Anyone who’s been ignoring my critiques of the intermediate disturbance hypothesis because they’re not peer reviewed will have to pay attention now: the Trends in Ecology and Evolution paper based on my posts is now available online here.
No zombie jokes or other inflammatory rhetoric in it. I leave it you to judge if that makes the paper better or worse than the blog posts.
So, what’s the over/under on how long it takes for an IDH defender to submit a rebuttal?
Also, any guesses as to what arguments any rebuttal will make? This is something I had to think about as I was writing the ms, because I was trying to do the best I could to anticipate and pre-refute arguments IDH defenders might make. Here are my guesses as to the arguments an IDH defender likely would make in a rebuttal to my paper. I think #’s 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 are probably the most likely ones. I say that in part because 1, 2, 3, and 9 are basically the arguments appealed to by defenders of the zombie idea of humped diversity-productivity relationships in grasslands, and some of those same folks have worked on the IDH as well. Which is also why I wouldn’t be surprised to see #10 crop up.
- Argue that the available empirical evidence is all flawed and so doesn’t provide an adequate basis for rejecting or accepting the IDH.
- Cherry-pick empirical evidence: find some reason(s) to ignore the many empirical studies failing to find a humped diversity-disturbance relationship, and to focus on the few that do find a hump. Claim that the subset of the data on which we should be focusing strongly supports the IDH.
- Argue that humped diversity-disturbance relationships would occur, but lots of other factors intervene and obscure them. Cite the speculations of Hughes et al. 2007 in support. Perhaps even argue that I’m ignorant of the many refinements of the IDH over the years.
- Muddy the waters on the distinction between patterns (humped diversity-disturbance relationships) and the processes generating those patterns. Then combine this with cherry-picking empirical evidence to argue that zombie ideas about the processes driving the IDH must be right, because “empirical data show that the IDH is true”.
- Argue that the IDH has always been based largely or entirely on competition-colonization trade-offs models, so I’m attacking straw men in attacking other theories of the IDH.
- Argue that my favored models of diversity-disturbance relationships (like those of Roxburgh et al., Shea et al., and Miller et al.) are just minor refinements of the models I criticize, and so actually support the IDH. Cite Roxburgh et al., Shea et al., and Miller et al. in support, because this is the way they sometimes pitch their work. Ignore the fact that my paper explicitly addresses this argument.
- Argue that the IDH, even if it perhaps had some flaws in its original form, has sparked a lot of productive research and that we need to continue to build on that research, not discard it. Either ignore my argument for a new research program on diversity-disturbance relationships based on testing recent models, or else claim that that program would throw the baby out with the bathwater.
- Claim that all models are false, and the models I favor are no exception. Ignore or simply deny my point that zombie IDH models are logically invalid, not false in any of the ways most theoretical models are false.
- Argue that the IDH has been a “cornerstone” of community ecology and conservation biology for decades. It was developed by some of the greatest and most influential ecologists ever. Conservation practitioners have long relied on it. Key papers on it are citation classics. It’s in all the textbooks. It’s well established. Strategically fail to note the many examples from the history of science of well established, widely believed ideas proposed by famous people turning out to be wrong, dead ends, or otherwise fatally flawed.
- Ignore any contradictions between the different arguments you offer (e.g., 1 and 2 can’t both hold; it can’t simultaneously be true that the available data are inadequate, and that, properly interpreted, they strongly support the IDH)
Just to be clear: I don’t think all of these arguments are poor ones, even though I don’t agree with any of them. (Probably
#2 CORRECTION: I meant #3 is the best argument, with #7 in second place) And I could be totally wrong about the arguments that any rebuttal might make. I’d actually be thrilled to hear strong rebuttal arguments I hadn’t thought of. I’d feel like I, and hopefully readers, would really have learned something if that happened, and that the science would really have advanced in an important way. But since I’m as convinced as I can be that I’m right, I’m as convinced as I can be that there aren’t any really strong rebuttal arguments to be made. Which is why I’m cautiously pessimistic about the strength of the arguments likely to be included in any rebuttal. Like I said, I sincerely hope my pessimism isn’t borne out.
Of course, another possibility, perhaps quite likely, is that the paper will just be ignored. Or perhaps only be cited in a pro forma way by people continuing to pursue research based on the zombie ideas I criticize. Such papers might begin by saying something like “The IDH is a central hypothesis about the maintenance of diversity (Connell 1978, Huston 1979, but see Fox in press)”, and then go on to discuss zombie ideas more or less as if they’d never been criticized. Scientists are a conservative bunch. Hardly ever does a single paper cause a popular line of research to shut down or change direction in a major way. So it’s quite possible my paper will just sink without much of a trace.