I have data, ESA, I promise!

Last week, as I was working on my ESA abstract, I realized that I was including things that I wouldn’t normally, just to make sure I showed I have data in hand. The ESA Abstract Guidelines include this requirement:

The abstract must report specific results. The results may be preliminary but they may not be vague. Abstracts without explicitly stated results will be rejected. It is understandable that abstracts describing non-traditional work may lack quantitative data; however, it is still expected that the abstract will address some question and have a “take-home message” describing specific findings.

The abstract I submitted this year combines what will end up being two different publications. We’re working on one of those publications now, and just have a few loose ends to tie up before it will be ready for submission. That project redescribes a parasite that attacks developing embryos of Daphnia, and characterizes its phylogeny, virulence, and ecology. But I’m guessing the phylogeny part won’t be as exciting to an ESA audience, and the virulence stuff can be summarized quickly, so I decided to combine portions of this first manuscript with a second, less fully developed analysis. That second project deals with both the parasite we’re redescribing and another one that is similar in some ways (in that both sterilize their hosts but do not affect lifespan) but differs in other key ways (one is an obligate killer, the other is not). The main data component of this second project is two years of field data on these parasites in 15 lakes. We have lots of data, and I’ve done some analyses on them, but haven’t fully analyzed them.

So, to summarize, I was writing an ESA abstract for a talk where we’ve done a ton of work, but I haven’t finished analyzing everything. The abstract guidelines are clear that that’s okay (and I’m sure it’s common). I, like many other people, want to talk about new work at ESA, and also use it as a deadline to motivate me to finish up some analyses. But, since I don’t know what the threshold is for enough specific results in an abstract and I want to be sure I’m above it, I suspect I tend to put more in than really would be needed. (*see footnote below; I am NOT criticizing this requirement!)

When I wrote my abstract last week, the point where it really struck me that I was tailoring my abstract because of this requirement was when I wrote:

Infections of both parasites were observed in all six host species and all 15 lakes. However, there was substantial variation between lakes in the prevalence of infection, with infections rare in some lakes but common in others.

After writing that, I thought, “Hmmm, is that specific enough? That could sound kind of vague and like I haven’t really analyzed the data on this.” So, I added in these sentences right after:

In 2014, maximum infection prevalences of the brood parasite reached 4.9-8.7% of the entire population and 9.1-20% of the asexual adult female population. Maximum prevalences of the bacterium ranged from 0.2-54.5% of the population.

That’s probably excessive detail for an abstract, but at least it makes it clear that we really do have data and it’s certainly specific!**

How much do you tailor your ESA abstract to address that part of the guidelines? Have you had an abstract rejected because it didn’t contain enough specific results?


*I want to emphasize that I am NOT criticizing ESA for this policy. It makes sense to me that they want to be sure there’s a reasonable chance the person can give a talk that will be interesting to others (and a talk with no data is less likely to be interesting). And I can’t even imagine the amount of work that goes into sorting through all the abstracts and making those decisions. I’m glad I do not have to do that! I’m simply describing how I think about that guideline (maybe more than is necessary) while writing my abstract, to try to make sure I’m above whatever bar there is for specific results.

**My abstract ends by talking about ongoing analyses that we are doing, so it makes it clear that we haven’t fully analyzed the data yet.

Suggest topics and participants for the debate at the 2016 ASN meeting in Asilomar! (UPDATED)

Last year the American Society of Naturalists (ASN) held a very successful Oxford-style debate at its meeting in Asilomar, on the determinants of continental-scale patterns in diversity. In the comments on the linked post, Dan Bolnick, an organizer for the next meeting, asked for suggestions for the next debate topic and names of people who’d debate it.

I’m sooooo happy the ASN is doing this again! I was totally bummed to have to miss the first debate, I’m going to do everything I can to make it to the second one. And I bet a lot of you feel the same, so let’s help Dan out with lots of suggestions!

Keep in mind:

  • It should be a scientific topic worth debating–a topic on which smart, informed people disagree in real, serious, interesting ways.
  • It should be a topic of interest to the whole ASN membership, which includes people doing ecology, evolution, and behavior.

