[Coral-List] push for more reliable research in ecology

Rupert Ormond rupert.ormond.mci at gmail.com
Thu Dec 17 15:42:39 UTC 2020

Hi Doug, and coral-listers,

This is certainly an important issue. Human behaviour is highly variable 
and can shift in relation to numerous subtle factors. The ecology of 
many marine organisms can similarly be very variable with time and 
place. In both fields there has been a tendency for researchers to look 
for situations or locations likely to provide evidence that will support 
their fashionable theory - old or new - and then play down evidence 
pointing the other way.

As the papers you mention highlight, there is also a regular problem in 
ecology with sample size, so very often researchers or referees reject 
other ideas that conflict with the prevailing view, when often had 
larger sample sizes been possible, the data would have supported a more 
complex explanation.

The behaviour of a given species may also be adaptive and change. As an 
example, I remember very well decades ago running some experiments on 
the feeding behaviour of Crown-of-thorns with about 30 animals all kept 
in separate tanks. We had a very clear statistically significant if 
surprising result. To check, several months later we repeated the 
experiment and got exactly the opposite result, equally clearly. It 
turned out starfish show ingestive conditioning and can alter their 
feeding behaviour dramatically depending on past and recent experience.

Researchers and journals should both be less ready to reject papers with 
contrary results.


*Prof. Rupert Ormond**
*Co-Director, Marine Conservation International
Hon. Professor, Centre for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology, 
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

On 14/12/2020 08:20, Douglas Fenner via Coral-List wrote:
> Psychology's replication crisis inspires ecologists to push for more
> reliable research
> https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/12/psychology-s-replication-crisis-inspires-ecologists-push-more-reliable-research
> By the way, I believe the problem in psychology has been primarily in
> social psychology experiments, a small part of psychology as a whole.
> I think this fits with the need to do much better at documenting the
> identification of species in our research (except in areas of low diversity
> or easily identified groups, and in field surveys where it is impossible),
> as pointed out for insects in the study I pointed to twice.  Interestingly,
> there wasn't a single comment online or offline to me about the
> implications of the insect study for coral reef ecology.  Makes me wonder
> if maybe people don't have an argument against it, but just prefer to
> continue doing things the way we always have been, after all it would
> involve some extra work.  But it goes directly to the question of
> replicability, you can't replicate a study if the species identification
> can't be verified and may well be wrong.
> Survey results suggest that a lot of entomology research could be
> impossible to replicate
> https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-01541-0%20
>   Packer, L., Monckton, S. K., Onuferko, T. M. & Ferrari, R. R. Validating
> taxonomic identifications in entomological research.  Insect Conservation
> and Diversity 11, 1–12 (2018)
> https://skmonckton.com/Packeretal._2018_Validating.pdf
> Cheers,  Doug

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