Posted by: Jeremy Fox | August 12, 2011

Blogging the ESA: Friday highlights

Colin Kremer did not disappoint, giving a very nice talk in which he compiled a massive dataset on the thermal optima and tolerance ranges of different marine phytoplankton, showed that species that like it warmer live in warmer places and that species with wider tolerance live in more variable places, and just to show off built a theoretical eco-evolutionary model to predict these patterns and others. He also had the funniest joke I’ve heard this week about how hot it is in Austin.

Amanda Caskenette showed how stage-structured life history omnivory leads to stable food webs. Lots of ways this could be modified/extended.

It was a great meeting, scientifically and otherwise. Afraid I don’t have any grand summary to offer, if only because I need to quickly check out of my hotel and move on. And the ESA meeting isn’t the sort of thing that really lends itself to easy summary anyway. Hope these posts have proven useful.

I’m going on holiday now, so I probably won’t be posting regularly for a couple of weeks at least. And in the fall I start teaching, so I doubt I’ll ever recover the heady posting pace I was maintaining earlier this summer. But I will do the best I can.


  1. Do you think ecologists are overly polite (or shy)? Most of the talks I heard at ESA ranged from pretty good to excellent, but there were a couple I saw with serious flaws in them. And despite time for questions, no one addressed the major problems. These were talks by students and while I understand that more senior ecologists wouldn’t want to publicly humiliate a student, I was still surprised that no one said anything. I didn’t say anything, unsure of the proper etiquette; normally I would approach someone privately after the talk and say something, but room-hopping meant that I didn’t have the chance to. I think it’s a disservice to a student to not bring up serious issues in presented research, but it appears that that is just not done at ESA. What do you think?

  2. Clearly you missed the talks where I asked tough questions! Will be posting on this soon.

  3. Let me clarify: I did hear some excellent questions at talks by more senior folks and/or talks that were solid ones. I’m wondering about talks where I want to say things like, “um, you do realize you can’t use a simple anova for that because your data are pseudo-replicated, right?” or “of course that’s not passed on genetically, don’t you know anything about the natural history of your study organism?” or “just because you’ve ruled out hypotheses 1 and 2, doesn’t logically make hypothesis 3 correct; there are other possibilities such as 4 and 5.”

    • I think the etiquette depends on the context. If it’s a really clear cut and basic mistake, and if the speaker is a student, I might go up to them privately, after the talk. But if it’s a less-obvious mistake like an alternative hypothesis the speaker hasn’t considered, I’d just raise my hand and ask the question. You can always preface the question with a phrase like “I may have misunderstood, but…” or “Have you considered the possibility that…” This is a good thing to do to protect yourself as well as soften the blow of a tough question, since it’s always just possible that you might’ve misunderstood.

      Having said all that, I’m probably not the best person to give advice on how to politely ask very tough questions, since I have a well-earned reputation (at my home university, and at the ESA) for asking tough questions. I’m never rude or sarcastic (I hope!), but especially if a speaker is aggressively pushing a claim I disagree strongly with, I’ll just go ahead and ask away and might even do so in fairly blunt language. Not that you should follow my example–like I said, I’m probably the toughest questioner I know.

  4. […] been thinking about posting on this for a while. I finally decided to do so after a commenter on a previous post asked my view on whether it’s appropriate to ask a speaker at the ESA meeting a question that […]

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