The first idea that occurred to me off the top of my head was something on the role of theory in ecology & evolution, or theory vs. models. The stuff we talked about in this post. But there was just an Ignite session on that at the last ESA, which didn’t turn out to be all that debate-y. Maybe in part because we didn’t have the right people? I think the choice of people is really key here. You need people who are willing to take a stand and disagree publicly with each other, but who respect their opponents, and their opponents’ position, enough to engage in a productive exchange of views. On the other hand, I’m sure the format matters to. I’m not sure if an Ignite session is conducive to a debate. Whereas a debate is conductive to a debate.*

Not sure if the inclusive fitness vs. kin selection thing is too acrimonious, narrow, or old hat to be a good idea. Humped vs. non-humped diversity-productivity relationships might be too acrimonious, plus it’s kind of narrow. “Old” vs. “new” conservation is definitely too acrimonious. And before someone suggests it, I think me vs., say, Doug Sheil and David Burslem on the IDH might not be of great interest to evolutionary or behavioral types (plus I don’t know that we actually disagree enough).

How about Brian vs. someone on statistical machismo?

Rees Kassen and Graham Bell vs. somebody who works with sexually-reproducing macroscopic organisms on the genetic basis of adaptation (new mutations vs. standing variation)? Too narrow?

Ooh! “Gene sequencing and genomics are oversold”! Get Mike Travisano and Ruth Shaw to argue for it. Get, um…[thinks for a minute, then decides to throw his own colleagues under the bus] Sean Rogers and Sam Yeaman to argue against it.

UPDATE: In the comments Brian suggests an idea way better than any of mine: “Are species interactions stronger and more specialized in the tropics?” How could I not have thought of that? I bet Angela Moles and Jeff Ollerton would totally be up for arguing for the “no” side, since they’ve already done it on the blog. And I’m sure there’s no shortage of people who disagree with them.

The first ASN debate worked really well in part because it was a cross-field debate. It was a topic on which ecologists and evolutionary biologists have clashing perspectives. Any other ideas for topics like that? Maybe you could find a contrarian ecologist willing to argue that intraspecific variation and eco-evolutionary dynamics are oversold and aren’t that important on ecological timescales, opposed by Dan himself?

Oh, and next time they should totally poll the audience on their views before vs. after the debate to see who ‘won’. 🙂

*Dynamic Ecology: come for the zombie jokes, stay for the blinding flashes of insight!

#ESA100 meeting preview: lightning talks

The 100th ESA meeting is still 8 months away, but the call for abstracts went out last month. New this year: lightning talks.

Click the link for details, but the short version (ha!) is that lightning talks are 4 minute talks. You submit an abstract as for a regular talk, and the organizers group the lightning talks into topically-related groups of 4 (e.g., 4 population ecology lightning talks). After each group of 4 there’s a 10 minute question/discussion period. Each session comprises 3 of these groups, with the groups likely being on different topics. The lightning sessions will run in parallel with the other sessions during the day.

Ignite sessions are still happening too. I guess the lightning talks are an attempt to build on the popularity of the Ignite sessions. I also wonder if part of the motivation for lightning talks is to cram more talks into the meeting without making it longer or increasing the number of parallel sessions. Looks to me like lighting talks are to Ignite sessions more or less as regular talks are to symposia.

Note that lightning talks lack the formatting constraints on Ignite talks. In a lightning talk, you can have however many slides you want, and click through them however you want. I think that’s good. On balance, I think the strict formatting of Ignite talks is a bug rather than a feature. People mostly want to treat Ignite talks as short versions of regular talks, so we might as well let them.

Will be curious to see how folks use the lightning talks. I’m guessing that, as with Ignite talks, people will mostly treat them as short versions of regular talks–axing the introduction and methods, assuming a lot of background knowledge on the part of the audience, and glossing over details in the results.

I doubt that the organization into topic groups will do much to enhance discussion, as the 4 talks within a group almost certainly will be too unrelated for that. Rather, I think you’ll mostly just see audience members asking questions of individual speakers. I suspect the main function of the organization into topic groups will be to let audience members pop in and out every 30 minutes.

Are you planning to do a lightning talk at the ESA this year?

Notes and impressions from the ESA meeting

I enjoyed the meeting and got a lot out of it. Thanks very much to the organizers for working so hard to make it happen. Some random thoughts and impressions:

I screwed up my Ignite talk, but it was fine. I stupidly planned for 15 slides at 20 seconds per slide, rather than the specified 20 slides at 15 seconds per slide. Oops. So I had to change it to 15 seconds per slide (them’s the rules!) I turned it into a joke about how 5 minute talks are for wimps and I was going to do my talk in 3:45, because I’m a blogger and I can be brief. It got a laugh, and the talk itself was fine. Between having been pretty well prepared, and the “modular” way in which my talk was structured, it wasn’t that hard to cut it down on the fly. There’s a lesson here for students. At some point, something’s going to wrong during one of your presentations (or one of your classes, if you’re a teacher). It could be an equipment failure, an audience member or student who keeps interrupting with questions…anything. It’s really useful to be able to think on your feet and deal with it.

