Here it is: ask us anything, and we’ll answer! (UPDATED)

Ok, there seems to be a lot of support for the idea of inviting readers to ask questions that we’ll answer in a later post. So we’re going to do it!

Ask your questions in the comments on this post, by Friday Jan. 25 Friday Feb. 1. Alternatively, you can tweet questions to @DynamicEcology. We’ll compile the questions and answer them as soon as we can (we’re all busy this term so please be patient with us).

UPDATE: And in case it wasn’t clear, you can ask as many questions as you want.

So now’s your chance–ask us anything!

40 thoughts on “Here it is: ask us anything, and we’ll answer! (UPDATED)

  1. Why just a week for coming up with questions? How many questions can we ask? (Oh, golly, I hope it’s more than two…)

    • It was only a week because most people who are going to read a post read it in the first few days. But sure, I can edit the post to leave it open a bit longer.

      Ask as many questions as you like. I’ll edit the post to indicate as much.

      • Will there be a 2-minute turn-around time for all answers?! So far it’s the mean, median, and mode response time… (N=2)

      • As the post says, questions will be answered as soon as we can. Which is likely to be a little while–we’re all busy. So the mean, median, and mode turnaround time that you’ve experienced so far is going to increase substantially, starting right about now. 😉

  2. More seriously…
    1) If (each of) you had 5 minutes to stand up in front of parliament/congress (respectively) and say whatever you wanted, what would say?
    2) On what questions in ecology do you hope that the field would have made substantial progress by 2033?

  3. From @CarstenDormann:

    Is there a short phrase for “everything has been said but not by everyone” (recurring fads in ecology)?

    Why is there so much interest in consensual questions in ecology and so little looking up in textbooks for answers? (not quite sure what this one means, requested elaboration)

  4. From the comments section on the poll asking whether readers would be interested in a Q&A:

    Tom Heatherly: What’s a good textbook for a beginner interested in doing predictive modeling (as opposed to, say, GLMs)? And what are the most useful R packages for prediction?

    Jim Bouldin: ’76 Reds or ’98 Yankees? (For mystified readers: Jim and I are both baseball fans. Jim is asking me which of two famously dominant major league baseball teams was better)

  5. What are the main obstacles in creating accurate mechanistical predictions in ecology? Insufficient data? Predicting culture (as Brian argues in his series of posts)? Lack of unifying theory, the site-specifity that comes with it, and the limited usefulness of site-specific models?

  6. Has neutral theory and community phylogenetics been a distraction for the past 10+ years or have we gained true insight into community assembly and coexistence through this huge body of work? What is the future of these areas of investigation?

  7. A set of questions related to citation practices: How do you organise your background reading when writing a paper? How do you decide what papers to cite, especially if there are many equally-suitable ones to choose from?! Do you cite papers only for their results but also for speculative stuff in the discussion?

  8. I have one for Brian and Meg: Community ecology has something of a reputation, both within and outside the field, as being particularly susceptible to bandwagons. A reputation for always chasing the latest faddish method or trendy question, to a greater extent than other fields of ecology. Do you think that’s true? If so, why? Is it a bad thing? And if it is bad, what, if anything, can be done about it?

  9. Thoughts on justifying the cost of research WITHOUT appealing to vague promises of future applied/conservation value (i.e. truly ‘pure’ research)? I have often struggled with stretching to find the potential future application of some research project that is really motivated by a desire to understand. I have never seen anyone wiling to say and defend “This information is probably not useful, but it is valuable”. Maybe people whose work includes evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology are more prone to this.

  10. 1) What piece of advice do you wish you had been given as a graduate student? 2) What piece of literature (scientific or not) has been most influential in shaping your view of the world?

  11. Hey Fox et al., I have a question for you. I’m a fourth year undergraduate, planning on starting a PhD this fall. One of the things I love most about *doing* science is that it causes me to continually *learn* science; I enjoy my “work” involving writing papers or going to seminars, because it means in my allotted 40 (or 60.. or 80…) of weekly hours working, I’m not just doing some menial job, but rather actively learning and growing as an intellectual. This is a big part of what makes science so fun for me – that feeling of distilling order from a baffling world. Some of the feeling comes from direct experience of course (that is, having a question and answering it), but a lot of it [for me] comes from reading other peoples’ work and integrating it into my worldview.

    Yet, I’m somewhat concerned that the trend as one progresses in a scientific career is to have less and less time to actually learn (read papers, books, etc. for curiosity), and more and more time writing grants or doing experiments. This runs somewhat counter to the scientific career I want; I want a deep understanding of the whole of the field I study, not just the subniche in which I am a researcher. I’m afraid, though, that signing up to do a PhD is signing up to be an uber-specialist in that subniche alone, possibly at the expense of a broader understanding.

