【人物專訪】福布萊特交流學者 Professor Davis:由歷史看科學的啟示 聆聽雀鳥帶給人類的訊息 Interview with Fulbright Scholar Professor Davis: In dialogue with nature through history and birdwatching

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大通報:歡迎你來到中文大學!我們知道你這個學年在中文大學訪問,教授一連串內容豐富的課堂,例如通識教育基礎課程的「與自然對話」及大學通識的科目 。在此你可以先簡單介紹一下自己嗎?

Professor Davis:首先,感謝你們的邀請,尤其感謝通識教育部的每一位同事。自我八月到香港以來,我感受到每一位的熱情招待。要介紹自己,我會說我是一個科學歷史及環境歷史學者。我是普渡大學歷史系的 R. Mark Lubbers科學史講座教授,但現在我是以福布萊特交流學者(Fulbright Scholar)的身份在中文大學的通識教育部工作。
我的研究主要有幾個方向。我的最新著作,Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology(按此閱讀中大圖書館電子書),研究化學農藥的科學原理以及在美國相關的政策。最近我亦將全球視野加入我的研究當中,對美國以外的地方如何處理這個問題很有興趣。

大通報:為甚麼你會對科學史有興趣?對於很多人來說,科學就只是等於科技上的進步。

Professor Davis:科學史有趣的地方,在於做科學研究的時候,我們往往只會集中於過往一兩年的研究成果,最多也不過五年。

但當你從事科學史研究的時候,你會發現科學史與科學及人文社會的關係,不是過往五年的科學研究就能夠道盡。這關係其實一直延伸至幾十年甚至幾百年前。因此,閱讀科學史中著名科學家的經典書籍,例如達爾文,卡森,沃森,以及伽俐略和牛頓的著作等,都會獲益良多。

大通報:作為一個環境歷史學家,你認為科學的角色應該是甚麼?人類和科學的關係又應該是甚麼?

Professor Davis:我認為我們每一個人都和科學有密切的關係。無論我們察覺與否,科學以及其發展都影響我們。無論我們是否選擇當個科學家、醫生、或工程師,我們都受科學影響,尤其是與科學相關的政策。

我認為每個人都需要學習如何處理生活中日新月異的科學資訊。具體來說,就是透過我們作為消費者的選擇以及作為選民的選擇去處理。所以,無論我們選擇成為科學家與否,我認為科學都與我們息息相關。

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大通報:你上學期教授的通識課:「疾病,醫藥與社會」也是關於這主題?

Professor Davis:對,這是其中一個要點。這個課基本上有兩個主題。其一是從以前鼠疫到現在,疾病在人類歷史上擔當非常重要角色。另一個主題是討論現代社會的疾病,很多都有很長的歷史,有很多新型的疾病,亦有很多反複出現的疾病,例如瘧疾、黃熱病、流感等,這些疾病和人類社會有很久遠的關係。同樣地,無論我們選擇成為醫生或從事醫學研究與否,醫學研究與發現都對我們有重大影響。

大通報:你在下學期將會任教「與自然對話」這一門課,你有甚麼感覺呢?

Professor Davis:我非常期待任教這個課程。我認為這門課的課程架構以及文本,使這個課程成為思考科學與社會的絕佳入門課。「與自然對話」是一個非常重要的課程,我很期待在課堂上聽到學生對於這些科學史中經典文本的不同意見。
「與自然對話」在很多方面都是一個很好的課程,因為透過這課程,學生不只有機會反思科學與我們的關係,更有讓他們反思更大的問題:科學在社會的角色應是甚麼?作為一個獨立的個體,科學與我們應有甚麼關係,而科學又如何影響我們?所以,我認為與自然對話中的文本,真的能令學生深入思考這些問題。

大通報:觀鳥活動是身體力行去與自然對話吧!上個月你籌辦了一個觀鳥活動,同學很享受這個過程。為甚麼你對觀鳥有如此濃厚的興趣?

