Our “Ecopic” is Out!

Many scientific journals are trying to add some color. That is, amidst the dry, highly-condensed scientific analysis and interpretation that is their standard fare, they are sprinkling lively photos and vignettes. These science tidbits vary from one journal to another in form and length. But all are much easier — and more fun — to look at than run-of-the-mill scientific articles.

In the past decade, I had observed the increasing frequency of short, splashy stories from a safe distance. Now that I have got scientific writing figured out, why should I diverge from it? (Okay….this blog is a dramatic departure from scientific writing, but I have settled into a good groove, so I do not count it!) In mulling over the possibility of a little splashy piece, I was not sure: 1) what I might write up as a colorful little story, 2) whether such vignettes are likely to be read widely, and 3) how hard it would be to get one published. So for many years I made no effort to report a loon finding in this new format.

The hypothesis of “spotlighting” by loon parents with chicks changed my mind. Having stumbled upon Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and read a few of their delightful little photos and attached stories, I thought: “Well, I could do one of those!” I was encouraged by the fact that my current “hot” idea, the spotlighting hypothesis, is perhaps the most exciting one I have ever had. When I made statistical findings that provided strong support for the hypothesis, I was just bursting to share them with other scientists.

Sad to say, sharing of a finding or hypothesis in the form of an “Ecopic”, as Frontiers calls their little photos/stories, is not a thorough and rigorous means of sharing. 250 words is simply too few to provide evidence in support of any idea. If you are a cynic, you might even claim that Ecopics and their ilk allow scientists to get their half-baked ideas out there without thorough scrutiny by their peers. Please take my word for it when I say that rigorous testing of the spotlighting hypothesis is very much on my mind!

Ignoring for the moment that not all is nailed down with regards to the spotlighting hypothesis, take a look at the Ecopic. My text and Linda’s photo tell a story that we had not dreamed of when intensive study of loon territorial behavior began 30 years ago. So for now, let’s put aside the uncertainty and simply enjoy what loons might be doing!