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A dialogue about the living roof on the California Academy of Sciences

May 15, 2011

We encourage native plant advocates to comment on our posts because we learn from them.  We learn more about their ideology and the assumptions that support it.

These dialogues with native plant advocates are embedded in our posts and are therefore not as accessible to our readers as they often deserve to be.  Occasionally, we will create a post from these exchanges so that all of our readers can benefit from them.  In so doing, we hope not to discourage native plant advocates from posting comments, as they are essential to improving our mutual understanding of the complex issues we are debating.

We recently received a comment from someone who seemed to believe that our post about the green roof on the California Academy of Sciences is essentially fraudulent.   His accusations deserve a response.

California Academy of Sciences, April 2011

Comment from “Name Here”

May 6, 2011 11:43 am

Name Here:  “Since you don’t have the confidence to post your identity, I thought it only fitting to return the favor. Your argument would have much more strength if you were not anonymous.

You claim on your home page to provide citations, yet in this article you fail to tell us who “We had the privilege of meeting the ecology consultant who designed the plant palette for the living roof for the academy and many other institutions around the world.” is referring to. The “ecology consultant” does not have a name? By then throwing out Peter Del Tredici’s name it would appear as though you wish your reader to assume that he was the “ecology consultant” you refer to.”

Webmaster: The ecology consultant for the living roof on the Academy was Paul Kephart of Rana Nursery. He is the person we are quoting in our post about planning for the living roof.  Our readers can confirm Mr. Kephart’s role in the design of the roof by reading this article:  “High Maintenance Superstar,” Linda McIntyre, Landscape Architecture, August 2009.  This article is not available on-line, but the edition of the magazine in which it was published can be purchased on-line.  However, Mr. Kephart’s statement quoted in our post was made in a lecture to a group and does not appear in this publication. 

Our post did not state, nor did it imply that Peter Del Tredici was the ecology consultant for this project.  He is a scientist who has published articles about native plant “restorations,” particularly in urban settings.  We quote him in our post because his observations about native plant gardens are directly relevant to the living roof.

Name Here:  “On another note, you mention this third predominant species on the roof as “a moss” and then tell us it is non-native, yet offer no proof of this. Citing another blog with no standard of journalistic integrity is not a valid source. You might want to present the scientific name of this moss to prove your point, though I do not believe, judging by your writing, that you actually know the name, or you would have presented it.”

Webmaster:  At the time that we published our posts about the living roof, we did not know the names of the mosses on the roof, which is why we quoted the “From the Thicket” blog.  The author of the “From the Thicket” blog, Heath Schenker, is Professor of Landscape Architecture at UC Davis.  Her background and credentials are described on her blog.  She wrote her post about the living roof at the California Academy of Sciences after attending a symposium at the Academy about their monitoring project.  Our readers can judge for themselves if this was a credible source of information to document our post at the time it was published.

 Name Here:  “There are many different species of mosses out there, some native, some non-native. Many moss are very cosmopolitan in their range and therefore may occur natively all over the world. The actual quote from InTheThicket is as follows: “Nobody knows where the mosses came from, but they appear to be varieties of early-succession mosses, the types that commonly show up in disturbed soil.” I challenge you to show me where this says they are non-native.”

Webmaster:  After we published our post, the Academy made their monitoring report available on-line:  http://www.calacademy.org/pdfs/living-roof-project-results.pdf.  The report contained the names of the mosses on the roof: Bryum sp., Rosulabryum sp., Ceratodon purpureus, Leptobryum pyriforme.  We took that list to the Jepson Herbarium at UC Berkeley to confirm that our description of the mosses was accurate.  The staff at the Herbarium looked up those mosses for us and described them as “cosmopolitan,” which means they are widespread and cannot be considered either native or non-native.  Since these mosses were not amongst the 9 species of native plants originally planted on the roof, we felt comfortable with our original description of them.  They are clearly “volunteers,” not part of the original roof top planting.

Name Here:  “I think it is important for anyone reading this blog to be reminded that it is just that, a blog. It is written by an anonymous source who can say whatever they like with no fear of reprisal other than these comments, and with no need to live up to journalistic standards of any kind.”

Webmaster:  Yes, the Million Trees blog is “just a blog.”  However, I invite our readers to consider the difference between this accusatory comment from “Name Here” and the information we present.  We provide citations for most statements we make.  Those citations are usually of publications by academics at major universities, published in peer-reviewed journals or journalistic articles about their publications.  We often resort to journalistic articles because they are easier for non-scientists to comprehend. 

We know that we are confronting firmly held beliefs in the community of native plant advocates.  Therefore, we cannot expect to challenge their assumptions without providing well-documented information.  And since we have often been on the receiving end of ad hominem attacks by native plant advocates, we do our best to protect ourselves from such attacks by standing on firm scientific ground and by remaining anonymous.  (One wonders what “reprisals we should fear” for providing information with which “Name Here” disagrees.)

In contrast, “Name Here” questions our credibility without providing any evidence to substantiate his claim that we are fabricating information. Therefore, his comment seems more an attempt to discredit than to illuminate. 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2011 12:23 pm

    As another webmaster of savesutro.com which is “just a blog” I also wonder what was meant by reprisals. If ‘Name Here’ meant to suggest that the media are always accurate and unbiased in their assessments for fear of some unspecified reprisals, we’d have to disagree. They aren’t always accurate or unbiased. And presumably, there are no “reprisals.”

    We try to do what the media used to do and which formed our idea of responsible publication:

    Check our facts. This is a lot easier now with online information; it still requires discerning the real from the fake.

    Cite sources, or be ready to do so. This blog does so regularly, as footnotes. On SaveSutro, we do so less, but will in case of question. (We may move toward MillionTrees’ philosophy here.)

    Correct errors. Here, we have the advantage over traditional media because we can make the correction to the original article, rather than publishing errata in later issues.

    Publish dissent. We publish most dissenting comments we get; though we edit or delete those involving ad hominem attacks particularly on other commenters. We try to avoid flame-wars.

  2. Skeptic permalink
    May 18, 2011 10:17 am

    I don’t get it. I’ve tried. I’ve read Name Here’s post over and over, looking for his point. I can’t find any point at all–no statement about the Living Roof, nor anything else about native plants. Just snide attempts (“…I do not believe, judging by your writing, that you actually know the name…”) to discredit milliontrees. If Name Here has something to say about the Living Roof or “native plants,” maybe he will try again to make his own specific statements. One hopes he will be as careful in citing sources as milliontrees is in his posts.

  3. Busybody Buttinski permalink
    May 18, 2011 11:18 am

    Both Million Trees and Name Here agree that the mosses on the roof are “cosmopolitan.”
    Since they must have evolved (or been created) at some specific place and are now widespread, they must have “invaded” somewhere from somewhere; they just did it before Name Here’s (short?) attention span became focused on “native” plants.

    I, too, as does SaveSutro, believe that “challenging” Million Trees to identify themselves so that they become subject to reprisal sounds a bit aggressive for a forum that is for the interchange of ideas.

    My response to Name Here is in his/her own words: “You might want to present the scientific name of this moss to prove your point, though I do not believe, judging by your writing, that you actually know the name, or you would have presented it.” Quickly now; can you do this without using Million Trees as your reference?

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