Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Review of Benyus' Biomimicry

Janine M. Benyus' Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by nature spends the whole book trying to make the following point: Nature has found some pretty clever ways of solving certain problems, and we would be wise to learn from them. I am very much in agreement with that sentiment. We need lots of things done, and we would be wise to learn from the way nature does things. The whole book is about examples of researchers who look to nature for inspiration and answers to our problems.

All that is fine and good. I am not sure why this is new, but she writes this with the verve of a manifesto, and not in a good way. We have to solve problems. Nature s efficient, and as soon as we can mimic nature, we can get the efficiencies that we need too.

He science is disappointing. One never gets the impression that she really understands what she is talking about, but that she is repeating the "oversimplified" formulations of the real scientists she interviewed. I was particularly annoyed with her 46 pages on "how we will conduct business" that displayed no evidence of speaking with an economist or businessperson.

Sometimes she simply fawns over the people she met along the way. This book is very flaky, or rather its author is. If I was in a related scientific field, I would assume that all the people working on topics in the book are cooks or flakes too. I would not be motivated to pursue these things for fear of having to be associated with the fringe of my profession. The book has the usual eco-touchy-feely science that you expect in junk science. Every few pages we are told of the native peoples and their "wisdom" that we are forgetting, as if this is somehow greatly superior to all we have accomplished. (If it was so superior, how come all the native peoples have disappeared? They were superior in that they were good at one environment, they could not adapt, so they all perished. Us people with technology can adapt to new environments, so we are still here. Whose wisdom is superior now?)

Mind you she doesn't bother telling us that nature is cruel, and we should start taking lessons there. Plants that are not as pushy as others die. No animal in the wild dies of old age. They get killed as soon as they are too slow to escape from their predators. They have many children that die in infancy of starvation, disease, and from local predators. Nature relies on these cruelties for its "sustainability". We are never told that this is necessary so that nature can do what it does. If it is not, we are never told how to get around it.

Many of the chapters of the book are really just analogies to natural processes. Nature "recycles", so we should recycle. Dull stuff.

I am of course sympathetic with the fact that we need to not destroy our planet. But there are very sensible free market ways to do, and they are hardly addressed. The author wants to promote an earth-harmony agenda, and not real solutions. Some sensible economic policies, like the internalizing of externalities (paying for polluting, etc) in CFCs, fossil fuel burning, and water pollution should take care of a lot of this.

I do not need a manifesto to tell me that it would be great if we can artificially make silk with the same input as spiders have. Which industry wouldn't want that? I am not sure I see her point.

This book is great if you love touchy-feely science, and being intellectually rigorous is not on the top of your list of priorities.


bec said...

blah blah blah, maybe this link will put it all in perspective for you.

kc said...

It totally did. How've you been? I haven't seen you in ages.

Anonymous said...

i'm very elusive.
but all is good. what's up with you??

Amir said...

So did you like the book?

KC said...

Bec, I'm good. We should chat sometime. Send me an email.

Amir, Someone gave it to me to read. and while I am somewhat sympathetic with the core program, I think that a) the author needs to write like someone who knows science, if indeed she does, and b) the material is rather trivial. I wouldn't waste my time on it if I were you.

Anonymous said...

Your complete disregard of indigenous epistemologies is racist. You should read some real history books before spouting off theories of Native American "extinction." Frankly, I am disgusted with your shallow thought process.