iNaturalist helps me think critically

One thing about iNaturalist is that it gives me a daily opportunity to think critically about my natural environment. And to think critically, in general. I can form ideas, and then see what other people were thinking of them.

For example. Here is an observation of a type of raptor I saw last week. My own initial guess was that it was a Bald Eagle. An observer disagreed with me and said it was a Red-tailed Hawk. So far, we at least most agree that it is some type of raptor.

The reasons I guessed "Bald Eagle" were that it seemed to be larger, that its profile seemed different, that it behaved in a different way than a Red-tailed Hawk, and that it was close to the Finley NWR, where Bald Eagles are relatively common (and, indeed, I had a confirmed sighting a few miles later).

But I can also admit that none of my evidence is exactly a slam-dunk. Sizes can be hard to judge, birds can act a lot of different ways, and I am not an expert on bird silhouettes. Also, I have to admit I might be personally not objective --- a Bald Eagle is more exciting than a Red-tailed Hawk. I still believe, based on the overall gestalt, that it was a Bald Eagle, but...I don't blame other people for thinking differently, and I admit my evidence is not strong.

And this is all important, because with the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone in the world has had to think about biology every day. And what I see a lot with the Covid-19 pandemic is a lack of incrementalizing evidence. Mostly from "sceptics", but there have more times when people who have been strict on Covid have been wrong and clung to incorrect positions (mostly early on, in such matters as shutting down outdoor areas, before we knew that Covid doesn't spread much outdoors). But "skeptics" have advocated things like anti-parasite medications being cures for a virus based on limited clinical trials. Which, from the beginning, they should have wondered about whether that made any sense. It makes sense to investigate possible cures, but it also makes sense to grade hypothesis by likelihood. And to admit our own emotional ties to a hypothesis.

Usually, on iNaturalist, I will try to make note of my own doubts or uncertainties of an observation, and make a note of other possible theories. And usually, if two or more people say I was wrong in my first guess and say why, I will withdraw it. There are a few cases where I feel that what I observed, and things that didn't appear in the photos, mean that my guess is still right. (There is still an observation or two that I believe are Spotted Towhee, even after other people said Robin), but I try to be honest about what the range of possibilities could be. Incrementalizing, and knowing why we believe what we believe, are important skills in critical thinking.

Posted by mnharris mnharris, January 20, 2022 00:12

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Observer

mnharris

Date

January 14, 2022 11:39 AM HST

Description

It was still very grey light, and my lens was foggy, so we are going to have to guess this one based on silhouette. It looked bigger than a Red-Tailed Hawk, but I know that can be deceptive.

Comments

No comments yet.

Add a Comment

Sign In or Sign Up to add comments