Manu Saunders just posted, asking what makes for a good opinion/perspective paper in ecology. Manu notes the apparent lack of agreement among editors and reviewers as to what makes for a good opinion/perspectives paper. This is a topic we’ve discussed before.
One way to answer the question “What makes instances of X good?” is to look at instances of X that everyone agrees are good, and reverse-engineer the reasons why those instances are good. Or, you could identify bad instances of X, reverse-engineer what makes them bad, then avoid doing that.
For instance, last year Dey et al. (great paper) reviewed one particular kind of opinion/perspectives paper in ecology: “research prioritization” papers. That is, papers with titles like “100 key questions for the next century of ecological research” or “Emerging issues in global change research” (I made those titles up, but I’m sure you recognize the type). Dey et al. couldn’t find any detectable effect of such papers on the direction of ecological research.* So insofar as the goal of those papers is to influence future ecological research (and if that’s not the goal, what is the goal?), those papers apparently are ineffective. So perhaps “research prioritization” papers provide an example of what not to do when it comes to writing opinion/perspectives papers in ecology.
But what about positive examples? What are the most important or influential opinion/perspectives papers in the history of ecology?
In evolutionary biology, Gould and Lewontin’s “Spandrels” paper is the obvious answer. That paper was certainly influential outside evolutionary biology. And it was much discussed and much taught within evolutionary biology, though I’m not sure how many minds it changed (as opposed to merely annoying people).
In ecology, the candidates that come to my mind mostly aren’t really opinion/perspectives pieces. Leibold et al. (2004)–the paper that got community ecologists excited about “metacommunities”–is really a review of the theoretical literature. It develops a novel framework to organize the literature, and it’s that framework that made the paper so influential. I guess you could call that framework the “opinion” or “perspective” of the authors. But I dunno, Leibold et al. (2004) just doesn’t feel like an opinion/perspectives paper to me. Same thing for the enormously influential Bolnick et al. (2003; “The ecology of individuals: incidence and implications of individual specialization”). It’s a synthetic review paper, not an opinion/perspectives paper. Same for the other influential review papers discussed in this old post and comment thread.
If you count the philosophy of science papers in the famous** Nov. 1983 issue of American Naturalist as opinion/perspectives papers (and I think you should), then they’re my nominees for most influential opinion/perspectives papers in ecological history.
Levins (1992) is the only other very influential opinion/perspectives paper in ecology I can think of right now.
No, Fox (2013) is not among the most influential opinion/perspectives papers in the history of ecology, come on. Or if it is, that is a pretty sad commentary on opinion/perspectives papers in ecology!
So you tell me: what are the most important, influential opinion/perspectives papers in the history of ecology?
*Presumably because those papers tend to endorse ecologists’ existing research priorities. According to Dey et al., the #1 most common research priority area suggested by recent research prioritization papers in ecology is “climate change”, followed by “ecosystem services”. Which have been probably the two hottest areas of ecological research since the mid-1990s. At the more granular level of specific priorities rather than priority areas, recent research prioritization papers in ecology have identified a total of 2,031 research priorities. Which should surely be enough to cover everything every ecologist in the world is already studying. A perfectly fair summary of the recommendations of research prioritization papers in ecology is “Everybody keep doing what you’re doing!”
***Feel free to start a “paper X is like song Y” thread in the comments. 🙂 Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go identify the ecology paper equivalent of Rock Lobster.