PS 82-82 - The rise and fall of philosophy in ecology

Friday, August 12, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Chelse M. Prather, Biology, Radford University, Radford, VA

Over the history of ecological science, both ecologists and philosophers alike have called for a greater philosophical understanding in ecology to answer certain types of questions and ground ecology better in theory.  Many studies that investigate philosophy of ecology assume an increasing interest in the subject, but the trend of publications in philosophy of ecology has not been investigated.  I examined the pattern of numbers of publications that have both the words philosophy and ecology in either the title, abstract or keywords.  I predicted to see a steady increase in the number of publications over time.


As a baseline, a subject search for philosophy and science did show a steady increase in the number of publications with both of these words over time, suggesting that there has been an increasing number of publications linking philosophy and science since 1970.  However, although there were over 9000 total papers dealing with philosophy and ecology, this pattern was far from an increasing trend.  The number of publications rose from single digits to around 150 papers per year in 1970 and stayed at this number until 1987 when there was a sharp increase.  This increase peaked in about 1992 when there was about 600 papers a year, then sharply declined in 1994, and reached an average of 150 papers a year in 1996.  The number of papers currently remains steady at this level.  The substantial rise of over 400 papers per year in this subject is unusual, and there is not an obvious answer as to why this pattern exists.  The question remains, what event(s) caused this steep increase in publications for a short time period and indeed what caused this sharp decline?  To investigate this, I divided papers producing a hit into general subject areas, and into journal types to look at what subjects researchers of philosophy of ecology were publishing about .  It appears that multiple events precipitated both the rise and decline of philosophy in ecology.  Ecologists seem disenchanted with philosophy in the last decade, ignoring the calls of a small number of ecologists and philosophers to use philosophical tools in ecology.

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