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Interview with Steward Pickett, January 18, 2017

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:30 - Introduction to Ecology

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Partial Transcript: What does the T and the A stand for?

Segment Synopsis: Steward Pickett talks about the origin of the initials T.A. in his name, which he claims stood for an old family name. Pickett recalls how his experience wandering around his father's Boy Scout camp one summer with an ecology book inspired him to study ecology. He talks about attending the University of Kentucky as a declared Botany major and his experience under the guidance of Jerry Baskin and his wife Carol Baskin. Pickett talks about attending the University of Illinois for graduate school during which he conducted research under Dr. Faiq Al-Bazzaz on studying species of colonizing annuals.

Keywords: Carol Baskin; Faiq Al-Bazzaz; Jerry Baskin; University of Illinois; University of Kentucky; botany

00:08:33 - Graduate School / Working at Rutgers University

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Partial Transcript: The people who have mentored me...

Segment Synopsis: Pickett recollects his experience attending graduate school at the University of Illinois, emphasizing its supporting community. Pickett talks about the differences between the University of Kentucky and the University of Illinois concerning the ecological academic setting. To expand, Pickett explains that the University of Kentucky adopted an "old-fashioned" approach towards the ecological field in contrast to the University of Illinois, which was focused on evolutionary ecology--a relatively new theory at the time. Pickett recalls how some individuals in the evolutionary ecology community at Illinois were pretentious towards other ecological groups. Pickett describes evolutionary ecology, as a field focused on the optimization of populations. Pickett talks about his experience teaching ecology at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He talks about how the variety of geographical landscapes of New Jersey allowed for optimal teaching experiences. Pickett then remembers how, after the combination of all of the biology departments at Rutgers University, he ultimately came to the decision to leave the university.

Keywords: John Thompson; New Jersey; Peter Price; Robert McAuthor; Rutgers University; University of Illinois; University of Kentucky; geography

00:17:26 - Hutchenson Memorial Forest Center / Old-growth forests

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Partial Transcript: During the last part of your time at Rutgers, you were also director of the Hutchinson Memorial Forest Center...

Segment Synopsis: Pickett describes the importance of the Hutchenson Center as an organization that preserved one of the last old-growth forests in New Jersey. Pickett talks about how the forest suffered from overpopulation of deer and invasive species brought on by suburban expansion. Pickett explains the function of the forest as a place for the ecological research and observation conducted by Rutgers University. Pickett talks about his studies of succession conducted in the forest, and he describes the contributions from fellow ecologists. Pickett explains that the area around the old-growth forest had high biodiversity, which allowed for alterations which could be used for small-scale experiments.

Keywords: Helen Buell; John Small; Murray Buell; Richard Foreman; Scott Meiners; ecological succession

00:25:08 - Work at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

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Partial Transcript: Then you moved to the Institute of Ecosystem Studies...

Segment Synopsis: Pickett explains that the collaborative environment of Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York state appealed to him and gave him another reason for leaving his job at Rutgers University. Pickett recalls how his work at the Cary Institute eventually led him to shift his studies toward urban ecology. Pickett recollects that Mark McDonnell, a coworker who also worked at the New York Botanical Garden, eventually introduced him to the subject of urban ecology after they studied the old-growth forest of the Bronx, New York.

Keywords: Carey Institute of Ecosystems Studies; Gene Likens; Mark McDonnell; New York Botanical Garden; Rutgers University

00:32:31 - Broadening Ecological Research at Carey Institute

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Partial Transcript: This work with Mark and Rich and the other people felt very much like a pioneer thing to be doing...

Segment Synopsis: Pickett describes how his work in urban ecology seemed to him like an undiscovered frontier in ecological work. Pickett recalls how his multidisciplinary work in urban ecology at Carey Institute of Ecosystem studies eventually required him to connect with people in different fields, which he states challenged him with new materials and knowledge. Picket talks about how the American ecological society often avoided Urban Ecology due to the prestige that was associated with "untouched nature" ecology. Pickett speculates that such a mentality was derived from the dismissal and destruction of evidence of the native peoples upon the arrival of Europeans; which enabled such ecologist to develop the assumption that American nature was "untouched". Pickett talks about how the integration of urban ecosystems into Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) was initiated by the National Science Foundation and was potentially influenced through the Carey Conferences, conferences held in which Urban Ecosystems was often a field of research.

Keywords: Baltimore Ecosystem Study; Gene Likens; Long Term Ecological Research (LTER); Mark McDonnell; National Science Foundation NSF; Urban Ecosystems; Urban Long Term Ecological Research

00:41:14 - Urban long-term research projects

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Partial Transcript: What other influences there might have been, I'm not absolutely sure.

Segment Synopsis: Pickett talks about how conferences held by ecological research institutes influenced the creation of the Urban Long Term Ecological Research Network. Pickett recalls how his work in Kruger National Park, South Africa was his way of proving his integrity as an ecologist--a response to the pretentious view Pickett believes was held by his fellow ecologist towards urban ecology. Pickett recollects how his work in Kruger National Park, South Africa made him want to return before retiring to assist with urbanization in South Africa. Pickett talks about how the National Science Foundation suffered from funding problems which prevented the production of a third long-term urban research study.

