Posted by: Jeremy Fox | December 7, 2011

Advice: a “field guide” to bad questions, and bad questioners

Here is a fun and useful “field guide” to bad questions that get asked at talks, and the kinds of people who ask them. It’s aimed at political scientists, especially those concerned with international issues, but it mostly applies to ecology and evolution as well (e.g., for the “You Don’t Know Me!” foreigner or ex-pat, who insists that no outsider could ever comprehend his birth country, read the “You Don’t Know My Study System!” ecologist, who insists that no one who doesn’t work on his study system could ever comprehend it, or that no mathematical theory could ever explain it).

There’s also a trenchant remark at the end about how smart, broad-minded, and fair leaders are essential to the progress of a scientific field, because they set a good example to students and act as fair brokers to help resolve disputes. One mark of such a person is that they tend to ask good questions at talks.

I sincerely hope I don’t deserve to be pictured in this “field guide”–but if I did I presumably wouldn’t realize it! 😉


  1. In science especially, but maybe also in other fields (see ‘political innocent’ in comments secrion of original post), there also is the enthusiast, who gets some inspiration for own ideas out of the talk and does not care or notice whether his excited question sound all nerdy or weird to the rest of the audience.

  2. […] will have their fears put to rest (or perhaps heightened!) by this link from the Oikos Blog on bad conference questions. After reading it, everyone should take time off to elect the biggest “wonk hipster” […]

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