Why is ecology so…?

As most of you probably know, if you start typing a search term into Google, it will offer you autocomplete suggestions, based on the most common searches similar to yours. This is good for some laughs.

If you type “why is ecology so” (without the quotes, as for all search terms in this post) into Google, you get the following autocomplete suggestions:

1. important

2. boring

Hey, at least “boring” wasn’t #1!

I only list the top two because the rest of the suggestions modify the search rather than completing it. The #3 suggestion is “why is soil ecology important”. I’m not sure if soil ecologists should be happy or sad that so many people apparently search Google for that phrase.

If you do the same for “why is evolution so”, you get:

1. slow

2. interesting

3. controversial

4. important

5. hard to understand

6. important in biology

7. widely accepted

8. popular

9. stupid

10. widely accepted in science

I’m very surprised “slow” is #1. Apparently no one has told the intertubes about the rapid evolution/eco-evolutionary dynamics bandwagon. Quick, to the bat signal whatever signal one shines into the sky to attract the attention of Andrew Hendry! Presumably a huge silhouette of a Darwin’s finch or a stickleback or something.

Here’s what you get for “why is science so”:

1. hard

2. boring

3. important

4. boring yahoo (Wait, lots of people not only ask the internet why science is boring, they specifically want an answer from Yahoo Answers? Seriously?! [tries to laugh with one side of face while crying with the other])

5. interesting

6. stupid

7. amazing

I like that the #1 autocomplete suggestion for ecology is “important”, but the #1 suggestion for science as a whole is “hard”. But the #2 suggestion for both is “boring”. I’m going to interpret that to mean that ecology is easier and more important than the average scientific field, but equally boring.πŸ™‚

Next I tried “why is community ecology so”, but didn’t get any suggestions. Trying “community ecology is” was better:

1. best defined as the study of

2. it time to move on

3. a mess

We could fix this if only everyone on the planet would read this old post of mine.

I also tried “why is dynamic ecology so” but didn’t get any suggestions, which was kind of a bummer. But if you try “zombie ideas”, the third suggestion (right after “zombie ideas” and “zombie ideas for a party”) is “zombie ideas in ecology”! Woohoo!

You can keep going with this all day. The results for “daphnia is” are hilarious. The top suggestions include “is daphnia a producer”, “is daphnia unicellular or multicellular”, “is daphnia heterotrophic or autotrophic”, and my personal favorite, “is daphnia a protist”. To the many people searching on those terms: those are challenging questions, so to get an answer you can rely on, you need to ask a real expert. I suggest tweeting your Daphnia-related questions to @duffy_ma or emailing them to duffymeg@umich.edu. Meg would love to hear from you!*

Relatedly, see this old post. Also the comments, where someone checked the autocomplete suggestions for “ecologists are”. The suggestions are, um, interesting.

Someone’s done this sort of thing for all of academia. Presenting the University of Autocomplete!

Why yes, we are short on time to write real posts. Why do you ask?πŸ™‚

*For some value of “love”. After all, “strange” is the #2 autocomplete suggestion for “love is”πŸ™‚

21 thoughts on “Why is ecology so…?

  1. #2 suggestion for “protists are” is “prokaryotes”. But at least “daphnids” or “crustaceans” weren’t among the suggestions.

    And no, “cute” wasn’t suggested.

  2. Suggestions for “Paramecium is” include “prokaryotic” and “bacteria”, plus a bunch of variants about how to classify Paramecium.

    Clearly most of these searches are coming from schoolkids looking for homework answers. We get a chuckle out of them. But for kids being introduced to technical terms for the first time, I’m sure it isn’t obvious whether Daphnia is a protist, or Paramecium is a prokaryote, or whatever.

    But that still doesn’t explain “snails are cute”.πŸ™‚

  3. OK sure, I can waste time with the best of ’em.

    Why are trees…
    #3: “painted white”
    In my experience, that typically results from running out of green and/or brown.

    #4 “called trees”
    Easy; quicker to type and say than “big, woody, white plants”

  4. You may know that Google search results are always customized to the user — for instance, you may get different search results when logged in or not logged in to Google/Gmail. Even from a completely anonymous public terminal Google still uses IP address, etc to taylor results to you. It seems this also applies to suggested completions, though may not be a big difference in the examples shown here. See Eli Pariser on this issue http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html No comment on any analogies between filter bubbles / context-dependent ranks and the scientific literature.

    • Yes, good point. But at least as far as I can tell that seems not to much affect the autocomplete suggestions for these searches. But I could be wrong; I’d be interested to hear what autocomplete suggestions other folks get for the searches in the post.

  5. I checked your first one, and got the same #1 and #2 but my third was “why is the study of ecology so important?” No mention of soil anywhere. So much for “personalization”: I study soilπŸ™‚

    And I am logged in with my Google account!

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