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The Busy Reader


Pages in Motion. Passion for Stories.

Never Home Alone

Video Length 1:49

Who Should Read It


Why Should We Read It

We will learn to tolerate and appreciate "wild life" just a little more.

What Will We Learn

Contrary to popular belief, a "cleaner" home does not make a healthier home.

Book Reflections

" exploration of a wild habitat not fully understood by our scientific community: our own homes."

I have a variable interest in the garden that my wife and I have in our home. There are chunks of time when I am very punctual about watering and weeding. There are even longer chunks of time in which I allow the cruel hand of natural selection to impose its will on our arid Eden. If I am to be honest, my regularly visiting mother is only reason why there is even a shade of green in our garden. I do pay enough attention to my plants notice that spider webs have appeared in and around the branches and fences. I told my wife I wouldn't remove them because the spiders were probably keeping the insect population in check. My wife said, "Yes, ok," but her eyes said, "Sounds like you're making up an excuse to avoid maintaining the garden." My biological common sense/horticultural laziness was under constant scrutiny until Rob Dunn's Never Home Alone vindicated my strategy.

"...our assumption [is] that someone else has already [studied our homes], and/or that there won't be much to find…"

Professor Dunn studies applied ecology, and his latest work Never Home Alone is an exploration of a wild habitat not fully understood by our scientific community: our own homes. This ignorance is driven by what Professor Dunn terms the "farsighted ecologist syndrome"- the tendency for scientists to study more "exotic" locations like rain forests and coral reefs. To the extent that a modern home is studied, it is generally examined within the context of a problem like infestation or disease. Further preventing an in-depth investigation of a home for its own ecological sake is our assumption that someone else has already done it, and/or that there won't be much to find. Professor Dunn assures that the first assumption is false, and the math doesn’t add up to make the second assumption true. Take the example of New York City- it is about 59 square kilometers in geographic area, but boasts 172 square kilometers in residential living space. That seems to be a lot of space for "nothing" to be present.

"In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of different species, most of them previously unknown to science."

The sheer volume of biodiversity in our homes is not only grotesquely underestimated, but also critically vital to human health. Professor Dunn thought he might find a handful of species in our homes. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of different species, most of them previously unknown to science. That is only half the story. Our bodies have an immune system that attacks dangerous organisms we encounter; we also have a "peacekeeper" system to counterbalance the immune system. Frequent exposure to diverse stimuli, including bugs, maintains a robust "peacekeeper" system. Areas with lower levels of biodiversity (measured by any means- butterflies, spiders, bacteria, etc.) is associated with increased rates of autoimmune processes like Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, asthma, and allergies. Herein lies modernity's greatest irony: our drive to clean and sterilize our homes is actually making us sicker because the "peacekeeper" system is under-developed and unable to counterbalance an overreactive immune system.

"'...a diverse ecosystem that benefits my entire family..."

I don't get to say it very often- I was right about the spiders in our garden! But like any good husband, I was right for the wrong reasons. I thought we should let the spiders live because they don't otherwise bother us, and I am lazy. Professor Dunn would say that the spiders represent only a fraction of the life likely to be coexisting with our plants, and they probably help maintain a diverse ecosystem that benefits my entire family. My wife recently saw some garden snails and thought they were disgusting enough to consider snail repellent. This time, I was ready. I counseled waiting to see how they affected our garden; if we don't notice anything, then they too are helping us. Besides, repellent will probably kill more than snails, making all of us weaker for it. And if they become a problem, maybe we can find a way to attract song birds to eat them. Dr. Dunn, I think, would be proud.


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