Spring is beginning to spring here in New England. We've had some warm weather mixed in with some deep freezes, but our amphibian amigos are out and about!
Red-backed salamanders belong to a family of lungless salamanders called Plethodontidae. Many of these salamanders live their whole lives on land, and since they breathe through their skin (no lungs, remember!), they need to keep their skin moist by spending their time hidden under leaves, rocks and logs. We use small wooden squares called 'cover boards' set up in a grid to mimic natural cover and track salamander populations.
Let’s play a little word association game. When I say scientist, what sort of thoughts and images cross your mind?
Maybe you thought of a person with glasses in a lab coat surrounded by microscopes and beakers (a perfect image of one of my personal favorite scientists Dexter Boy Genius). Or, maybe you thought of scientists out in remote places pulling ice cores out of glaciers, or at a mountain-top observatory studying the stars. A common theme running through these different visions of scientist is that they are all somewhat inaccessible, either hidden in a laboratory, or far away in the field or on a ship doing their science; and you are here, in the real world, not doing science… But is that really the way it is, are scientists really so different from the rest of the world? What are these mysterious women and men doing in their labs and institutions all over the world?
To get to the bottom of that question we must first ask ourselves: what is science? What is the end goal of science, and (an increasingly asked question) can I trust it?
If we think back to the stereotypical pictures of scientists we just came up with, one common factor between them is curiosity. Scientists are driven by curiosity because they want to know why things happen the way they do. Sometimes a scientist gets so fixated on a particular question that they devote their entire lives to finding a solution. As a community, scientists are working together to figure out the way things work, or, as my friend and fellow ecologist Joe put it: “as scientists we seek to increase our [humanity’s] ability to perceive the world.” In the end, this is the mission of science, to explain, as best as we can, the world around us. So, how do scientists go about finding answers to their questions, and how do they know when they are right?