Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quantitative vs. qualitative?

Ingrid and I had a discussion the other day about whether quantitative or qualitative data make a more lasting impression. As you might have guessed, I am more on the quantitative side, and Ingrid more on the qualitative side ;-) And me being me, I created a visual scenario about a result from Ingrid's thesis (the importance of deep community in successful conservation) that was applied in 100 new conservation efforts (or replicate experiments, without controls, though). Only in 1 application, however, did the new approach result in a successful, measurable, conservation result. 
In this scenario, the successful conservation effort was driven by charismatic, Tom Nudds-like figure (the face with the pony tail in the screenshot ;-), conservation officer. At the end of this study, I present the results at the usual scientific conferences, highlighting the success rate of only 1%, and thus the fact that our proposed importance of deep community is not as successful as we anticipated. At the same time, the conservation officer also hits the conference road, illustrating the success of her project that was built on our proposed mechanism. 

In this scenario, there is obviously a tension between quantitative (1%) and qualitative (the success story) data. Which one is most memorable, most true, most relevant? We are not out of that discussion yet, but we have another 4 years to work on that.

However, you can find examples of this everywhere once you are aware of this tension (and Ingrid's thesis is definitely making me aware of a lot of different things). Take for instance the collapse of the Rupert Murdoch empire. This is one of those rare feel-good stories, and lots of interesting stuff has been reported about it. Two of these reports stood out for me in the context of qualitative versus quantitative.

  • The second one is an opinion article by Tabatha Southey in the Globe and Mail (you should read all her opinion articles, very insightful). She compares the behaviour of Murdoch-owned newspaper to Speedy, a robot from an Asimov story that finds a pool with some essential elements for his survival.
"Speedy's problem, it's revealed, is that two of the Laws of Robotics programmed into him are contradicting one another. One of the laws, the need to protect himself, has locked horns with another law, the one that compels him to perform his mission. It's almost as if he were a news outlet covering its owner during an extremely embarrassing time.
Speedy is driven mad by the dilemma. He starts to sing Gilbert and Sullivan songs, ramble and spout non sequiturs, and he would have made a fine edition to the Wall Street Journal editorial board this week."
So now I have these two pieces of information dealing with the same issue, one qualitative, on quantitative. Which one is the most memorable, most true, most relevant? And if these questions are not relevant in this context, why are they relevant in the conservation context?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Picture blog 2

My old lab space.

New lab space. Much more organized.

H.arcticus for my first LC50.

The box I constructed to control the light for my LC50.

Inside the box.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Common versus rare species in a metacommunity context

It is finally online, the first publication from the Brazilian side of the lab ;-). In this article, we made competing predictions about how common and rare species should behave in a metacommunity context. The, very surprising, result was that both common and rare species reacted very similarly to environmental gradients, which was very counterintuitive from both a metacommunity and macro-ecology point of view.

Another side effect of this study was our new definition for rareness, based on a slightly subjective but less arbitrary definition compared to other studies. By plotting rank-abundance curves on a linear scale instea of the more common logarithmic scale, you can see the tail-end of the distribution much more clearly, and this makes it easier to identify the transition between common and rare species as the inflection point were species "move away" from the imaginary horizontal asymptote.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Showcase of Let's Talk Microbes

Last November, Marina and Amanda went to Kobe's school to give a hands-on demonstration of microbes. The science teacher who invited them then nominated their activity to the Let's Talk Science CIHR-Synapse award, a national competition. And they were selected as one of the 4 best showcase activities! And in the accompanying picture, you can see Amanda, Marina in the background, and my son Kobe with the spiderman sweater. How cool is all that?

From 2010-11 TalkMicrobes

Friday, July 8, 2011

Polar bears gone wild.

Doing research in Churchill is not without its perils: sleep deprivation, bugs, road rage, and polar bears. Brittany said it was a slow season so far, but not every bear read the memo: see this CBC article on a polar bear gone wild. 
All joking aside, sadly enough when wildlife goes wild, the consequences for the animal in question are much more severe than an embarrassing Youtube video.

From the original CBC article: notice the person behind the rock, a little to the left of the hind legs! Hopefully this is not Brittany?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Creative with flagging tape

For all the field ecologists currently creative with flagging tape, know that you can use a different output for your creativity. See the embedded video between minutes 1:30-6:20.

NOVA the film from ROJO on Vimeo.

ps: if this is your thing, I highly recommend watching the full documentary (during several lunchtimes, for instance, you can watch it in chunks).