Posted by: Jeremy Fox | June 1, 2012

Robert McIntosh, long-ago zombie slayer

FOOB Chris Klausmeier recently sent me a 1962 Ecology paper by Robert McIntosh.* Here’s the first paragraph:

Thomas Henry Huxley once commented, “Life is too short to occupy oneself with the slaying of the slain more than once” (Huxley 1901). Certain ideas seem to be invulnerable to attack and persist although subjected to multiple executions. One such ecological idea is that the “law of frequency” devised by Raunkiaer (1918, 1934) is useful as a simple indication of uniformity or homogeneity within a stand or between several stands of vegetation. The persistence in current sources of a concept which has been belabored by ecologists for 40 years is a testimonial to the tenacity of ideas.

Robert McIntosh: long-ago zombie slayer!

I take heart from the fact that no one talks about the “law of frequency” any more. Zombie slaying is possible! But clearly it takes a while–apparently several decades, in the case of law of frequency. Which, perhaps not surprisingly, is longer than a typical professional career. A famous line from Max Planck is relevant here…

The Thomas Henry Huxley quote with which McIntosh leads his paper is interesting, in that Huxley could hardly be said to have lived by it.

By the way, any reader who is inspired by this post to try to revive the “law of frequency” just to mess with me, be warned: You are not big, you are not clever, and I swear to the God of your choice that I will kick your a**! 😉

*Chris has so far not revealed how the heck he found this…


  1. I wish I were such an academic crate-digger to find that quote on my own. Alas, I found it referred to in Hanski’s 1982 Oikos core-satellite hypothesis paper.

    • I just want to say that you win the internet today for coining “crate-digger”. 😉

    • So the question is how Hanski knew this paper. Is he senior enough to have been active when the “law of frequencies” was still actively discussed?

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