Posted by: Jeremy Fox | November 10, 2011

Must reads: theoreticians explain themselves to empiricists

Great comment from “lowendtheory” on my post asking for eloquent statements of what it means to be a theorist. Points out two terrific articles–absolute must-reads:

Writing for a highly-empirical ecological audience in The Auk in 1981, Simon Levin, one of the world’s great theoretical ecologists, beautifully articulates what mathematical theory has to offer for empirically-oriented ecologists, and diagnoses the reasons why theoreticians and empiricists alike often fail to appreciate each other.

Writing for an audience of highly-practical engineers earlier this year, Bret Victor has a great blog post about how moving back and forth between different levels of abstraction helps us understand and control complex, incompletely-understood systems. Very relevant to ecology, and illustrated with a detailed, real-world example and cool interactive animations.


  1. wow, neat. the levin paper is a really clear statement of what math can and can’t do. does this readership think ecology is still in a descriptive phase?

    • “[D]oes this readership think ecology is still in a descriptive phase?”

      I can’t speak for all of the readership, but I sure don’t! 😉 Actually, I suspect most readers would agree with me on that…

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