    Now, learning isn’t all of it, I really really enjoy the years I’ve spent in the lab thinking about my teensie questions, but it is a big part of what I can enjoy. So I want to know: how much time do you all spend weekly reading literature (and books)? Do you feel that you’re constantly learning and evolving your beliefs about your discipline, or does it feel more like you received training and are now simply implementing it? Since I expect the previous sentence isn’t the case, how do you ensure that you continually learn and grow and keep up with your field? Do you have any tangible advice, week-to-week, that I could apply throughout my PhD so that I get what I want? Learning is the best, but it’s also hard, and I often have trouble motivating myself to read the papers I’m excited about after a long day of running assays. How can I strike that learning-doing balance?

    Many thanks – this is probably too damn long. Also, I really, *really*, love this blog. This is one place I can easily go to learn even after a long day of assays = ).

  12. Are there compelling ecological and evolutionary reasons to support the view that tropical systems are ecologically distinct from temperate systems?

    • Good question, but to ensure a good answer, can you elaborate a little on what you mean by “ecologically” distinct? You mean, as opposed to evolutionarily distinct? Or do you mean ecologically distinct in the sense of “qualitatively rather than merely quantitatively different, ecologically”?

      • Hi Jeremy, I am interested in your opinions about the existence of qualitative ecological differences between tropical and temperate systems. More specifically, there are reasons to believe that ecological theory may benefit from similar studies carried out in tropical and temperate regions?

  13. Are there ecological and evolutionary reasons to support the idea (in its broadest sense) that tropical systems, are ecologically divergent from temperate systems?

  14. Trivial question I don’t know where else to ask: Is there a good ecology/evolution (and/or for related topics) blog aggregator out there? R has the amazing R-Blogger and stats has the growing The only ecology one I found was “” which does not even include this seminal blog!! In “Are established ecology blogs beginning to fade away?” you mention quite a few interesting blogs that are falling silent. These might have been stimulated to continue with greater readership possible through blog-aggregators.

    • It’s not a trivial question. But no, I don’t think there is such aggregator. You’ve already found the closest thing, the new INNGE aggregator. But I don’t think many folks are aware of that project yet, and further they only aggregate blogs that have given permission to have their content aggregated. I haven’t given permission for this blog, mostly out of laziness, but also because we don’t have any problems attracting readers as it is. I also want readers to visit our site (or subscribe to our RSS or email feeds) to read our content, so I’d only consider having teasers of our posts aggregated, not full posts. But since I myself don’t use aggregators, I admit I may not be the best judge of whether Dynamic Ecology teasers should be listed in the INNGE aggregator. I’d welcome feedback on this.

      Re: established ecology blogs falling silent, it appears that at least in some cases that was just a blip. Several of them have just done a burst of posting in response to my post! 😉

      • Thanks for the information!
        Thats great news for the other blogs, which I did not add to my rss reader thinking them dead (a good example of the use of an aggregator). I would love a good ecology aggregator, but I understand the problem of misdirecting traffic away from your blog. Can INNGE automatically truncate your post to the title and first line? Is there no way to have an aggregator that tracks readership for each blog? I would also love to know what is on your own blog roll and that of your collaborators (and love to see all that integrated to an aggregator). Thanks again!

      • Our blogroll is on our homepage, Just FYI, the blogs on it are my personal choices, not Meg’s or Brian’s.

        Yes, INNGE’s aggregator can truncate posts, I believe. Not sure how much they truncate, as I said I’ve been too lazy to really look into it. And while they probably could track readership for each blog they aggregate, I already have good tracking statistics for this blog all in one place. It would be inconvenient for me to have to add up our stats plus stats provided by INNGE’s aggregator (and no, I wouldn’t be able to automate that, given that this blog is hosted for free, and its stats tracked for free, by

  15. Pingback: Stupidity based research? | Ecologically Orientated

  16. I have some questions prepared and they are so profound and thought-provoking by any standard that you may need to be sitting down when you read them. Let me know when you’re ready.

  17. I’m just starting to publish and I’m somewhat appalled that many (most?) journals I’ve looked at won’t accept documents in TeX. (Some will only take MS Word!) Coming from a field where TeX submissions are strongly encouraged and sometimes even required, I can’t understand what editors in ecology and related fields are doing; they must spend an inordinate amount of time typesetting, which seems really wasteful to me. Can you shed some light on this practice of shunning TeX?

  18. What jobs outside of academia do you think eco-evo PhDs are best qualified for? If you quit your academic scientist job, what would you do next?

  19. Pingback: Answers to reader questions: part I | Dynamic Ecology

  20. What’s a good way to partition reviewers? What I mean by that is if I know of someone who would a good and willing reviewer for a MS I’m finishing up, is it better to ask that person personally to review the MS before I submit and revise/polish the MS before submitting, or is it better to just submit and list that person as a potential reviewer to the journal editor? Assume that there are no conflicts of interest with this reviewer. Assume, too, that this reviewer is perhaps the best reviewer out there for a particular aspect of the paper, but not necessarily the piece as a whole. Also assume that the author is an early-career researcher and so time is of the essence (more than it would be for tenured professors, in any case).

