About Jeremy Fox

I'm an ecologist at the University of Calgary. I study population and community dynamics, using mathematical models and experiments.

What’s the biggest change of mind any ecologist has ever had about any ecological idea?

In a pair of old posts I asked, what’s the biggest ecological idea you’ve ever changed your mind about?

Here I’ll pose a slightly different question: What’s the biggest change of mind any ecologist has ever had about any ecological idea?

For instance, imagine if AJ Nicholson had said “On reflection, Andrewartha and Birch were right, density dependence is irrelevant for population dynamics.” Imagine Robert MacArthur saying, “I’ve changed my mind, simple mathematical models can’t teach us anything useful about ecology.” Or imagine me saying, “Whoops, sorry everybody, the intermediate disturbance hypothesis is right after all, my bad.”*

Has any ecologist ever done anything like this? I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head, which may well just illustrate the limitations of the top of my head.

Meghan suggested Dan Simberloff for having changed his mind about island biogeography theory. Are there other examples from ecology?

The only example I can think of is from philosophy. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously developed two opposing philosophies of language, the second of which (ordinary language philosophy) refutes the first (logical atomism).

I’m curious about this because it feeds into our long-running discussions of issues like how fast ecology is progressing, why some ecological ideas seem so persistent, and why the people who know the most about an ecological idea often seem to disagree most about it.

*I find this last one both amusing and worrisome to imagine.

Hoisted from the comments: evolution music!

Commenter jk* points us to this paper on the history of Darwin-inspired music. To which, HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?!

That comment led me down a rabbit hole, searching for evolution-inspired music. Here are links to the YouTube videos of a bunch of my favorites. Hope you weren’t planning to accomplish anything for the next hour. 🙂

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Nobody shares our posts on Facebook any more

Short navel-gazing note that will be of interest to approximately minus-seven of you: almost nobody shares our posts on Facebook any more.

WordPress provides data on pageviews coming from various sources. Back in 2013, the first full year of Dynamic Ecology, ~7,300 of our ~336,000 pageviews came from Facebook. So, about 2%. The percentage of our pageviews coming from Facebook increased for a couple of years, peaking in 2015 (~21,000 of ~617,000 pageviews, 3.4%). But in 2016 our total pageviews grew while our views from Facebook remained flat. They were both flat in 2017. And then in 2018 our total pageviews were flat again while the views from Facebook cratered. Only ~6,000 of our ~729,000 pageviews last year came from Facebook (0.8%). We got fewer views from Facebook than we did five years ago, when our total traffic was half its current level.

Some of this could just be a blip. It’s always been the case that Facebook shares of our posts are highly skewed, with most posts getting no shares and a few getting many. So some of this could just be random year-to-year fluctuations in how many of our posts get widely shared on Facebook. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. One way to tell would be if other ecology blogs have seen drops in Facebook-driven traffic recently.

I’m not on Facebook and never have been, so I’m not well-positioned to speculate on what’s going on here. Is this a sign that people have stopped using Facebook? Or that they’re still using it, just not to share blog posts? Or what? You tell me!

p.s. The percentages of our pageviews coming from Twitter, and from search engines, are flat or slowly increasing. I’m not sure if this is relevant context or not.

Friday links: 50 years of the tragedy of the commons, biostatistical baking, and more

Also this week: low-risk, low-reward publication strategies among women social scientists, whatever happened to 90s environmentalism, Andrew Gelman vs. Judea Pearl, Twitter vs. harassment (but not in the way you think), scholarly disciplines as conversations, and more. Lots of good stuff this week! (for some value of “good” and the usual values of “lots”, “stuff”, and “this week”)

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Preventing grade grubbing

One of the most annoying parts of any professor’s job is dealing with students asking to have their grades raised, sometimes called “grade grubbing”. I emphasize that I’m not talking here about students who want to better understand why they lost marks, or students pointing out mistakes in how their work was marked, or students asking to be excused from coursework for legitimate reasons, or etc. All that’s completely fine and not annoying at all! I’m talking about students who just ask for a higher mark in the course than the one they earned. Perhaps because they “worked hard” in the course, or “need” high marks to get into med school, or were “expecting” a higher grade, or were “close” to earning a higher grade, or “always get A’s in other classes”, or etc.

I can appreciate where such requests come from. Students rightly care about their marks. But it’s annoying when an understandable desire to receive a high mark gets expressed in an obviously inappropriate way, as a request to increase a mark.

In my admittedly anecdotal experience, only a small minority of students make such requests (sometimes several from an intro-level class of 100+ students). Those requests are a small problem in the grand scheme of things. But still, it’d be nice to have a solution to the problem.

Obviously, no faculty member can grant baseless requests to raise grades. To do so would be unfair to other students, not to mention against college or university rules. But receiving such requests is annoying, and dealing with them one-by-one is inefficient. In an ideal world, no student would ever make such a request.

So here’s what I’ve started doing.

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Teaching science writing in university courses (poll results and commentary)

Note from Jeremy: This post was co-written with Bethann Garramon Merkle (@CommNatural). She holds an MFA in nonfiction creative writing, has written over 300 articles and essays, edited a textbook, and works at the University of Wyoming as the Director of the Wyoming Science Communication Initiative. She edits the ‘Communicating Science’ section of The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America.

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A few weeks ago, we ran a poll about teaching science writing in university courses. We were, most specifically, curious about the reasons why people don’t teach writing in science courses. That poll generated great discussion, and 97 responses. While the poll itself is not a random sample of academic scientists, the results are still worth considering.

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Friday links

From Jeremy:

NSF remains closed due to the partial US federal government shutdown, but continues to accept proposals in accordance with published deadlines. More information from the NSF website. Hope that this is resolved soon, not least so that the employees of NSF and other shuttered agencies can get paid.

How often do papers in the leading journals in every scholarly field cite, and get cited by, papers in the others? Here’s the answer in the form of an addictive interactive map. I was struck by how some EEB journals cite and are cited by journals in various other fields (e.g., Am Nat), but others are connected almost exclusively to other ecology journals (e.g., Functional Ecology, JAE).

A nice graph of data on the gender balance of US PhDs awarded in 2016-17, by broadly-defined field. These data were familiar to me, and I’m guessing to most of you, but in case you’re interested I wanted to pass them along. The striking thing about these data to me is the heterogeneity among fields. The only broad fields in which recently-awarded PhDs are approximately gender-balanced are biological sciences, arts & humanities, and business. Everything else is either quite male-skewed (engineering, physical and earth sciences, mathematics), or quite female-skewed (health sciences, social & behavioral sciences, public administration, education).

Data on average class size as an example of selection effects.