Inquiry is dead when the flagship journal Science starts ambulance-chasing . . . but hey, its Osama bin Laden week in all media, so I guess it should be of no surprise that they are running a story on three-ish year old efforts to get a sense of where bin Laden might be hiding.  To their credit, the folks at UCLA are hardly crowing – it was a student project, and Thomas Gillespie, the faculty leader of the project openly noted “It’s not my thing to do this type of [terrorism] stuff,” and made it clear that he had no intention of shifting from his biogeographic interests:

“Right now, I’m working on the dry forests of Hawaii where 45% of the trees are on the endangered species list,” says Gillespie. “I’m far more interested in getting trees off the endangered species list.”

I’m waiting for the gentlemen over at floatingsheep.org to weigh in on this particular project – they are much more qualified to comment on the substance of the study.  However, I applaud Gillespie for refusing to get caught up in the hype.  Sadly, I’m sure some of my disciplinary colleagues will want to trumpet this as an example of how useful geography is, and why it should get more attention.  Because, you know, we’ve just recently shaken off the colonial origins of our discipline, where we proved our usefulness by mapping local populations and resources to facilitate their control, and lord knows we wouldn’t want to put that sort of thing behind us. As one of my colleagues in grad school once pointed out (tongue-in-cheek) after listening to some of our colleagues complain about how some engineering and science departments had much larger budgets, “if we were willing to help kill people, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

And people wonder why I get itchy about the militarization of aid and development.