    • Good question. No hard and fast rules here, it’s a case-specific judgment call. Here are some considerations to think about:

      -I don’t often ask for pre-submission feedback, and I only ever ask for pre-submission feedback from close friends, or from people who’ve offered to do it (say, after I’ve chatted with them about the work at the ESA meeting). It’s asking a favor, and a big enough one that you wouldn’t ordinarily ask it of a stranger. That’s not to say you can’t approach a stranger. Maybe whoever you’re asking loves doing this sort of favor for people. Or maybe you have some reason to think he/she will be especially keen to read your draft ms (say, because it’s the first ms to apply a new approach that he/she developed). But if you do approach a stranger, expect to either get no response, or for the response to be a polite “no”, or for the response to be “yes” but then the person never actually does it. Put it this way: even for group-authored mss it’s often difficult to get all the co-authors to provide pre-submission comments on a draft! So getting someone who’s just going to be listed in the Acknowlegments to comments on a draft ms can be real challenge.

      -Make sure the ms is as polished as you can make it before asking others for feedback, or if it’s rough that it’s rough only in trivial ways (e.g., some references missing). You’ll get more useful feedback that way. Plus the more polished the ms is, the easier it is to read, and so the smaller the favor you’re asking of others.

      -How important is it to you to get feedback on this particular aspect of the ms? Is it something specific that you’re not sure is clear, or correct? Or is it more like “I don’t have any specific concerns, I’m just nervous in a general way about submitting my ms, so I’m hoping for some pre-submission reassurance”?

      -If time is of the essence, give an approximate deadline by which you want to receive feedback, and explain why you’ve chosen that deadline (e.g., I start my new job in two months, and I want to get the ms off my desk by then, so I’d like to get feedback in the next month or so). And don’t send any reminders until close to your deadline, when it’s ok to send one to ask if the person is going to be able to give you feedback or not. And if the answer is no, just say no worries, thanks anyway. And if they don’t respond, hey, that’s life, just go ahead and submit.

      -I usually don’t worry about the fact that someone who’s read and commented on a draft can’t then review the ms. There are lots of reviewers in the world. The number of people who might be willing to give pre-submission feedback is much smaller.

      • One more thought building on Brian’s remark (below) that you need to consider how much a pre-submission review will improve a paper. I tend to be most inclined to ask for pre-submission reviews from friends on those rare occasions when I’m submitting to Science or Nature. Because it’s such a different kind of ms to write, and because every word needs to be just so, just in order to have a shot.

    • My two cents are:
      a) I’ve given up trying to manage the “who reviews my paper” game. Its tempting because there no doubt it has a big impact on outcome. But it is my theory it is impossible to psych out the process. Some journals (and some individual associate editors) will never ask anybody you suggest. Others will always ask somebody you suggest. I only list people that I genuinely know for sure hate my guts or hate my paper as not-requested. So my answer to your question is to answer it independent of the assumption this person will end up as a reviewer of the paper – i.e. to just ask is it a good idea to ask this person to pre-review my paper.
      b) On this question, Jeremy lays out the key questions. Mostly its a big favor to ask so you have to ask how much they’re going to improve the paper (although it is less of a favor to ask of your immediate peers – e.g. grad cohort, or if early faculty fellow early faculty in your department – you at least are going to have the kind of long term relationship where something will come back around where you can do them a favor). In my experience odds are high that if you and any coauthors are really sure its the best you can do, an independent review is not going to add much. Especially once you’re past those first couple of papers and hopefully an adviser helps you on those.
      c) Often times, a much more efficient way to get feedback and to build comfort on the core concepts (i.e. did I miss something really fundamental?) is not to get a full pre-review but just to summarize the approach or direct their attention to a few paragraphs and ask specific questions. Many times when people want my opinion, I’ll ask them to send me powerpoint slides from sometime they’ve presented the work rather than the whole paper. Much less work on my part, and I’m probably not going to improve grammar, etc that much anyway if the authors have done their job well. But on the other hand if there is a giant hole, I can give feedback.

      By the way, like Jeremy I don’t request pre-review often. But my rule of thumb is to never write a paper until I’ve presented it once or twice. Even if I have to beg labgroups to let me come present or what not. That way I figure out what the audience can understand and can’t, what the main story is (much easier to figure out with power point than in the middle of writing 20 pages), and from the questions I can tell if I’ve missed anything glaring.

  21. Pingback: Hoisted from the comments: our best off-topic comment threads | Dynamic Ecology

  22. Pingback: Ask us anything, and we’ll answer! | Dynamic Ecology

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