A couple of thoughts on Ignite talks. They’re more work to prepare than conventional talks. And the 15 seconds per slide rule is a bug, not a feature. I assume the idea is to try to force people to minimize the use of text and figures, and so give a talk where all the visuals are pretty pictures. But even if you do that, the rule imposes a very awkward and distracting pace and rhythm to your talk. People are always either rushing to catch up with their slides, or (more rarely) waiting for their slides to advance, or (most rarely still) reading their talks so as to stay in perfect sync with their slides. That is, unless you do what I did and cheat, by having 2-3 duplicate slides in a row. But if you’re allowed to do that (and how could anyone stop you?), then there’s no point to the 15 seconds per slide rule. Ignite talks remind me a bit of how authors and poets sometimes set themselves the challenge of writing under some very severe constraint, like not using any word with an “e” in it. It’s really difficult, and even when you pull it off the achievement is more in having produced something that’s decent despite the constraint, rather than excellent because of the constraint.

More thoughts on the topic of my Ignite session (theory vs. empiricism) in a separate post, hopefully.

It seemed like a small meeting this year. Maybe even under 3000? There were plenty of empty seats in most of the rooms. (Though not in the session I was in, which was standing room only. I wonder if part of the reason was that a lot of the Ignite sessions seemed to be aimed at fairly narrow audiences this year? So if you wanted to go to an Ignite session, ours was probably going to be your first choice? I dunno, I’m just speculating.)

Because of the small size of the meeting, and because there wasn’t one street where all the bars and restaurants were concentrated, it was pretty easy to go out to eat and drink. I tried several of the recommendations from our recommondations post, they were all excellent. And I thought the food prices were great.

The meeting was split between the convention center and two hotels across the street, which wasn’t ideal. I know there’s a lot that goes into choosing a meeting location, and I don’t necessarily think ESA should just rule out anyplace that can’t fit the whole meeting into its convention center. But personally I do much prefer meetings that aren’t so spread out.

Not many people came to our meetup, but that’s fine, we enjoyed meeting the folks who came by (thanks!) Meg, Brian, and I had dinner after the meetup. First time all three of us all got together face to face. I hope it becomes an annual tradition.

One interesting thing that came out of the meetup is that apparently readers often don’t realize who wrote which post? Meg and I apparently have both have had the funny experience of being complimented on posts the other wrote. Maybe Brian has too? Do we need to do more to make clear who wrote which post? Besides, you know, having the author’s name right below the title (in admittedly-tiny type)? 🙂

I also saw Meg speak for the first time. Her talk was really good. Brian was scheduled almost opposite me so I couldn’t go, sadly.

Other really standout talks for me: Kathy Cottingham’s opening plenary, Greg Dwyer’s Ignite talk in my session (good points made very entertainingly), George Sugihara (wonderful animated videos from his son, explaining the key ideas), Monica Granados (very creative and thought provoking), Peter Adler (just excellent all around), and Rae Winfree (a collaborator who explained some ideas of mine more clearly and succinctly than I ever have).

I stayed for the whole meeting. Friday morning attendance was low as usual, although it seemed pretty good in the poster session and in the oral session I saw. I still think the ESA should swap the Monday morning and Friday morning activities (possibly with the awards ceremony moving to a late afternoon or early evening slot on Sunday or Monday). That way people are more likely to stay to the end of the meeting (because otherwise you’d be skipping an entire day), and the only people who need to stay for Friday morning are those attending workshops and other activities for which you have to sign up. Lots of other people like this idea too. Worst case scenario, you try it once and if it doesn’t work, you go back to the current schedule.

Finally, anyone know why the meeting was a week later this year, and is a week later again next year? I’m sure some people like having an extra week in the field, but other people have to start teaching in mid-August. And I have personal reasons for much preferring that the meeting start earlier in August.

What were your impressions of the meeting?

Semi-hiatus for the ESA meeting

Just FYI: Dynamic Ecology will be on semi-hiatus during the ESA meeting. We’re not planning any meeting preview posts this year. And we’re not planning to post during the meeting either, though I suppose we might change our minds if the spirit moves us.

Sorry if this disappoints any of you. But there’s just not enough of you. Very few people read our posts about the ESA meeting. And writing those posts takes time and mental energy that I can’t really spare during the meeting. I’m busy from the moment I wake up until I get back to my hotel room late in the evening, and just don’t have the energy to stay up for another hour writing a post that hardly anyone will read. I’m sure it’s the same for Brian and Meg. If you want to follow the meeting from afar, you should be on Twitter following the #ESA2014 hashtag; that’s where the action will be (though EEB and Flow has promised to liveblog the meeting).

