Dune, Ecology & The Tansley Effect 

If you look up Arthur Tansley on Wikipedia, you’ll find the story of a botanist and ecologist who created huge amounts of data and science in his field. 

But you won’t find a single mention of “The Tansley Effect” which is named after him.

Yet, it’s an important concept that can benefit people in all disciplines and not just ecology.


About  Dune, Ecology & The Tansley Effect

Why isn’t the Tansley Effect in Tansley’s Wiki-entry? Well, because it was a term coined in a work of fiction as opposed to one in the scientific disciplines. 

In Frank Herbert’s well-known science fiction novel, Dune, the character Pardot Kynes describes how he organizes his research:

Kynes – direct, savagely intent Kynes – knew that highly organised research is guaranteed to produce nothing new. He set up small-unit experiments with regular interchange of data to produce a swift Tansley effect, let each group find it’s own path.

But What is the Tansley Effect?

Well, it’s left undefined there but Alex McChung, a blogger, offers this:  “The cumulative outputs from a group of highly skilled, disciplined professionals all studying the same problem, and routinely sharing their findings. Each new independent finding becomes a common input into everyone else’s process. The Tansley Effect is an endless positive feedback loop. How quickly the solution would reveal itself against such an onslaught!

Thus, it’s a positive way to avoid duplicated (and thus wasted) efforts and that this is done via information sharing without introducing competition into the system. 

That’s a pretty amazing idea and it could revoutionize the sciences if this is how things worked – of course, in Tansley’s day it did because the sciences hadn’t been commidified and coopted by capitalism and the reason the effect bears his name is because Tansley facilitated information sharing throughout the ecology academic sphere! 


Final Thoughts On Dune, Ecology & The Tansley Effect

It would be wonderful if we could see scientists working according to The Tansley Effect, it would be much easier to save the planet if everyone pulled in the same direction. 

Arthur Tansley’s most important contribution to ecology would then be the effect named after him rather than his huge body of impressive research. 

If you find ecology fascinating you may also appreciate Deep Ecology, What is a Climax Community and the best books in ecology. Enjoy!

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