Friday, March 29, 2013

Climate of Fear Comic

Time for another geeky comic!

If you missed my first one, check out my Mesopredator Release Comic.

This one probably requires a little science lesson in order to put it into context.

One of the sexiest issues in wildlife biology today (by sexy I mean new, packed with buzz words, and full of controversy) is the concept of Trophic Cascades. "Trophic" refers to the food chain. Plants are on the 1st trophic level, herbivores are on the 2nd, predators on the 3rd, etc. When a predator (e.g. wolf) effects the abundance of the organisms in a lower trophic level (e.g. grass), by changing the abundance of an organism in an intermediate trophic level (e.g. deer), that's called a trophic cascade.

Basically, wolves don't directly control the amount of grass because they don't eat grass. But if wolves move into an area that has a ton of deer and very little grass (because the deer eat it all) and the wolves eat a bunch of deer, then the grass will come back (because there's not as many deer there to eat it). That's a trophic cascade. It's a form of "top down regulation". Predators (the top) regulate the bottom (the grass) by regulating the middle (the deer). The recovery of the grass is a type of "density mediated response". The deer population is less dense so the grass responds.

Still with me?

This is all well and good. I get all this. It works for me. The part I have an issue with is called the "Climate of Fear Response". This hypothesizes that the predators might actually effect the lower trophic level simply by scaring the middle trophic level away. Basically, the grass comes back because the deer are to scared of the wolves to stick around and eat, regardless of how many deer there are. It sounds fairly intuitive but the jury is still out about the science. I, for one, don't hold to it. 

That having been said, here is my Climate of Fear Comic!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Audience Relativity

Hello from grad school! The good news is I’ve been doing a ton of writing lately. The bad news is that my writing has been noticeably devoid of dragons, robots, and zombies. Only statistical analysis and technical jargon as far as the eye can see. But that’s not to say I’m not learning about the craft!

A friend of mine gave me something a while back that I’ve been meaning to share with you good folks. The following is an excerpt from ‘Understanding Writing Blocks’ by Keith Hjortshoj.

“We can easily become lost in time and space while writing because, when it is viewed as a whole process that includes the reader, writing is a relativistic medium. In other words, what I am writing now is connected with what you eventually read, but in different reference frames. I am sitting here in my office at a particular time, working on page 24 of this manuscript. You are reading the words I write, so I am communicating something to you. While I am writing, however, you are not yet reading, and the specific text you read does not yet exist in the form you have. To write I must at least vaguely imagine a reader, and while you are reading you can imagine me writing what you read, but neither vision is very reliable. I don’t really know how this writing will strike you, and while I must have a sense of audience in mind, to enjoy the freedom of writing I also need to remember that you remain a figment of my imagination—one whose responses I can’t control. In turn, you are probably not on page 24, and although you might assume that I wrote this passage before the sections and chapters that follow, I did not. I’m inserting these paragraphs into a full draft of the book, which will no doubt change in other ways before you read it. I might decide to take this passage out again, so at the moment I can’t be sure that it will ever reach you, my imagined reader. Yet the decisions I make will directly affect the outcome.”

Pretty trippy huh? 

Other than the obvious fact that Mr. Hjortshoj (how the heck do you pronounce that?) is operating at a much higher level than myself, what do we take from this passage?

Here are my thoughts:

My writing will have an audience (hopefully) but as a writer, I have no way of knowing where, when, and in what social, historical, or personal context my words will reach said audience. Therefore, it might be more useful to keep the concept of an audience as a vague notion rather than to tailor my writing to some specific audience, a target I’m almost sure to miss. We’ve all heard of authors or playwrights whose works were unappreciated in their own time only to achieve critical and popular success decades or centuries later. Surely those individuals weren’t shooting for a target audience generations down the road. I think I’ll write for an audience of one (me) and let the world do with my writing what it will.

What about you? What did you get out of the passage?