Is Anyone Listening?

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

August 17, 2019



     Have you noticed this phenomenon? No one seems to be really listening to anyone else!


     I attend a lot of conferences. I present papers. I bring copies of some of my papers and put them on a “free literature” table for people to pick up. I see people looking at them. I see people picking them up. I see people reading them during the conference. And yet I don’t hear from any of them after the conference.


     There is an annual conference on consciousness that is held alternately in Phoenix and Tucson (Arizona). I asked to present my paper on consciousness, which refutes most of the current theories of consciousness, but they made me do a poster instead. A few people came by. One person even discussed it with me briefly. No one really understands consciousness. Everyone has their own theory, but it seemed to me that no one was really listening to anyone else. One speaker talked about dogs who know when their owners are coming home. He had to sit in a chair, because in a previous conference, a Japanese guy came up and stabbed him in the leg! Was that a result of listening, or not listening?


     I am beginning to wonder why we hold conferences, if no one is listening? I asked to present a paper ( at the last meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology in Toronto. It was rejected – even though the topic has never been written about nor discussed in any conference! I asked for a free “literature table” so I and others could display papers and literature for the conferees to pick up. Almost every conference I have ever attended has provided such a table. After all, conferences are for conferring, right? It was rejected. No good reason was ever given (I suspect that the organizations that paid for tables objected to anyone getting free space, even though it was tiny: I would compare it with a bulletin board, which no one has to pay to use – a table is simply a horizontal bulletin board). I attended the conference anyway, even though my ability to confer was severely restricted, greatly decreasing the value of the conference.


At the conference, I noticed an empty table, so I asked one of the hotel staff if I could use it. He said “yes”. So I put a few of my papers on it. Later they disappeared. The conference staff had removed them. (Both I and the hotel person didn’t realize that the conference had reserved the entire floor, so the use of the table was up to the conference.) When I asked the conference staff why my papers were removed, they claimed that asking questions constituted “harassment”, and kicked me out of the conference! The Executive Director of the Society promised to investigate the incident and call me, but never did, and has never responded to any of my subsequent emails, even after I wrote to the Society’s ombudsman.


     Are some people more equal than others? Is everyone corrupt? Does money now control every decision? Is it now taboo to talk about unpleasant topics that refer to human faults, such as the fact that wildlife don’t like to be around us, and that trail-building destroys habitat? Have the members, leaders, and staff of the Society for Conservation Biology forgotten why the Society was created – namely, to actively work to protect our natural heritage, instead of merely studying it, as most sciences do?


     I used to work as a programmer for AT&T. Whenever the company would send me on business trips (this was before the internet, so we had to travel to computer centers to do upgrades, and educational centers to take classes), I would take advantage of the situation to visit the local university. I would go to the Biology Department and ask the secretary, “Who are the radical environmentalists on campus?” They always know. But at the University of California at Irvine, I was told “There aren’t any”! At UC Irvine, people don’t study organisms anymore! They study molecules! (I’m exaggerating a little, but not much.)


     The University of California has one of the best libraries in the world. I tried to find books or articles on human-free habitat (habitat off-limits to all humans). There are none, besides mine ( There are a few sentences that hint at it. Perhaps E. O. Wilson’s Half Earth. (When I sent him my paper, soon after I was written, he said he didn’t agree, but perhaps he has come around….) I looked in the Library of Congress Subject Index. Nothing! The closest topic is “wilderness”, however the meaning of “wilderness” has changed over the years from “a dangerous, scary place” to “a human playground”. I guess we don’t need a word to describe a subject that no one wants to talk about, right?


     When I searched for books on the fact that trail-building destroys wildlife habitat (an obvious fact), I found nothing! No books, no articles! So I wrote an article about it ( and tried to get it published. No scientific journal publishing on conservation biology will publish it! And the reasons they give for not publishing it have nothing to do with science! Somehow editors have come to believe that science can only be written in a certain format! But “science” simply means “write clearly and concisely, tell the truth, and provide evidence”! That’s exactly what I did. What else is there?


     What the heck is the matter with editors? Why did Lynn Margulis have to send her article on chloroplasts and mitochondria as symbionts to 15 journals before it was accepted? Why did Dr. Seuss have to send his first book to 40 publishers? Why does How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper joke that editors never get into Heaven? Has anyone addressed this problem? Reed Noss, one of the first presidents of SCB and editor of “Conservation Biology”, told me that he has recently had a paper rejected by that journal.


     Hello? Hello? Is anyone out there?