Mostly fun stuff this week:
Would you rather fight one hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? UC Davis avian ecologist John Eadie uses his knowledge of physiology, allometry, biomechanics, and behavior to help President Obama answer this burning question. As awesome as a horse-sized duck itself would be! 🙂 Now just try shoving that duck into a funnel! 🙂 For an alternative take in the same vein, see here.
Need to cite a source for a claim that isn’t true, but don’t want to resort to the usual solution of misciting someone? Or maybe you just need a citation but can’t be bothered to look one up? Orin Kerr has you covered–he’s written one (extremely short!) paper that you can cite in support of anything! 🙂 (HT The Monkey Cage)
Build an R package, he said. It’ll take an hour, he said. 🙂 (HT Naupaka Zimmerman, via Twitter)
And one serious one I bet no one will click: Here’s a lengthy profile of economist Josh Angrist, a prominent empirical researcher who makes heavy use of “natural experiments” to tease out causality in situations where manipulative experiments are impossible. I mention it here mostly for one passage, which identifies a tension that shows up in ecology as well as in economics:
And some younger economists working in the mode of Angrist, Card, and Krueger have drawn criticism; they are sometimes depicted as opportunists looking for any topic that can yield a clear conclusion, even about something as seemingly inconsequential as the use of gym memberships. A 2007 article in the New Republic decried the “academic parlor game” played by new scholars using natural experiments.
“There has been some pushback in the last 10 years, that guys like me, or my students, or my school of thought—that we’re all about the tools and not about the questions,” Angrist says. “But I don’t think that’s fair.” … In general, he says, “it’s the combination of a cool tool applied to a central question that leads to good research.”
I’m certainly someone who advocates focusing on tractable questions in tractable model systems, and I’m certainly not alone. Does that amount to reducing ecology to an “academic parlour game”? Is the science of the tractable the science of the trivial? Is there such a thing as too much desire for clear-cut results, at the expense of what they’re results about? (HT Economist’s View)