Keywords: Baltimore Ecosystem Study; Kruger National Park; Urban Long Term Ecological Research Network

00:48:54 - Interdisciplinary ecological scope

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Partial Transcript: Looking back on the origins of the Baltimore ecosystem study...

Segment Synopsis: Pickett talks about the transformation of the ESA towards accepting research and data from academics of other disciplines. Pickett describes a specific organization, the Long Term Ecological Research Network's (LTER) reaction towards the integration of other academics which he recalls as initially negative based on the reaction of fellow ecologists towards the introduction of other scientists from other disciplines during a meeting. Pickett explains how the younger generation of ecologists are more accepting of interdisciplinary work. Pickett talks about how politics may interfere with social studies, which he hints may be the reason for the National Science Foundation's reluctance for further research studies.

Keywords: Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER); National Science Foundation

00:54:33 - Starting the Baltimore Project

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Partial Transcript: Was there anything that surprised you that you needed to do to pull the project together?

Segment Synopsis: Pickett discusses the purpose of choosing Baltimore as a research setting; he explains that many sociologists were already conducting research in the area over subjects pertaining to neighborhood revitalization and environmental quality in neighborhoods. Pickett describes how the previously-formed connections with the sociologists, the community the and government assisted with the successful initial stages of the Baltimore Project. Pickett recalls government suspicion of the ecologists at the start of the Baltimore Project, since many of them came from out-of-state. Pickett then urges ecology students to contribute innovative ideas to the ecological community, in order to successfully receive recognition in the field.

Keywords: Baltimore Project; Department of Parks and Recreations; Parks and People Foundation; ecology; graduate school

01:01:27 - Ecology in an urban setting / Exclusion of minorities in the ecology

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Partial Transcript: I wondered if you might talk about, what is the objective in maintaining resilience in an urban setting?

Segment Synopsis: Pickett talks about the need for community leaders to take the advantage of the dynamic nature of a city as a way to improve biological and social aspects of the city. Pickett talks about his experience in east Baltimore on a field trip with students, during which he realized that educating children allowed them to develop an understanding of the nature around them. Pickett explains his wish for more ecological education for the public, though he claims he feels that research institutions do not inspire education nor the integration of diversity. Pickett also describes the lack of diversity in ecological studies which he called the "systematic exclusion" of minorities in ecological research.

Keywords: diversity; ecology; education; research

01:09:57 - Teaching ecology to children / Standardizing data

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Partial Transcript: How we have tried with education, is to train teachers...

Segment Synopsis: Pickett talks about the establishment of grade-school curriculum by Carey Institute which had the purpose of teaching kids about the environment. Pickett talks about his involvement in City As Living Laboratory, a non-profit project that encourages scientist and artist collaboration in an effort to inform the public about sustainable city living. Pickett talks about the need for data collections and standardization of data in ecology which eventually led to the creation of Long Term Data (LTR) Committees in the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Pickett describes the intention of the LTR Committee to break down the stigma of the privatization and capitalization of data, and encourage the creation of shared data as future resources.

Keywords: City as Living Laboratory; Ecological Society of America (ESA); Long-Term Research (LTR); Mary Miss

01:18:12 - Science philosophy / Building collaboration among disciplines

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Partial Transcript: So you were ESA president form '95 to '98...

Segment Synopsis: Pickett talks about the creation of the vice president position in the Ecological Society of America (ESA) which was created to ensure equal representation of ecological departments (ex: urban ecology, resource ecology). Pickett explains that as, Vice President, he attempted to promote the integration of science philosophy into ESA's mission. Pickett also explains how as the acting vice president, he urged the expansion of journals and diversity in the organization. Pickett recalls the pressing issues of ESA during his experience as president from 2011 to 2012. He describes the "stewardship"- an idea that the problems faced by humanity that suggested the partnership of ESA with multi-professional groups in order to encourage the collaboration with broader groups in order to address broader problems.

Keywords: Ecological Society of America (ESA); Mary Power; Terry Chapin; science philosphy

01:25:17 - Future of the Baltimore Project / Solving problems through multidisciplinary work

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Partial Transcript: Was there concern about doing this, was it seen as being "too" much opened up...

Segment Synopsis: Pickett discusses what he hints is a shortcoming of Ecological Society of America (ESA), specifically the organization's lack of the integration of discipline-oriented and the implementation of broad research and multi-discipline collaboration projects. Pickett explains that many academic organizations often refrain from collaborative projects due to a perceived threat by such organizations; which he deems "conservative" in their ideology. Pickett talks about his attempts as part of ESA to encourage the integration of human environments into the field of ecology. Pickett explains how he wishes that ecology would additionally focus more on the philosophy of science, and focus less on making headlines. Pickett talks about how a decent grounding in philosophical science helps academics stray away from "opinionated" science that neglects to uphold the objective nature of science. Pickett talks about the future of the Baltimore Project. He states he's concerned about the renewal process of the project through it's main funding institution, the National Science Foundation. Pickett ends the interview with a warning that future ecologist should not be condescending of the works of past ecologist, and that ecologist should be looking to build a community with other scientist of both diversity and of other disciplines in order to succeed in solving problems.

Keywords: Ecological Society of America; National Science Foundation (NSF); ecology