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Interview with Gordon Orians, June 4, 2013

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:20 - Early interests in ecology / Education

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Partial Transcript: Gordon, let's start out with a little bit of background.

Segment Synopsis: Orians talks about how he became a bird watcher at a young age, so he knew later on that he wanted to major in zoology with a specialty in birds at the University of Wisconsin. He discusses some of the people who had a major influence on him throughout college, including John Curtis, who got him interested in plants, and David Lack, who he met at the University of Oxford.

Keywords: University of California, Berkeley; adaptive advantage; bird migration; fullbright fellowship; hypothetical deductive reasoning method; proximate factors; ultimate factors

00:06:43 - Impact on the field of ecology / Teaching graduate students

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Partial Transcript: So what do you consider as your most important contribution to ecology?

Segment Synopsis: Orians discusses his work in behavioral ecology, saying that the most important paper he wrote was On the Evolution of Mating Systems in Birds and Mammals. He also talks about his philosophy for teaching graduate students, which is to train them to ask the best questions and to let them make their own decisions.

Keywords: David Lack; evolutionary science; pedagogy; space

00:11:16 - Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Washington

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Partial Transcript: So I've got a few questions here about more specific things you've done during your career. One of your single activities was leading the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Washington for over a decade.

Segment Synopsis: Orians discusses his time working with the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Washington, which was formed in response to Earth Day. He mentions the time he served on the Ecology Advisory Committee to the Washington State Department of Ecology as well as on the Science Advisory Board of the Environmental Protection Agency. Orians talks about how there was a lack of people in these agencies that understood enough ecology to use the advice that they were given, so he developed seminars for graduate students to learn about jobs in science policy. He also talks about helping create a course in bio-geochemistry at the University of Washington.

Keywords: Daniel Evans; Robert Sylvester; academic positions; atmospheric sciences; carbon cycle; environmental policy issues; forestry; oceanography; state legislature

00:23:05 - Writing textbooks / The National Academy of Sciences

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Partial Transcript: So one of the things that you did, and you actually referred to this earlier, you've written a number of books over the years.

Segment Synopsis: Orians talks about some of the textbooks he has written, saying that he wanted to include more of the scientific process in them instead of just facts. Orians also talks about being a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and discusses their report on the effects of oil and gas activities in the Alaskan North Slope (2003).

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; BP; National Research Counsel; arctic whales; bureaucracy; caribou; energy; general biology textbook; information; time; tundra; wolf and bear control

00:36:36 - Major questions in ecology

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Partial Transcript: So going back to a little more general questions I guess, what do you think is the most important ongoing question, or maybe a few questions, that have continued to interest ecologists throughout your career?

Segment Synopsis: Orians talks about the topics that ecologists have been interested in since he entered the field, including population regulation, species richness in communities, and energy flows. He believes that many of the major problems in ecology are too complex to be answered, saying that it is more beneficial to focus on simpler questions that can be answered.

Keywords: Charles Elton; animal ecology; arctic communities; density dependence; density independence; plant ecology

00:45:22 - Subdisciplines of ecology / Data collection

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Partial Transcript: Well, speaking about changing people's minds, how have your ideas changed over the years?

Segment Synopsis: Orians talks about the necessity for the different disciplines of ecology to communicate with one another. He also discusses the use of computers to collect and organize data.

Keywords: David Lack; Smithsonian; behavioral ecology; biomass; community ecology; ecosystem ecology; energy budgets; islands; lime disease; natural history; nutrient cycles; ornithology; pollination; population ecology; soil; species richness; tectonic activity

00:54:30 - Involvement in the ESA

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Partial Transcript: And that's going to lead to the final question. You were talking about going to the meetings nowadays. First of all, how did you become involved with the Ecological Society, and then second, how have the meetings and organization changed over the years you've been involved with the society?

Segment Synopsis: Orians discusses his involvement in the Ecological Society of America (ESA). He talks about how the society has grown larger over the years, saying that he preferred the smaller meetings.

Keywords: journals; national academy of sciences