Countering the Black Hole Blues

Last week we saw a black hole for the first time! WOOHOOO! So why are we (ecologists) moping around comparing ourselves unfavorably with Dr. Katie Bouman?

Like these, or this

and lots of others, including many non-ecologists. I could add

Me, 50: struggling to teach exponential growth to undergraduates.

Before I go on, I absolutely believe Dr. Bouman did a great thing. Yes, she was part of a team too, and that’s a great thing. But we ecologists work in teams too, and our stuff is, well, as the tweets say, sometimes a bit pathetic by comparison. But.

Just one of the 8 radio telescopes in the Event Horizon Telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillmeter Array, has an annual operating budget from NSF of greater than $US40 million! For perspective, the entire NSF Division of Environmental Biology 2019 budget request is $US146 million.

Imagine what a team of ecologists could do with $40 million per year. I think I could build a continental scale network of camera traps that monitor the abundance of everything bigger than a cottontail, and in a few years I would have really smashing predictions of how many deer there will be next year anywhere in the country. You could run a National Ecological Observatory Network. Imagine asking a question that integrated the output of 8 NEONs from around the globe. That. would. be. cool.

So. Stop beating yourselves up and compare apples with apples. We do great science of huge importance to the planet, usually on a shoestring budget. Sometimes our outputs are a bit, uh, coarse. That’s OK.

Andrew Tyre
Professor of Wildlife Ecology
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