Professor Davis:觀鳥活動非常重要,有幾個原因。首先,鳥類就像自然界的哨兵,牠們能為科學家帶來很多有關自然環境現況的資訊:例如區內的雀鳥繁盛,這代表附近的環境亦很健康。所以,不少的環境學家以及生物學家都透過觀鳥來測定該區的環境健康。
卡森在《寂靜的春天》中帶出一點,就是觀鳥這一活動不只為我們提供了一個測量環境健康的手法,更是一個直接與自然接觸的方法。透過觀鳥,我們更能欣賞到自然的美。
如果想去觀鳥,我們不需要去到中文大學以外的地方,因為這裡的樹木繁盛,而且雀鳥品種亦很多。

觀鳥以及發掘觀鳥的地方使我更深入地欣賞到香港的美。香港新界有兩個雀鳥繁盛的地方非常有名,分別是米埔自然保育區以及塱原,香港還有很多近郊的地方可讓我們研究大自然。

大通報:一般人都會說香港是一個國際大都會,但很少會有人注意到香港自然生態之美。

Professor Davis:這其實很奇妙。香港是一個享譽盛名的國際大都會,同時亦擁有極高生物多樣性的的環境,不只雀鳥,也包括蝴蝶,昆蟲,和其他不同物種。

大通報: 在你的觀察,氣候變化有否影響到雀鳥的生活?

Professor Davis:我大部份觀鳥的時間都是在美國,在我的觀察,現況令人非常憂慮。在過往40年的觀鳥經驗中,我和其他觀鳥者都發現,雀鳥的數量一直急速地下降,這個觀察亦和科學家收集到的數據吻合。
除了美國,在歐洲以及亞洲,雀鳥的數量亦全面地下降。但因為這個現象背後涉及到很複雜的原因及很多不同的因素,所以我不會直接斷定氣候變化或土地使用或其他因素就是雀鳥數目下降的原因。但可以肯定的是,雀鳥的數目的確在下降,這一現象亦反映出環境的健康出現變化。

大通報:在接下來的學期中,你還會舉辦觀鳥的活動嗎?

Professor Davis:當然會。我希望不只在我自己教授的班,其他修讀「與自然對話」的同學亦來一起參加觀鳥活動,有機會體驗《寂靜的春天》中,作者卡森想帶出的訊息。

 


UGE NEWS: Welcome to CUHK! We know that you are staying in CUHK for 10months and will give us a series of inspiring lectures in both “In Dialogue with Nature” and Area C in UGE course. Can you give a short introduction of you to all students in CUHK?
Prof. Davis: First of all, let me say thank you for the welcome and thank you to everyone especially here in the Office of University General Education. Everyone in CUHK I just found to be very welcoming since I arrived in august.
To characterize myself, I am a historian of science and environmental historian. I hold the R. Mark Lubbers Chair in the History of Science at Purdue University in the United States. But currently I am a Fulbright Scholar here in the Office of University General Education at CUHK.
My research has taken a couple of different directions. My most recent book is called Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology(click here to access CUHK lib ebook), that’s about the science and policy regarding pesticides in United States. But recently I expanded that research to include global perspective. I am very interested in what happened beyond the borders of United States.

UGE NEWS: Why are you interested in the history of science? It seems that to a lot of people, science is all about technological advancement.
Prof. Davis: That’s very interesting because particularly when we study science we focus on the cutting edge and the research of the past year or two, or maybe five years at most.
But when you consider the history of science you realize that the history of science and the relationship between science and society is much deeper than the past five years. It extends decades and centuries actually. So there are still messages from reading classic texts in history of science – reading from Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson, James Watson, Not to mention Galileo and Newton.

