Nobel Laureate economist Robert Mundell recently passed away. I know nothing about Mundell, but I was interested to read that his intellectual legacy is complicated, apparently because he switched from doing one sort of economics to a completely different sort. It’s not merely that Mundell changed his mind about important economic matters. It’s that he changed his whole approach as well.
We’ve discussed scientists who’ve changed their minds about important scientific matters. But I don’t think we’ve ever discussed scientists changing their whole research approach. Are there any examples of this from ecology and evolutionary biology? The equivalent of me switching to, say, dinosaur paleontology or condor conservation or something?
Note that I’m not thinking here of undergraduate or graduate students changing their whole approach. It’s common for students who are still figuring out their own interests to switch between labs taking totally different approaches to science. And I’m not thinking here of scientists quitting science for some other occupation, or people with established non-scientific careers switching to scientific research. Those are definitely big switches; they’re just not the sort of switches I’m interested in for purposes of this post.
No great candidates come to mind off the top of my head. Dave Tilman switched from algae in chemostats to grasslands, but I feel like all of his work is very much of a piece, conceptually. He didn’t give up on R* theory or experimentation when he switched to working in grasslands.
Can you think of any examples? Looking forward to your comments, as always.
p.s. Analogous examples from other areas of life seem to be pretty rare. For instance, it seems to be pretty rare for fiction authors to totally change their writing style, though there are more examples of writers whose styles changed gradually over a period of many years. See here and here for discussion and some examples.