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

David Blakeway fathom5marineresearch at gmail.com
Mon Dec 28 08:16:04 UTC 2020

I believe Nohora's post is very important!

The only aspect I disagree with is the 'local secondary information' - I
think it is usually primary, in the sense that it comes first in time.

Take the reef hypoxia example. Verwey (1931) was the first scientist to
investigate it (to my knowledge). Before that it was a well known problem
among coral reef aquarists since the late 19th century. Before that it gets
sketchy but one of David Stoddart's articles refers to Pacific Islander's
description of 'blackwater' events. While those people may not have known
that hypoxia was the cause, they knew their whole lagoon could stagnate and
crash during extended periods of warm calm weather. In the Abrolhos Islands
near here, fishers are very aware of the reef hypoxia risk to their lobster
catch. One ingenious solution is to tether a boat and run it slowly in gear
all night, bathing the lobster holding pens in jet wash.

When scientists present 'new' concepts that are already common knowledge
outside academia, there is an obvious risk of losing credibility and
reinforcing the ivory tower stereotype. We need to guard against that in
the current era of alternative facts.
Novel science is good of course, but a focus on novelty can, in theory at
least, create a *disincentive* to explore historic research, or to explore
outside academia, because you might find a precedent*. However, finding a
precedent is not a bad thing. Although it is momentarily deflating to
discover that someone's already had your idea, that feeling is quickly
replaced by a sense of collective and of direct connection to another mind,
all the more interesting if that mind happened to be operating some
centuries prior.
Citizen Science and scientific outreach are a great means of bridging the
gap, but require thoughtful implementation. The worst outreach is
'top-down' condescending lectures. The best outreach says 'let's share what
we know, then discover together'.

Further on the H-index: I have no problem believing that someone with a
high H-index is probably an objectively good scientist, I just don't accept
the converse. Consider that Harper Lee would have had an H-index of 1
(until that Watchman thing). If the H-index is your preferred metric of
credibility though, that might help you accept that the analysis on falsity
by John Ioannidis, H-Index 209, shouldn't be dismissed without some

Further on being wrong: To the people who read my hypoxia preprint: It is
wrong! In some way I don't yet understand. When I was last there I
encountered an inconvenient truth: Acropora recruits had begun to appear at
the base of cell 'O'. In my conceptual model, there is no way the base of a
cell should be springing back to life. It will be interesting to see if
they have survived next time I get back. For now though, in the spirit of
Nohora's Citizen Science, I would really appreciate it if someone living
near a cellular reef could, when convenient, take a swim to the base of a
few cells and tell me what you find!

*I don't think scientists are intentionally avoiding historic or
extra-academic exploration, we're just, in general, not doing it.

On Sun, Dec 27, 2020 at 1:00 AM Nohora Galvis via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> I agree with the need to improve reliability in research to improve coral
> reef conservation effectiveness. Most scientists visit coral reef areas to
> sample 5-10 transects in 3 days and conclude about what is enough to save
> coral reefs.
> The role of Citizen Science involving local community is to detail
> georeferenced informatión of what is happening in each site. Therefore,
> case studies are useful to provide a reliable background about
> anthropogenic factors and the respective ecological impact.
> It is vital that researchers take into account local secondary information
> as well to avoid jumping into conclusions or declaring a discovery that was
> considered decades before.
> Season's Greetings !!
> El jue, dic 17, 2020 14:23, Rupert Ormond via Coral-List <
> coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> escribió:
> > 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.
> >
> > Rupert
> >
> > *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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