How Field Naturalists Die



I can see how accidents and infectious diseases take their toll on naturalists. But murder/execution? Yikes.

(Source: Sue VandeWoude; data from Richard Conniff’s Wall of the Dead.)

22 thoughts on “How Field Naturalists Die”

  1. At least here in Brazil it isn’t uncommon to hear naturalists being murdered or threatened either by farmers or coming across ilegal hunters or poachers.

  2. I understand, by tracking the links, that the vertical axis is a simple tally of deaths (not something much scarier, say, a percentage). For clarity, labeling axes is never a bad idea.

    1. With a percentage we’d be looking at a couple of hundred percent ‘all time’.

      That being said . . from a really quick eyeball of the data we’ve got. .
      Vehicular . . . Up from 25 to 31%
      Trauma . . . Up from 18 to 23.5%
      Animal Attacks . . . Up from 8 to 10%
      Murder/Execution . . . Down from 19 to 12.5%
      Infections Disease . . . Down from 17 to 8.5%
      Poison (work related) . . . Down from 3 to 0%
      Exposure . . . Up from 4 to 5%
      Heart Attack . . . Up from 4.5 to 10%
      Other . . . down from 1.5 to 0%
      (All numbers rounded)

  3. Interesting. There is no question that solo travel to third world locales is always dicey.

    However, the “All Time murder/execution” column is skewed by inclusions from much more Hobbsian times (when life was nasty, brutish and short) and as Cecilia says, is simply a anecdotal total, not probability.

    The title heading is better described by “How past field naturalists died” than the current version which incorrectly implies prediction

    1. you can’t say how a naturalist will die but you know about the PAST one !!!! but you CAN say that is more likely to die in a car accident than by other means 😉

  4. Well, does the “murder” category includes those publishing long taxonomic monographs in obscure, low-impact journals (i.e., academic suicide)?

    1. No doubt, Roberto 😉

      But (1) choosing taxonomy as their specialization is by definition equivalent to academic suicide these days and (2) any publication that accepts taxonomic monographs is by definition obscure. Sad.

    1. The vast majority of naturalist’s ‘normal’ types of deaths are seemingly ignored.

      I see no mention of many departed field biologist like Wm L Brown, Jr. (1922-1997). There seem to be many issues which are of no import if you don’t assume any scientific rigor is involved.

        1. “working, not those at home” is a pretty nebulous concept since so many naturalists “work” at home. Prior to the 20th century, I would expect that almost ALL naturalists worked at “home” and many still work at “home” today.

          So, would you include a naturalist who contracted (choose any or all): sleeping sickness, river blindness, malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya, typhoid, typhus, bubonic plague, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, African tick bite fever, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, tick paralysis, tick-borne meningoencephalitis, bovine anaplasmosis. whatever while out collecting and then died at “home” or on the way “home” from complications or normal disease progression, or only those who never made it all the way thru the door ?

          1. You left out dysentery, cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, hantavirus, and HIV — all of which, according to the Wall of the Dead, naturalists have fatally contracted in their work.

  5. Alex,

    I imagine the large number of murders/executions are at the hands of insect photographers who have been victimized by copyright infringements.

    BTW, thanks for sending the info on “slave ants”. Most helpful.

  6. I’d just like to say the quality of the comments (and utility!) on this post on this blog is GREAT! Way to buck the trend, and contribute interesting information, everyone! =) I heart science-folk. & Alex, if you’re moderating, WELL DONE!

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  8. Wow! I never knew my profession of 40 years was so dangerous! Thanks for this update Alex…..I feel better retired now!

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