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UGE NEWS: To you as an environmental historian, what do you think about the role of science and the relationship between science and us?
Prof. Davis: I think each of us has a relationship to science. Science and the development of scientific ideas influences us, whether we are aware of it or not. And whether we choose to be scientists or doctors or engineers, we are influenced by science and particularly science policies.
And I think all of us need to learn to manage the new scientific information in our daily life. The way we manage that is through the choices of consumers and through our choices as voters. So whether we choose to be scientists or not, I think science influences us and our daily lives.

UGE NEWS: So is it the central theme of your UGC course Disease, medicine and society?
Prof. Davis: Yes, it is. That’s one of the central points. Basically that course has two central themes. One theme is that disease has played a profound role in history, going back to the Bubonic plague and continues right up to the present.
Another significant theme argues that the diseases in present in the world have long histories insofar as there are any number of emerging infections, and re-emerging infections, malaria, yellow fever, influenza, these diseases have a long relationship with our society. And in a very similar way, whether we choose to be doctors or actually focus on medical sciences, we are influenced by the ideas and by the new discoveries of physicians all the time.

UGE NEWS: We know that you are going to teach In Dialogue with Nature in the coming semester. What do you feel about the course?
Prof. Davis: I am really looking forward to teaching In Dialogue with Nature. I think the readings and structure of the course are an ideal introduction to the relationship between science and society. I think it is an incredibly invaluable course and I really look forward to hearing students’ perspectives on some of the classics work from the history of science.
In a lot of ways that I think the course like In Dialogue with Nature is perfect because it gives us an opportunity to think about the role of science in our daily life, but also in a broader intellectual development: What is the role of science in the society? And how do we, as individuals, relate the science and how the science influences us? So I think all these issues by reading classics texts in a course like “In Dialogue with Nature” really come to the fore.

UGE NEWS: Bird watching itself actually is a real dialogue with the nature! You organized a bird watching trip for our students last month and they enjoyed so much. Why are you so keen on bird watching?
Prof. Davis: It matters for several reasons. One is that birds serve as “sentinel species”. What I mean by that is that bird populations give scientists an index to the health of the environment. If bird populations are strong, it is a good sign that environmental quality is strong as well. So I think a number of environmental scientists and biologists monitor bird populations as an index to the health of environment.
One of the arguments Rachel Carson made in Silent Spring is that along with the notion that birds serve a guide to the health of the environment, bird watching is a way of connecting with nature directly. So it is another way of appreciating the world around us.
And at a place like CUHK, we don’t need to go far because the campus itself is heavily forested and there are really strong bird populations right here on campus.
I believe that discovering birds and discovering the places where to study them has given me much deeper appreciation of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is famous because it has two so-called important bird areas in the New Territories: Mai Po Nature Reserve and Long Valley, but there are many other places to study nature near the city.

UGE NEWS: It sounds special to me as people a lot of time refer Hong Kong as a cosmopolitan city, but seldom focus on the beauty of nature here.
Prof. Davis: That’s a wonderful thing. Here it is this world famous cosmopolitan city and yet it is also a place that incredibly rich in diversity of birds and not just birds, butterflies and insects and many other species as well.

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UGE NEWS: In your observation, is the climatic change affecting birds as well?
Prof. Davis: Certainly my impressions of bird populations in the US, where I spent most of my life studying birds, are very disturbing. Over the course of over the past 40 years of bird watching, I am struck along with many other bird watchers that bird populations are declining rapidly and I think to some extent science support this as well.
It is not just in the US, in Europe, in Asia, all over the world the bird populations are in decline. But the reasons are complex and multi-factorial which is why I hesitate to point to climate change or land use patterns or other factors that reduce populations of birds. But it certainly seems to be the case bird populations are declining and it speaks the health of the environment.

UGE NEWS: Will you organize another birdwatching trip in the coming semester?
Prof Davis: Yes. I hope to plan a birdwatching trip in association with not just my session of in dialogue with nature but all other sessions. And have the opportunity to appreciate the way that the messages of Silent Spring still apply to the world today.