I suggest to students in Advanced EEB, our course for first semester Ph. D. students, that creativity is about fostering
- your ability to generate associations/ideas, and
- your judgement as to which ideas are worth pursuing.
Toward that end, I also encouraged them to ask professors for a list of ten influential papers (“papers everybody should read” is how I think I put it).
Then, of course, BeccaP immediately sends me an email asking for my list. Serves me right.
The following ten papers occurred to me on a Saturday morning, over 10 minutes or so, and in the middle of my third cup of coffee. I figured they must be important to me if they sprung up with no more prompting than a dose of caffeine. They are not my “Top 10” (an odd concept), but they certainly exist in my 99th percentile.
Turns out, these kinds of lists serve both elements of the creative enterprise. First, the papers below are all full of ideas (some ultimately more successful than others) and represent highly creative people at the height of the powers. I remember, or at least I think I do, reading each for the first time and feeling energized and a little bit jealous. At the same time, they reflect my judgement as to the elements that combine to form a good science paper: clarity, ambition, stepping boldly into a knowledge gap, identifying and advocating a path forward. Each photocopy was highly scribbled upon. You can clearly see the fingerprints of these ecologists all over our lab’s work. The first on the list made such an impression, I deconstructed it.
MacArthur, R. H. 1958. Population ecology of some warblers of northeastern coniferous forests. Ecology 39:599-619.
Hutchinson, G. 1959. Homage to Santa Rosalia, or why are there so many kinds of animals? American Naturalist 93:145-159.
Hairston, N., F. Smith, and L. Slobodkin. 1960. Community structure, population control, and competition. American Naturalist 94:421-425.
Janzen, D. 1967. Why mountain passes are higher in the Tropics. American Naturalist 101:233-249.
McNaughton, S., M. Oesterheld, D. Frank, and K. Williams. 1989. Ecosystem-level patterns of primary productivity and herbivory in terrestrial habitats. Nature 341:142-144.
Power, M. E. 1992. Top-down and bottom-up forces in food webs: do plants have primacy? Ecology 73:733-746.
Holling, C. 1992. Cross-Scale Morphology, Geometry, and Dynamics of Ecosystems. Ecological Monographs 62:447-502.
Ritchie, M. E. and H. Olff. 1999. Spatial scaling laws yield a synthetic theory of biodiversity. Nature 400:557-560.
McGill, B. J., B. J. Enquist, E. Weiher, and M. Westoby. 2006. Rebuilding community ecology using functional traits. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 21:175-185.
Orians, G. H. and A. V. Milewski. 2007. Ecology of Australia: the effects of nutrient-poor soils and intense fires. Biological Review 82:393-423.