Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Take A Darwinian Approach To A Dangerous World: Ecologist Preaches 'Natural' Security For Homeland Defense

Date:
February 23, 2009
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
Global society is undergoing rapid political and socioeconomic changes, to which our security measures must adapt. Fortunately, we're surrounded by millions of examples of security measures from nature that do just that.

This is Rafe Sagarin who is an ecologist in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, and co-editor of "Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World."
Credit: Duke University

In nature, the threat level is always at least orange: Predators and plagues are an unrelenting menace to the well-being (and successful reproduction) of every living thing.

Related Articles


So does your body make every gulp of air take off its shoes before entering your lungs to ensure that it's not smuggling pathogens?

Of course not, says Rafe Sagarin, an assistant research professor of marine science and conservation in Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment, and it would be ridiculous to try. If you didn't suffocate first, the microbes would simply find another way to get in. That's what natural threats do.

Sagarin, an ecologist who's normally more concerned with the urchins and starfish in tide pools, got to thinking about these things as a Congressional science fellow less than a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He saw Washington building an expensive new shell, erecting large barriers around buildings and posting guards and cameras in every doorway.

"Everything was about more guards, more guns, and more gates," he said. "I was thinking, 'If I'm an adaptive organism, how would I cope with this?' "

Pretty simply, as it turns out. "If they're checking every trunk, I'll put the bomb in the back seat."

Sagarin thinks this way because he's a biologist, not a cop. And, he says, it's a mode of thinking—informed by Charles Darwin's insights into life's struggle for survival and fecundity—that more security analysts would be wise to adopt.

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, Sagarin has organized a 90-minute symposium on the subject, to be held Friday morning, Feb. 13.

Sagarin is also the editor of "Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World" (University of California Press, 2008), which convened a national committee of experts from related fields like biology, anthropology, and virology, as well as security, psychology, and math to think about ways that Homeland Security could act more like an immune system and less like a tough-talking Texas sheriff.

In nature, a threat is dealt with in several ways. There's collectivism, where one meerkat sounds the alarm about an approaching hawk, or camouflage, where the ptarmigan hides in plain sight. There's redundancy, like our wisdom teeth, or unpredictable behavior, like the puffer fish's sudden, spiky pop.

Under the unyielding pressure of 3.5 billion years of evolution, the variety of defenses is beyond counting. But they all have a few features in common. A top-down, build-a-wall, broadcast-your-status approach "is exactly the opposite of what organisms do," Sagarin says.

An immune system, for example, is not run by a central authority. It relies on a distributed network of autonomous agents that sense trouble on the local level and respond, adapting to the threat and signaling for backup without awaiting orders from HQ.

Sagarin's brand of "natural security" may take some getting used to. "Organisms do not try to get rid of risk in their environment," he says. "They learn to live with it."

The total elimination of risk is far more costly than the organism could bear, and probably futile, since the threats adapt. But by being responsive and adaptable and not putting every last bit of its budget into defense, an organism stands a far better chance of being able to handle an unforeseen risk in an escalating arms race, he says.

"Almost everything organisms do is, in some way, about security."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Duke University. "Take A Darwinian Approach To A Dangerous World: Ecologist Preaches 'Natural' Security For Homeland Defense." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213114158.htm>.
Duke University. (2009, February 23). Take A Darwinian Approach To A Dangerous World: Ecologist Preaches 'Natural' Security For Homeland Defense. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213114158.htm
Duke University. "Take A Darwinian Approach To A Dangerous World: Ecologist Preaches 'Natural' Security For Homeland Defense." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213114158.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Having children has always been a frightening prospect in Sierra Leone, the world's most dangerous place to give birth, but Ebola has presented an alarming new threat for expectant mothers. Duration: 00:37 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Toyota presented its hydrogen fuel-cell compact car called "Mirai" to US consumers at the Los Angeles auto show. The car should go on sale in 2015 for around $60.000. It combines stored hydrogen with oxygen to generate its own power. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola: Life Without School in Guinea

Ebola: Life Without School in Guinea

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Following the closure of schools and universities in Guinea because of the Ebola virus, students look for temporary work or gather in makeshift classrooms to catch up on their syllabus. Duration: 02:14 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NSA Director: China Can Damage US Power Grid

NSA Director: China Can Damage US Power Grid

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) China and "one or two" other countries are capable of mounting cyberattacks that would shut down the electric grid and other critical systems in parts of the United States, according to Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and hea Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins