What debate topic would you like to see at the next ASN standalone meeting?

The ASN standalone meeting features an evening debate between two pairs of people, taking opposite sides of some proposition. This year’s proposition was (paraphrasing) “It’s no longer possible to be a naturalist in a world on which humans are having such large effects.” As another example, the first debate several years ago considered (paraphrasing) “Species richness on continents reflects ecological not evolutionary limits.” At it’s best, with the right people (who take it seriously but not too seriously), it’s a great format. It’s a low-stakes way for people to air opposing viewpoints, in a way that both entertains outsiders and gets them thinking and talking.

The ASN is currently looking for topic suggestions for the next debate. So, got any ideas?

Here are a couple of opening bids:

  • “Species interactions are not stronger and more specialized in the tropics”.
  • “Ecologists and evolutionary biologists should stop pursuing fundamental research in order to focus on pressing applied problems”

Please do chime in with your ideas!

Which ecologists (or other scientists) are remembered for one discovery or idea, but really ought to be remembered for others too?

In an old post, we talked about scientific “one hit wonders”–scientists who made a single major contribution, but whose other work was not especially notable. In that post, I made the joking analogy to pop band Soft Cell and their hit “Tainted Love”. With which Jeff Ollerton quibbled, noting that while “Tainted Love” was Soft Cell’s biggest worldwide hit, Soft Cell actually had several other hits in the UK. Meaning that Soft Cell weren’t actually one hit wonders and really shouldn’t be remembered as such.

Soft Cell is far from the only such example, of course. The passage of time has a way of simplifying and flattening the memory of anybody. Wait long enough, and almost anybody who’s remembered at all will be remembered as a one-hit wonder.

Which got me thinking that it would be fun to talk about ecologists and other scientists who are remembered primarily for one thing, but who actually did other notable work.

Some opening bids:

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“A data-based guide to the North American ecology faculty job market” now published

I’m putting up this brief post to announce that the ESA Bulletin has published my paper, “A data-based guide to the North American ecology faculty job market“. This paper pulls together much of what I’ve written about this topic over the past few years in one place. I’m hopeful that this will make these data more useful to more ecology faculty job seekers, now and in future. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on this work over the years from ecology faculty job seekers, expressing appreciation for data that addressed their anxieties. Receiving that feedback motivated me to keep pursuing this work and publish it in the Bulletin.

I’m also aware of some ethical concerns about the data I compiled on gender balance in recent ecology faculty hiring, that were raised at the time the preprint went up. I responded to some of those concerns at the time they were raised. Responding to other concerns required more time. I sought advice from knowledgeable colleagues (who are not responsible for my choices), consulted my institution’s IRB, and redid the data compilation using modified methods previously used in other recent papers addressing gender balance in other areas of ecology. The Bulletin paper thus differs from the preprint in some ways, and addresses the concerns of which I’m aware to the best of my ability. I recognize that my responses will not satisfy everyone.

For me, publication of this Bulletin piece brings this body of work to a close. I have no plans to continue data collection, or to do further analyses of the data I’ve already collected. I don’t think there’s much more of interest to be learned from these data. And the ecology faculty job market only changes slowly, so these data will remain a reliable guide for several years at least. The Bulletin piece is now out there for anyone who wants to read it; it’s time for me to move on to other things.

Do we need replication studies in theoretical ecology?

tl;dr: Betteridge’s Law of Headlines is alive and well. 🙂

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Here’s an example of a influential theoretical result in economics that turns out to be wrong. More precisely, it’s invalid: it doesn’t actually follow from the models from which it was originally derived (as least, I assume it doesn’t; that is, I assume the linked paper now has the derivation correct!).

Which got me thinking: do we need to worry about this sort of thing in theoretical ecology? What fraction of theoretical results in ecology do you think are incorrect in the sense that they don’t actually follow from the assumptions from which they’re purportedly derived?

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Dynamic Ecology reader survey!

Every few years, we like to take a quick snapshot of our readership. What do they do, where are they based, how long have they been reading Dynamic Ecology, and what do they think of it. Obviously, there’s only so much we can learn by polling our current readers, since we’re not polling people who’ve stopped reading us, or who’ve never read us. But we’d like to learn what we can. So whether you’re a longtime reader or only just started reading us, please help us out by taking this quick anonymous poll. Thanks!

On reaching one’s destination and realizing it’s a starting point

Last summer, I gave a talk at the Evolution meetings in a session focused on science communication. My main message was: there’s value in preaching to the choir. But, as I’ll explain in this post, that talk helped me realize something else: sometimes, what you think is your destination is really a starting point.

The idea of preaching to the choir is one I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially as a result of work I’ve been doing on student understandings of and views on climate change, in collaboration with Susan Cheng and JW Hammond. We started using that metaphor because we found that almost all students entered the course we studied already accepting that climate change is occurring: when asked “Do you think climate change is happening” at the beginning of the semester, 98% of students choose one of the “agree” options. (The paper is here and open access.) In the course we studied, one of the main messages of the lecture on climate change was that climate change is occurring. Given that most of the students already thought that prior to instruction, you could argue that this course was preaching to the choir. But one of the messages of our study was that there is value in that; as one indication that it had value, after instruction, students became more confident that climate change is occurring. There’s value in preaching to the choir! I thought that message applied to science communication more broadly, so decided to make this the theme of my Evolution talk.

Before writing a talk with that theme, though, I wanted to make sure that the way I use the metaphor is the way others use it, too. I googled it, which led to me finding this amazing piece by Rebecca Solnit. The focus of her essay is on political communication, but it is very applicable to science communication, too.

So, my Evolution talk ended up having several slides with quotes from Solnit’s piece, including this one:

Karen Haygood Stokes, a minister … explained …her aim is not so much to persuade people to believe as it is to encourage them to inquire into existing beliefs. “My task as a preacher is to find the places of agreement and then move someplace from there. Not to change anybody’s mind, but to deepen an understanding.” The common ground among her parishioners is not the destination; it’s the starting point: “Have we thought critically about why we agree?”

This quote really stood out when I was reading the Solnit piece, because it was so applicable to the work we’ve been doing on student views on climate change. When we look at their short answer responses, there is huge heterogeneity that is not captured by the statistic that 98% of them accept climate change coming into the course. When asked about what factors are contributing to climate change, some seem to understand things well enough that they might be able to teach the lecture, others have a partial understanding, others say they don’t really know, and still others seem to harbor misconceptions.

When I started the work, I viewed a student clicking “accept” as my destination. This work has made me realize it’s a starting point.

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Friday links: love letters to trees, are invasive species bad, ASN Young Investigator Award applications due soon, Barbara Kingsolver vs. Mary Treat, and more

Also this week: good news, Meghan is linking again! So keep reading to learn about preparing for a busy semester, has the replication crisis come to ecology, Twitter vs. academia, the pointlessness of multiple rounds of review, Alex Trebek vs. David Attenborough, Pink Floyd vs. your introduction section, using autocomplete algorithms to play chess, and much, much, more! Get comfortable, there’s lots of good stuff this week.

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Thoughts from the ASN standalone meeting in Asilomar

Earlier this month I finally got to attend the ASN standalone meeting in Asilomar, which I’ve been dying to attend since they started doing them. This was the first time the meeting didn’t overlap with the first week of the Calgary winter term. It was a great meeting, both fun and productive. Here are a bunch of hopefully-interesting thoughts:

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Some things that helped me make it through a particularly busy semester

This past fall was quite busy for me, and I was worried at the start about whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew. The big things taking up time were teaching over 600 students in Intro Bio and chairing a university task force on graduate student mental health, but it was also important to me that people in my lab not have to go the whole semester without getting feedback on their manuscripts, and there were also a couple of grant deadlines that I really didn’t want to miss. I knew this would be a lot, so I did my best before the semester to set up a structure that would hopefully help me through my particularly busy semester. And it worked pretty well! Things weren’t perfect, but I did the things that needed to be done and think I did them reasonably well, and I came out of the semester with my mental health intact. I think a few things really helped with managing things, and I’m hoping that sharing them might be useful to other folks, hence this post.

I’ll expand on each of these below, but the short version of my strategy is:

  1. Block off time for everything
  2. Say no to lots of things
  3. Work with good people
  4. Celebrate the wins
  5. Remember that the bar is not perfection

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