Also this week: a modern day Darwin, monsters vs. workplace safety, pangolins vs. dinosaurs, and more.
Congratulations to Eleanor Caves, Jean Phillipe Gibert, Ambika Kamath, and Stilianos Louca for receiving the ASN Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Awards! These awards have a proud history of going to future leaders in ecology, evolution, genetics, and behavior. It’s great that ASN recognizes not just one but four of the many outstanding young researchers doing integrative work in ecology, evolution, genetics, and behavior. I’m sure the awardees symposium will be one of the highlights of Evolution 2019 this August.
I’m late to this, but writing in Bioscience recently, here’s Tony Ives on reproducibility of experiments in ecology. Argues that ecologists shouldn’t worry about “among experiment” reproducibility, while hinting that meta-analysis is an overrated road to generality in ecology. I really want to hear what the NutNet founders think of this. Seems like there’s a genuinely interesting debate to be had.
I’m late to this as well, but here’s Caitlin Kight’s laudatory review of Katrina van Grouw’s Unnatural Selection. Anyone read it? I’ve yet to see, or hear of, an interdisciplinary art-science project that both discovers new scientific knowledge and succeeds as art. If this does (and from the review, it sounds like it might), I’d be very interested to read it.
The story of Venture Research, a comparatively small BP-funded program that tried to support truly transformative scientific research. (ht Marginal Revolution)
Data on the financial payoff to a student for attending a liberal arts college. I confess I’m skeptical of how well some of this stuff can be measured, while also freely admitting I’m no expert. I’m also skeptical whether attending college is always best thought of as an investment on which it’s sensible to calculate a financial return. But at least the linked report acknowledges, and attempts to account for, the fact that different people want different careers that tend to pay different salaries. So it’s not as if all the students who attend liberal arts colleges could’ve made more money if only they’d chosen to go to, say, engineering school instead. Because many of them didn’t/don’t want to be engineers.
“If there’s a monster OSHA they are ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL.” 🙂 I assume that there is a monster OSHA but they’re too busy addressing the flaws in the Death Star’s trash compactor. 🙂 (ht @kjhealy)
And finally, inside every pangolin is a tiny T. rex waiting to get out. Apparently. 🙂
To me, what Tony Ives is getting at is the importance of ‘conceptual replication’ rather than ‘direct replication’. Repeating the same experiment exactly (direct replication) means that all the biases, confounding variables, or tacit assumptions in the original experiment will remain in the new experiment. Instead, there’s a benefit to undertaking a different experiment that addresses the underlying principle or mechanism. Many different experiments trying to answer the same question will ultimately lead to a stronger concensus.
The above is a paraphrase of a longer argument I wrote about the benefits of avoiding replication studies
I need to think more about “conceptual replications” and how they might work (or not) in ecology. Currently I only know what I read on blogs about conceptual replications in psychology. My outsider’s impression is that they’re easily misinterpreted, and that they function to paper over the vagueness of the underlying theories they purportedly test. But I doubt that outsider’s impression is worth much…
I am a HUGE fan of NutNet. I think it is exactly the type of broad comparative study (or studies) that is needed. My comments in the Bioscience piece concerned experiments that are not designed to be comparative. I design experiments to understand the systems that I study, and I think they should be judged by what they tell about these systems. I think it is interesting when experiments in other systems given similar results, and often more interesting when experiments in other systems give different results. But I don’t think that the value of experiments in one system should be contingent on comparison to experiments in other systems unless the experiments were designed to be comparative.
The Bioscience piece is mainly about separating “reproducibility” into that component that involves best practices (transparency, proper statistics, etc.) from that component that involves comparisons among studies. The first is essential. The second depends on the goals of the studies. This is a little different from Ken’s separation of “direct replication” and “conceptual replication”.
Very interesting remarks Tony; I agree.
I confess I have a vague notion that I’ve been struggling to articulate, that too many ecologists these days care too much about using meta-analysis or other comparative statistical summaries to decide what’s “typical”, and therefore what’s most worth scientific attention. Yes, there are reasons to care about what’s “typically” the case, or what’s the case “on average”. But too often, caring about what’s “typically” the case seems to shade into devaluing what’s “atypical”. Obviously, we never want to over- or understate how common X is; we don’t want to mistake the common for the rare, or vice-versa. But there’s more to deciding whether phenomenon X is interesting, or important, or worth studying, than just asking how common or rare X is, or how big or small X is on average, or whether X is “typical”.
Part of what I really liked about that interview you did with Biodiverse Perspectives a few years ago is how well you articulated the notion that there are other ways in which ecologists can seek “generality” besides seeking either universal “laws”, or the sorts of statistical summaries provided by meta-analyses. For instance, you noted that we can seek fruitful analogies between apparently-disparate case studies. (For readers: here’s the link to the interview with Tony that I’m referring to: http://www.biodiverseperspectives.com/2014/03/11/diverse-introspectives-with-tony-ives/)
Maybe (or maybe not) relevant, but I think what’s typical (most common) is often overshadowed by what’s atypical but has large, long-lasting consequences. Post below grew out of a review of an “intelligent design” book, but I think the issue has ramifications throughout nature.