Talk:Metabolic theory of ecology

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It would be truly amazing that the insular and incomplete treatment given to Kleiber's Law has had such an enthralling affect on mathematical biologists like Brown and West and Enquist, except that this sort of superficiality is standard in an area of science known for fraud and posturing. I speak now of academic careerism and the pressure to throw out there any bit of mediocrity at all in order to justify one's salary and feelings of aggrandizement.

As formulated and promulgated, the version of Kleiber's Law that even Clarke is gaffed by in copy-cat reliance, is completely irrelevant biologically. Clarke bases his paper on its validity. We are asked now to believe that some bit of fluff called the 'metabolic theory of ecology' should be given credulity, as if the idea that metabolic efficiency is 100%, a totally worthless idea for understanding biological organisms, can also be given pertinence to higher orders of biological organization that extend to geographic areas. This is arrogance compounded. It is especially evident in attempts to introduce the affect of heat or temperature, and the recourse to talk about Boltzmann constants. The naive dependence upon thermodynamics and Brownian motion to explain the chemistry of life is pathetic, and conflates statistical thermodynamics with electrochemistry in the attempt to account for why key chemical reactions take place, and the odds of this. I defy any of these theoreticians to place a glass and a golf ball in a bucket of water, and then, by heating the water or manipulating the bucket, get that ball to enter that glass. It just doesn't happen easily, if at all. But put a charge on that ball, and the opposite charge on that glass, and the capture of that ball by the glass would be facilitated greatly. The key factor is redox coupling between an energy source and a reduction reaction. This is driven by charge and voltage differentials, not statistics.

It is shameful that the obscurity proposed by West et al. should be still given currency.

The article[edit]

This article reads more like a persuasive essay than an unbiased article. In fact, the bias is so strong that by the end I found it quite comical. --♦♦♦Vlmastra♦♦♦ (talk) 00:51, 31 December 2007 (UTC)

I've got to agree. By the end, I was waiting for the personal attacks to begin. The talk page did not disappoint! --Gwern (contribs) 05:20 21 September 2008 (GMT)

There is a really gross mistake that should be corrected as soon as possible. In 'Theoretical background' the editor states:

Bo is a mass-independent normalization constant (given in a unit of power divided by a unit of mass. In this case, watts per kilogram):

B = B_oM ^ {3/4}\,

The sentence in the parenthesis is flat out wrong. The dimensions of Bo are watts per (kilogram3/4).

Actually, it would be Watts per (kilogram4/3), but it's rather as you state below, except typically the reference parameters are subscript zero, not oh. --Wtrmute (talk) 17:55, 4 September 2013 (UTC)

As an aside, let me say that I don't understand why biologists don't write power laws in a more proper way such this:

B = B_o(\frac{M}{M_o})^ {3/4}\,

where Mo is a reference mass. In this way the power is applied to a non-dimensional number, and Bo is symply a power (measured, e.g. in watts). No wonder when they start discussing about varying exponents in a scaling law they always make a mess: the dimensions of the proportionality constant change with the exponent, unless the argument of the power is non-dimensional. Furthermore, while you can get away with dimensional arguments to power laws, you must use non-dimensional arguments with transcendent functions (exp, log, etc.). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:08, 6 February 2010 (UTC)


My understanding of the literature is that this is a bogus theory, but that it's simplicity is so appealing that it has become well cited and well known. The original paper now has almost 900 citations, but i think is fundamentally flawed. It seems that vitriolic attacks by the West/Brown/Enquist/Savage research group on their critics (see SAVAGE, ENQUIST and WEST reply to Chaui-Berlinck's criticisms and good publicity have played a role in perpetuating this theory, of which this wikipedia article is a good example. Here are some recent quotes from the literature. Please could someone integrate them into the page:

" We conclude that the MTE should be abandoned as a monolithic explanation for allometric patterns, and that a more realistic path toward a better understanding of allometry would be to consider multiple explanatory mechanisms for physiological allometries." Michael P. O'Connor, Stanley J. Kemp, Salvatore J. Agosta, Frank Hansen, Annette E. Sieg, Bryan P. Wallace, James N. McNair, Arthur E. Dunham (2007) Reconsidering the mechanistic basis of the metabolic theory of ecology Oikos 116 (6) , 1058–1072 doi:10.1111/j.0030-1299.2007.15534.x

"First we show that to make WBE's model mathematically consistent either metabolic rate must be directly proportional to body mass (recall that the model is aimed to explain the 3/4 exponent for metabolic rate) or one of the basic model assumptions, that is, the size-invariance of terminal supplying vessels, must be violated. Then we show that animals built according to WBE's model cannot represent a broad range of sizes, because for large animals the volume of blood vessels would exceed body volume. Later we demonstrate that many features of the plant vascular system, insect tracheal system, vertebrate lung or vertebrate cardiovascular system do not conform to WBE's model assumptions. Finally, we argue that 3/4 scaling for metabolic rate is by no means universal, and therefore WBE's model was built to explain a non-existent pattern" J. Kozłowski, M. Konarzewski (2004) Is West, Brown and Enquist's model of allometric scaling mathematically correct and biologically relevant? Functional Ecology 18 (2) , 283–289 doi:10.1111/j.0269-8463.2004.00830.x

"It is demonstrated that the minimization procedure is mathematically incorrect and ill-posed. Also, it is shown that none of the connecting conditions are fulfilled. Therefore, it is concluded that the fractal model lacks self-consistency and correct statement: it relies on strong assumptions of homogeneity in morpho-physiological features among organisms instead of demonstrating them, as claimed by its authors. It is proposed that empiricists and theoreticians should rather evaluate the frameworks for addressing metabolic scaling phenomena." A critical understanding of the fractal model of metabolic scaling

José Guilherme Chaui-Berlinck Journal of Experimental Biology 209, 3045-3054 (2006)

Hectorguinness (talk) 17:13, 18 May 2008 (UTC)

Removal of "Alternatives to the theory" section[edit]

I removed the alternatives to the theory section in my recent edit. My reasons for doing this are as follows:

- The existing "alternatives to the theory" section did not succinctly summarize the controversy associated with the Metabolic Theory of Ecology. The section was noted as "uncited" and "needs cleanup," but since adding my main article several months ago there has been no attempt to clean up this section by the community.

- Some of the major controversial aspects of the theory are now incorporated into the body of the main article.

- A section titled "alternatives to the theory" implies the existence of other major theories, which I believe should be linked to this article and discussed in detail in their own article. Perhaps a paragraph summarizing other theories with links would be warranted?

Please note that I do believe that a precise, concise, and cited section specifically addressing some of the major controversies of this theory is warranted. However, I submit that the existing section did not adequately address this task, and should either be restored with major edits, or discarded and that section started from scratch.