We’ll probably do some sort of wrap-up post after the meeting ends.

p.s. If you’ll be at the meeting and want your Dynamic Ecology fix, come say hi to Meg, Brian and I at the Dynamic Ecology meetup on Wed. 5:30-6:30 in the poster hall!

Guest post: where to eat and drink at #ESA2014

Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post from Chris Hamn, who until recently was a postdoc in the Dept. of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis. Thanks very much to Chris for taking the time to write up his favorite Sacramento drinking and dining spots!

This is a cross post from Chris’ own blog, Pizza, Beer, and Science. Can I just say, I’m really glad to have advice on where to eat and drink at ESA from someone who named their blog “Pizza, Beer, and Science”. 🙂

For more suggestions on where to eat and drink at ESA, go here.


For those of you from out of town visiting the Sacramento area for the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting here are a few of my favorite places to eat and drink with notes about the town and food culture.

Sacramento has a number of excellent local breweries. You can get excellent local beer at nearly any of the bars and restaurants downtown. The list below is a collection of places I have been to and would recommend that are either downtown near the event or are easily accessible via the light rail.

A bit about me and my tastes: I was a postdoc at UC Davis for a year and a half until recently moving to Kansas. I’ve never been one for fine dining so I won’t be of any help there, but I really like good food and good beer.

Capitol Garage – This is one of my favorite places to eat in Downtown, especially for breakfast/brunch. The Cap is the kind of place where most of the staff have a lot of tattoos but the food and drinks are amazing. They have a full bar and lots of local craft beer that really compliment their excellent menu. They have lots of things that foodies (for veg, vegan and carnivores) will enjoy. I should add that I have never had a bad meal here. The staff is friendly and keeps the coffee coming but sometimes they are not the fastest. They accept on-line reservation through their website and the OpenTable app.

Pourhouse – Another place to grab a delicious beer and sandwich. Pub style fair, nothing fancy but everything is tasty.

Zia’s – An Italian style deli that is a great place to get a sandwich during lunch. There is often a decent sized line because of it’s proximity to the capitol but they move quickly. They close at 6p on weekdays so plan accordingly if you want a sandwich for dinner.

Shoki – The best ramen in town with lots of options to keep it vegetarian or vegan. This is another place where I have never had a bad meal, but service can lag a bit when they are busy.

Burgers and Brew – The name says it all. Good burgers and a good selection of craft beers.

Shady Lady Saloon – If you like cocktails this is the place you will want to visit. They also have a nice menu. I should note that I like this place but it can get very loud at night and you may have to be assertive to get your order in at the bar.

Fox & Goose – A nice public house with good seating. There is often live music but I’ve found it to be a place to regroup and chat late at night. I have not tried the food here.

Dad’s – This is one of my favorite places to eat in Sacramento. Everything they make uses local ingredients and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve had there. Beware, parking is a problem here because it is located in a residential neighborhood with 1 hr max parking time. But have no fear, there is a BLUE line station just up the street (4th and Wayne / Hultgren station). In my opinion, this has the best local craft beer selection in town (20+ taps).

Rick’s Dessert Diner – If you have a sweet tooth than this is where you will want to go. At any one time they have at least 20 different cakes/tortes/pies and they also make excellent shakes, all in a 50’s style diner that is open late.

Hot Italian – If you like Neapolitan style pizza than you want to come here. They do offer the traditional 12″ pizzas made with 00 Italian flour but they also offer a number of less traditional toppings that may sound odd but are delicious.

Pangea – A Belgian “Bier Cafe” with lots of imported ales on draft and a decent menu of contemporary bar food.

Firestone – This place has a large selection of craft beers (but is in no way associated with the Firestone Walker Brewery). I’ve found the food to be mediocre but the beer list is respectable.

Breweries – If you want to go and visit any of the breweries located in Sacramento I recommend the following:

Rubicon        Hoppy      Track 7     New Helvetia

Help Jeremy crowdsource his Ignite talk for #ESA2014!

I was invited to give an Ignite talk at the ESA meeting this year. I figured it would be fun to try, so I said yes. But now I need to actually start writing it, and that’s where you come in.

The session was proposed as a debate on theory vs. empiricism in ecology. The speakers are even supposed to be divided into “Team Theory” and “Team Data”. I’m not sure if there will actually be any fireworks, though, since everybody involved believes in the value of both theory and data. Indeed, several of the people involved, including me, do both modeling and data collection.* Heck, people on both “sides” have even co-authored papers with one another! So don’t come expecting a fight (though you never know…), but do come expecting thought-provoking comments on how ecologists use theory and data, and how we can use them better.

