One bad reason to pick a research project

For a couple years now, I've argued that it's easier to do bad basic ecology than it is bad applied ecology. Part of this comes from post hoc casting of failed basic experiments as relevant to applied problems within ecosystem restoration, management and conservation. I've seen it play out numerous times where a scientist does a poorly planned observational study with a basic flavor, doesn't see the pattern they had hoped for and then spins it as if it's relevant to the applied community. Land managers and applied researches aren't that stupid.

I was elated to see Jeremy Fox over at Dynamic Ecology dropping logic on how to go about - and not go about - picking a research question. One of his points was about the ad hoc casting of basic research as applicable to the applied realm:

Pretending that your project has an application when in fact it doesn’t. Just because your study manipulates temperature doesn’t mean it’s relevant to climate change. Just because your study includes a species richness gradient doesn’t mean it has implications for the current extinction crisis. Etc. Every fundamental researcher, including me, sometimes bullshits about the relevance of their work to pressing applied problems. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t bullshit. There are good reasons to do fundamental research in a world with pressing applied problems. Don’t bullshit that your fundamental work is really applied. Try to be better than the rest of us; don’t pretend you’re working on climate change when in fact you’re not.

Go read the whole thing!

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