New ideas

Great minds think alike (when they're trying to fix peer review)

PeerJ is a new open access publishing initiative which you join by paying a flat one-time fee, entitling you to publish as many open-access articles as you want for the rest of your life. Articles are peer reviewed for technical soundness. The initiative was founded by...

Intuition, education, and zombie ideas (UPDATED)

Here's an intriguing little cognitive psychology experiment, which shows that highly educated people evaluate the truth or falsehood of statements less quickly and less accurately if those statements are ones that appear true under a "naive" theory, but which education...

Ecology is mostly not like billiards (but lots of people think it is) (UPDATEDx3)

Billiards is all about sequences of causal events. Your cue strikes the cue ball, causing it to roll into another ball, causing that ball to roll into the corner pocket. Falling dominoes are sequences of causal events. You knock over the first domino, which knocks over...

From the archives: why 'small, fast' community ecology matters even on 'big, slow' spatial and temporal scales

The current distribution of species bears the strong stamp of "big, slow" historical events and processes--speciation events, continental drift, meteor strikes, ice ages, the rises and falls of mountain ranges and land bridges, etc. Which has often been taken to imply...

Is macroecology like astronomy?

Note: This post is old wine in a new bottle. It basically repeats some old posts, just in a slightly different way. I'm only doing it because the comment threads on those old posts are really good, but I felt like they petered out a bit too soon.* This is my attempt to...

Garbage in, garbage out: what if your Big Dataset is lousy data? (UPDATED)

I'm all for making the most of the data we already have--but no more than that. An hazard of trying to wring as much as possible from any dataset is that you'll overstep and try to use the data to address questions or draw conclusions that can't be addressed or drawn...

Techniques aren't powerful; scientists are

During a long and interesting post on storytelling in science, Andrew Gelman makes the following remark about some famous statisticians and the techniques they've developed: The many useful contributions of a good statistical consultant, or collaborator, will often be...

Simplifying a complex, overdetermined world

Ecology is complicated. Anything we might want to measure is affected by lots of different factors. As a researcher, how do you deal with that? One way to deal with it is to try to focus on the most important factors. Try to "capture the essence" of what's going on...

What makes for productive scientific debates?

Science is full of debates. Some are productive, some aren't. What makes for a productive debate? First, a few remarks about what I mean by a "productive" debate. I don't mean a debate that leads to agreement on all or even any points, either among the main...

On confusing specific examples and general principles

Here's something I struggle with in my teaching and writing (blogging as well as papers). How do you keep your audience from mistaking specific examples for general principles, and vice-versa? For instance (to pick a specific example!), "density dependence" is a...

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