That’s my goal, anyway: say something sufficiently provocative that people will want to discuss it and quite possibly disagree with it, but not so outlandish that people will just roll their eyes and dismiss it. Ignite sessions are pretty informal, they are to regular talks as blog posts are to peer-reviewed papers. Like blog posts, they’re a space in which it’s ok to push boundaries, try ideas on for size, be a little playful, and say things that are worth saying but that you maybe couldn’t say in a more formal setting.

Which is where you come in. I’d love to have suggestions on what to talk about.** I have some ideas of my own, of course, but they’re tentative:

  • I’m on Team Theory, so I have to say something extolling the value of theory.
  • My tentative plan is to address the question “When does data settle arguments, and when does it not?” And my tentative answer is “Only in limited circumstances, where the question of interest is precisely-specified and can be addressed with rather simple empirical studies.” The inspiration comes from some old posts. For instance, I think the questions “Is interspecific competition common”, “Are trophic cascades common?”, “Is population growth typically density-dependent”, and “What is the relationship between plant species richness and total plant biomass, all else being equal?” were all settled by empirical data. People went out and did lots of competitor removal experiments, lots of predator removal experiments, lots of appropriate statistical analyses of long-term time series data, and lots of “random draws” BDEF experiments, and the accumulated data answered those questions beyond any reasonable doubt. (For anyone who thinks I’m rewriting history here: now would be a good time to speak up! 🙂 )
  • But while it’s great when data can settle arguments in this way, I think such happy situations are rare. Think of various famous historical cases in ecology where big empirical research programs failed or ran into problems due to lack of theoretical grounding, grounding in mistaken theory, or grounding in misunderstandings of correct theory. So even though lots of data were collected, questions weren’t answered, and if anything arguments were started rather than settled. I’m thinking here of the IBP, early work on trying to infer competition from observational niche overlap data or species x site matrices, the idea that species interactions are more specialized and intense in the tropics, and (of course) the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. So this is where the importance of theory comes in.
  • I don’t want to to just list some cases where weak links to theory led to problems. That would be boring, I think. I want to diagnose the problems, say something about how they arose and how to avoid them. As I’m sure is obvious from the rather heterogeneous lists of historical case studies I just gave, I haven’t gotten too far on the “diagnosis” part. In particular, I’d like to be able to say something about when going out and collecting data helps us recognize serious problems with the questions we’re asking. You’d think that’s something that would happen often, but I’m not sure that it does. Thoughts?
  • On the presentation side, I’m thinking of not having any slides at all. Or just having every slide be the same pretty (or silly) picture. Given what I’m talking about (a subject that doesn’t have many obvious visuals, though I’m sure I could come up with something), and the fact that I’m only talking for 5 minutes, I’m not sure that slides would add much. They might even be a distraction. Maybe better to just force people to listen to me for 5 minutes, rather than having them try to listen to me and read slides that are only up for 20 seconds at a time? Indeed, I’m thinking that the novelty of a slide-free talk might itself actually be a more effective way of engaging the audience than whatever I might put on my slides. Or maybe I’m trying to be too clever here (or too lazy, since it’ll be easier to prep my talk if I don’t bother with slides)?
  • An alternative plan: do something much narrower and less ambitious, and just focus on the zombie IDH as a case study of the importance of having good theory and using it to ground your empirical studies. Pros: easy to prepare, involves zombie jokes. Cons: I’d just be saying what I’ve already said in numerous blog posts and a peer reviewed paper, which seems likely to bore or disappoint the audience, and would suggest a lack of ambition on my part.

So that’s what I’m thinking. What do you think? If you were in my shoes, what would you say and how would you say it? What examples would you use? What visuals, if any? Fire away–I’m totally open to suggestions!

*I kidded the organizers about this when they first told me the tentative invitee list, joking that they apparently didn’t know any people who disagree with one another when it comes to theory vs. empiricism. But in seriousness, I’m sure it’s better this way. As Susan Harrison noted in an old post on debates at scientific meetings, participating in a debate is no fun if you can’t respect your opponents and enjoy hearing their arguments. It’s difficult to have that respect and enjoyment if people’s world views are too different.

**For those of you who are thinking, “Wait, you had to submit an abstract months ago, so don’t you already know what you’re going to say?”: umm, no. My ESA abstracts are like religious texts. They shouldn’t be interpreted literally. 🙂 When I write my abstract, I know what topic I’ll be talking about, but I have to guess what I’ll say about it. “Jeremy Fox ESA Abstract Fundamentalism” is not a religion you should adhere to. 🙂