# Poll: How mathy are ecology, evolution, and genetics?

Something I’ve been interested in is student views on ecology, evolutionary biology, and genetics, including how much math they think is involved in the different disciplines. I’ve surveyed my Intro Bio students to get their views, and realized it would be interesting to compare it to what ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and geneticists think. Hence this poll! The poll is brief, but I’m doing it in google forms so I can do the cross tabs.

Here’s the link to the poll in case the embedding doesn’t work. The embedded poll is below the break.

This entry was posted in Poll, Process of science, Teaching by Meghan Duffy. Bookmark the permalink.

I am an ecologist at the University of Michigan. My research focuses on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, particularly in lake Daphnia populations.

## 8 thoughts on “Poll: How mathy are ecology, evolution, and genetics?”

1. How much math a “geneticist” uses depends strongly on whether they are a population geneticist or a molecular one! And we could draw the same nit-picky distinctions within all the other fields… Nonetheless, I’m interested to see how this comes out. Expecting strong confirmation of my pre-existing bias, which I was about to type out, but then realized that you didn’t explain yours so you wouldn’t contaminate the poll. So I shall refrain too!

• Yep, it’s intentionally coarse, given that I’m trying to link it with Intro Bio!

It would be interesting to see if we all have the same guesses about what Intro Bio students would think! Perhaps another poll? #allthepolls #52posts

2. I don’t really understand the poll. Lots of biologists in the fields listed use canned black-box analyses that implement sophisticated statistics which is not exposed to the user. A researcher can talk about posterior parameter estimates but know essentially no math at all. Does that count as “mathy”?

3. Does stats count as math? If so, is a t-test “moderate”? “substantial”? I think compared to society as a whole even calculating a mean could be considered substantial. I think the categories are too subjective to be that informative.

• I’m most interested in the comparison between the three fields, which should help with variation in how a particular person interprets mathiness.

4. This is a great topic, Meghan! I’d say ecology is math-heavy for most of us, given it is a data-driven discipline. Genetics and evolutionary biology have *recently* evolved into much more math-oriented fields than they once were. When I think back to one of my grad school experiences (1980s)- it would be a success for a MS student to sequence maybe two or three genes for a thesis (often, one was enough). There was not much math involved there. The same is true for molecular biology- which was very math-light before the advent of platforms that enable the analysis of multiple proteins and microarrays for RNA/DNA. When I earned an MS in biochemistry in the 1990s, my three years of work consisted of assessing changes of a single residue on one protein. That would not pass muster for a graduate degree today. Obviously microarrays have transformed evolutionary biology into a much more math-heavy endeavor. In short, my sense is all three of these disciplines are now more or less equivalent on their usage of math, primarily a result of recent advances in technology.