Earlier this week, I was interested to read Liam Bright arguing that his own field (analytic philosophy) is a degenerating research program, and that ongoing attempts to salvage it by making it “relevant” or “practical” aren’t likely to succeed.
Even if you don’t think your own field is degenerating, I think it can be good mental exercise to consider the possibility. I’ve done so in the past in a somewhat tongue in cheek way, designing an imaginary graduate course on whether ecology is f*cked or awesome. That imaginary graduate course mostly wasn’t based on my own concerns or complaints about the state of ecology. It was based on other people’s concerns and complaints.
I bring this up because, reading Liam Bright’s piece, it struck me that I haven’t read any similar critique from an ecologist in almost a decade, with the exception of pieces critiquing ecologists’ statistical methods. I mean, click that last link–most of the readings I proposed in the imaginary graduate course are old! Heck, most of them were old back when I wrote the post in 2016, and now they’re even older. And the few that aren’t old are either (i) about statistics, (ii) are pretty narrowly focused (e.g., critiques of NEON), or (iii) aren’t really about ecologists’ research practices at all (e.g., concerns about climate change).
Now, maybe I’ve missed a bunch of stuff (please tell me if I have!) And maybe I’m just wrong–maybe such pieces have always been rare events and they aren’t any rarer nowadays. But if I’m right that such pieces are rarer these days, why is that?
Maybe it’s because the field of ecology has grown more sophisticated in its statistical methods, and more focused on global change and conservation? So worries about our statistical methods loom large in our minds. Whereas worrying that global change or conservation research wasn’t worth doing would risk crossing the line from “good mental exercise” to “trolling”.
What do you think? Am I just off base here? (Quite possible!) And if I’m not off base, what do you think has changed?
p.s. If something’s changed, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a bad thing, or a good thing. It’d depend on the reasons for the change.