How did I not know about this until now?!
The above is from the 3rd (2014) Canadian edition of Manuel Molles & James Cahill’s Ecology textbook. “Zombie ideas”! In a textbook!
A while back I asked how you teach controversial scientific ideas to undergrads. I really like the Molles & Cahill approach. They use my 2013 paper critiquing the intermediate disturbance hypothesis to kick of a really nice discussion of how ongoing debate and lack of final resolution are normal parts of science. They also talk about how the intermediate disturbance hypothesis shouldn’t be treated as a universal law–that’s not how hypotheses and hypothesis testing contribute to scientific progress. Finally, I think the term “zombie ideas” is a good way to get students to sit up and pay attention. And although there’s a part of me that wishes their discussion were pitched slightly differently, honestly I think what they wrote works better for an undergrad text than what my inner zombie-slayer would’ve written.*
My only quibble: Fox (2013) doesn’t actually use the term “zombie idea”, so I suggest that the 4th edition cite the original blog post as well. Yes, you can cite blog posts. Indeed, that one’s already been cited.
I’m unreasonably proud that a Canadian textbook cites three other Canadians in the passage critiquing the IDH. Canada: where zombie ideas go to die. 🙂
I know JC, I’ll have to buy him a beer next time I see him. And give him a hard time for not telling me about this! HT to my Calgary colleague Kyla Flanagan for pointing this out to me.
After I saw this, I went and checked another new ecology textbook, Markus Eichhorn’s (2016) Natural Systems. Markus has commented approvingly on some of my zombie ideas posts, so I was curious to see how he’d treat the IDH. It’s a much briefer treatment than Molles & Cahill, and sadly (well, sadly to me) he doesn’t use the phrase “zombie idea”. But lo and behold:
I’ll be very interested to see how the treatment of the IDH changes over time in other ecology textbooks. Down the road, will we set textbooks increasing the space given over to critiques of the IDH? Just cutting back on all discussion of it? Swapping out discussion of the IDH for discussion of, say, the storage effect?
I’m also very curious to hear from folks who teach or have learned from these new textbooks exactly how the IDH was taught in class and what if anything was asked about it on exams.
*On the page following the one pictured above, Molles and Cahill analogize the intermediate disturbance hypothesis to the Lotka-Volterra model: a simple limiting case useful for generating hypotheses and sharpening intuitions. I’d quibble with that, since in its canonical textbook form the IDH isn’t mathematical, it’s a verbal argument along with a sketch illustrating its conclusion. That doesn’t sharpen intuition so much as enshrine faulty intuition. And I question whether “testing” vaguely-defined hypotheses is scientifically useful. But even I recognize that a debate about the value of verbal vs. mathematical models isn’t the sort of thing you should try to cram into a brief passage in an undergrad ecology textbook.