My credentials are as follows 46, soon to be 47, years in the hobby. I have seen and been a part of the progression of our obsession. I have designed more filtration systems, from metropolitan, to commercial, to residential, to aquaria, than I can even begin to count.
I have had the pleasure, and still have the pleasure, of knowing and being able to associate myself, with some of the innovators and greatest minds in our hobby. Knowing some of the "new line" of marine biologists, such as Dr. Tony Robertson, Jerald Ault, Keir Becker, David Letson, and others. These folks are still practicing their trade and passion in universities and colleges throughout the country, they are the minds that help use to understand the ideosychrosies of the fish and habitats of the fish we keep.. Also such breeders as Jack Wattley, Bob McDonald, David Hemmerlein, Dennis Wetzel, Joan Ghianni, Mike and Diane Schaedle, and many, many others. My network is extensive and dynamic. One of my most memorable contacts was with Dr. Warren Burgess. He was my mentor when I started keeping African cichlidsmany years back. I learned the foundation of my experience with these fish through him.
Seven years of college including the University of Western Kentucky, Purdue University, Indiana University, and Notre Dame University studying math, physics, environmental design and management. And a degree in mechanical design engineering. Much of the time I was attending more than one school simultaneously with another.
I have certifications as a water process engineer, environmental water processes and design, water management, waste water processes and design, electrical design and and layout, communications interfacing, and others. Many of these required exhaustive study and hours of tests, some over 40 hours of testing, to receive. And the benchmark to pass in many were a score of 90% or better. I never had to take any test more than once. Ringing my own bell there, sorry.
I am member of the ACA, AKA, IBC, MAS, and other aquatic clubs and societies, both specialized and general. I have, like Dawn, attended numerous annual meeting, seminars, and classes on the care, upkeep, breeding, physiology, and ecology of biotopic spheres.
I must also say, that I've probably lost more fish during some of my "experiments" than I care to admit or can even begin to count. These losses were not anticipated, but, truly, advanced my knowledge of the hobby. Those losses validated all of the progress that I have made in my keeping of fish.
Some may be aware of my "multi-layered/reverse flow" filtration theory. I have worked on that project of over 25 years. I still believe that it is not perfect and continue to experiment, adapt, and perfect that process. As new and improved equipment and products become available, it will forever morph to become better.
I do not claim to be an expert. My ego does not demand that I do so. I draw upon my knowledge, experiences(both good and bad, successful and unsuccessful), and the knowledge of others, both present and past, to guide me. I do not make claims until I am positive they are correct and will work. I would hesitate to make the claim that peas cause digestive damage to bettas with the knowledge I have at hand. I would, instead, delve further into the probabilities that feedings prior to the condition could be the culprit. Feeding freeze-dried foods, without proper preparation would lead me to believe that the damage was caused prior to the introduction of peas as a laxative. It seems that the texture of freeze dried foods is harsh, course, tough, and could be very abrasive to the digestive tract. Thereby causing the damage long before the introduction of peas, or other vegetable matter, as a laxative. These are just observations of years of participation in the hobby, the knowledge of the composition of foods, and a general feeling that many aquarists lack the proper training and expertise in keeping fish. I have also been in contact with a few "cronies" that also believe this could be true. I am not saying that the damage was "pre-peas" but the possibility is definitely soundly based. My basis in suggesting that most aquarists lack knowledge is simply reading the posts on this, and other, forums. The evidence is quite convincing and hard to argue against.
Dawn's claim that peas cause more harm than good is controversial , at best. I have found no supporting evidence from others to support the theory. I have spent hours, literally, on the web, on the phone(in contact with people that would be able to support the concept), and in contact via email and IM with others. One thing I will mention, ANY laxative is damaging to the digestive system of ANY animal. Just by their nature, they tend to "scrub", for lack of a better term, the bowel, something I learned from one of my contacts, as I did not no that prior to speaking to him. There are some that are truly incompatible with the digestive system. For instance, one would not use bamboo or tree fiber as a laxative because of the harshness of the fibers of the plant. However, it has been proven that grains and legumes(which include peas and beans) are among the most gentle of all natural laxatives. Although, I could not find any information on these as they relate to piscivores, it has been stated in many medical journals that pertain to humans and other larger animals. One would also have to have live specimens that had not been subject to any contact with peas or any other item that may cause damage to the digestive tract. and partake in a very lengthy and controlled experiment in which fish would have to be eruthenized to be able to be dissected. I know that Dawn is not the type to partake in such studies. She is a caring individual and very adamant about animal rights, including fish. She would not be one to sacrifice an animal to have an experiment that would be that would lead to a conclusive answer. This is the reason I am so upset over her proclamation. It is one-sided and incomplete, based on half the story. I would like to hear the rest of the story. I do not believe that sufficient data was obtained to come forth with such a claim. A handful of necroscopies on ailing fish without the same on healthy specimens is not conclusive evidence. Nor can it be an educated guess to make the claim based on that as sole evidence. And yes I would challenge ANY such claim from ANYONE that did not have subjective, complete data from both sides of the fence.
Science is a peculiar beast. When one proposes something as controversial as Dawn has, one must completely justify the pronouncement. One must not only think as a protagonist, but as an antagonist also. The presenter must conduct experiments from the other side to validate the findings. That means a complete an exhaustive, analytical and diagnostic review and research testing the theory. One must think "what if, " I wonder if this could....", "could this be the case instead of" and adopt that approach to verify and validate one's findings. Then and only then can one have the confidence and evidence to publish one's findings.
My reasoning for myself not wanting to be labeled as an expert is simply, I am still learning. It is a forever , non-ending, process for the devoted hobbyist. If I understand that, others should also. I am continuously learning new methods and, especially as of late, the past 10-15 years, new technologies. To be an expert, implies an all knowing persona, which, if a person would be completely honest with themselves and others, will never happen. There is absolutely no way for a person to be an expert. They may be well versed in a subject, but to be referred to as an expert is purely to feed one's own ego.
One may also become very proficient in certain aspects of the hobby. Many are very good at spawning certain species of fish. But, the methods they use may not be universal. I would not call that person an expert. There are some that have the capacity to figure out certain problems and find solutions. I would not call them experts. Rather, I would consider them as "prophets of proficiency" and "agents of progress" that are major contributors in the aspects of observation and problem solving.