A case for tolerance in marine ecology: let us not put out the baby with the bathwater


  • Wolf E. Arntz Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
  • Josep-Maria Gili Institut de Ciències del Mar (CMIMA-CSIC)




stimulating scientific discussion, new ideas replacing old concepts, science history, tolerance, Thorson’s rule, polar regions


After working in marine ecological research and lecturing at universities for several decades, the authors are aware that almost none of the concepts and paradigms established at the time they were students or in the decades before have survived unchanged up to the present day. This appears quite natural taking into account the enormous progress made by marine science due to refined methods, extended range of research e.g. into the deep sea and the polar regions, increased number of researchers and funding, and greatly improved and accelerated exchange of scientific results. What is striking, however, against this background is the almost messianic fervour with which many of our professional guild (and not only the younger ones lacking experience) call for the immediate “abolishment” or “dismissal” of old ideas because their creators were wrong in thinking the way they did. In these authors` opinion, there is a basic misunderstandig about the role of ecological concepts in scientific argumentation. Very few concepts are so foolish that they can be dismissed entirely without any loss; the vast majority contain some truth that may fit at least certain situations, and may thus serve as a brickstone in constructing ecological theory. An attempt will be made to expand on that point in this contribution. What is more important: many of the concepts nowadays considered (partially?) erroneous have stimulated scientific discussion enormously, in some cases up to the present day and have, by their mere existence, guaranteed that ecological work was found necessary to continue in the respective fields. Finally, observing the tremendous pace at which ecological progress is being made these days in some disciplines and at the same time, the degree of uncertainty we are - despite all efforts - still facing in others, it is not difficult to anticipate that many of the new ideas replacing the old concepts nowadays will end up shortly on the garbage dump of science history as well. So tolerance should be the motto: let us not put out the baby with the bathwater! Give the old concepts their credit, look eagerly for alternatives and try to provide the best possible evidence for your results, but be modest. There may be various solutions to one ecological problem, and the way to handle this situation is differentiation, not abolishment.


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How to Cite

Arntz WE, Gili J-M. A case for tolerance in marine ecology: let us not put out the baby with the bathwater. Sci. mar. [Internet]. 2001Dec.30 [cited 2024May21];65(S2):283-99. Available from: https://scientiamarina.revistas.csic.es/index.php/scientiamarina/article/view/702




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