knew why but they seemed to survive rather well in the small section of land they occupied.

Scientifically speaking

There was also a stretch of land where Mangrove forests have begun to thrive. They sprung up only after urban development and did not exist when the region was a fishing village. This might be because wood is not required for fuel so the trees are now free to grow.

Once again, what has helped them flourish is a mystery but it shows that urban development is not strictly in opposition to bio-diversity.
In the later half of the session, Dr. Madhusudan Katti spoke about bridging the gap between scientists and the public. “Historically, this split hasn’t existed, and is dangerous to the scientists and the general public as well.” He says that scientists are seen as, or are, “elitists in ivory towers.”
Discussing the idea of dealing with environmental issues, he argued that traditional approaches have a lot to offer. India, as he pointed out, has always had a high density of people. To ignore native knowledge about the environment is to ignore what is, in its own way, a form of scientific knowledge.
Before the causerie began, Dr. Katti had a few things to say about the recent political backlash linked with climate change and global warming. “A dangerous situation, this.” People in high positions must, he says, make an effort to help with environmental issues. He states that this can be done through interaction with people, and not from a position of authority.

This is what he likes doing. He likes talking to people about things that are important to him, and does so whenever he gets an opportunity.
When asked what he’s speaking about at the event, he replied, “I hope I know the answer to that.”

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The Open Dosa is dedicated to covering Bengaluru, the Universe and the Internet, not necessarily in that order. It is the WordPress unkal of the lab-journal brought out by students of the Department of English, St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Bangalore.

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