New posts will be rare over the holiday period, so to tide you over I thought I’d highlight some old posts (going back to my pre-Dynamic Ecology days over on Oikos Blog) that didn’t attract much notice at the time. Starting with this one, in which I posed the question: what’s the biggest scientific claim about which you’ve changed your mind?
In the original post, I avoided answering my own question, so I’ll answer it now. In grad school, I was a pretty mechanistic guy, or at least I thought I was. Heavily influenced by having read some of David Tilman’s R* work as an undergrad, I thought that phenomenological models of any sort were just an expression of ignorance. At best, they were a sadly-necessary stepping-stone on the way to true (i.e. mechanistic) understanding of what was really going on. Nowadays, I recognize that any parameter or function in any model can be viewed as a “high level” phenomenological summary of some lower-level mechanism. And I appreciate that much of our most powerful and successful general theory (e.g., the theory of evolution by natural selection; modern coexistence theory) is phenomenological in precisely this way.
I avoided giving this answer originally, on the grounds that changing one’s mind because you were relatively-ignorant and then learned something doesn’t really count as changing one’s mind. But I’ve since changed my mind about that. 🙂 While I certainly hadn’t read nearly as much as a grad student as I have now, I wasn’t totally ignorant either. I was capable of developing and defending a view of the role of modeling in ecology. Plus, it’s not as if I’ve now read everything, so that I’m now perfectly informed! So if I now have a different view on the role and value of different sorts of models in ecology, well, that means I’ve changed my mind.