Ecology largely consists in the search for natural patterns and the study of the underlying processes. Ecologists have often undertaken a further step by looking for generalities of these patterns and processes, in the search of the fundamental principles and general laws driving ecological systems. The search for generalities can be a great tool for improving our understanding of natural systems, particularly when it is accompanied by an explicit statement of hypotheses and expectations allowing them to be tested, often delimited, possibly falsified.
A possible drawback is represented by the temptation of using generalities to draw universal laws, which often turn into paradigms assumed to be true even if poorly tested ( or worse, proven false; Jeremy Fox calls them “zombie ideas” ).
The Bergmann’s Rule is a good example of the risks of over-generalization. Continue reading