ABOUT Tom Webb

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I’m interested in marine biodiversity, and the past, present and future of the marine environment. I pursue this interest using macroecolgical methods – essentially, statistical experiments on large biological databases. Since 2008, I have been able to do this thanks to a Royal Society University Research Fellowship which I hold in the Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield. The kinds of ecological questions I work on span many temporal and spatial scales, and require me to adopt methods from various related disciplines including statistics, evolutionary biology, palaeontology, economics, sociology. So, I’m very interested in how interdisciplinary research works, and how it could be made to work better. I’m interested more generally in how science is communicated, and how it is represented both in the science and news media, and more generally in our culture (e.g. in literature). All of this has stemmed from a love of natural history, which I try to maintain whenever possible by exploring nature in my garden, walking in the Peak District or wherever else I find myself, snorkelling when the water’s warm enough, kayaking when it’s not. I share thoughts on all of the above on Twitter as @tomjwebb.


Tom Webb: All Posts


Diversity and extinction of tongues and species

Posted 27 February 2015 by Tom Webb

Some years ago, at a rather posh function in a swanky London venue, I got talking to a peer of the realm. By this point I had been drinking my endless glass of wine for some time (they have stealthy waiters at these kinds of dos), and didn’t quite catch his name, but he had been, apparently, head of a large supermarket chain. And his response to me mentioning the word ‘biodiversity’ has stuck with me. “When I took over... Read more

(Bird) Food for thought

Posted 13 January 2015 by Tom Webb

At this time of year I tend to get through the post a steady trickle of catalogues, reminding me of the mailing lists to which I still need to unsubscribe. Qutie a few of these are wildlife related, with a good chunk given over to the £200M wild bird food industry. For a while now I’ve felt rather uneasy about the excessive commodification of what should be a simple act - attracting birds to the garden just to enjoy their company.... Read more

Ecologists as rock stars? Oh how I wish it were so…

Posted 19 December 2014 by Tom Webb

The annual meeting of the British Ecology Society last week was unusual in a couple of ways: it was held in France, as a joint meeting with Societé Française d’Écologie; and, for the first time since I started going in the late 1990s, I wasn’t there. Rather than throw an almighty sulk about the injustice of this, I followed #BESSfe on Twitter as best I could, and felt I got a reasonable flavour of the conference - minus the hangovers, as an... Read more

A Case for Anonymous Open Review

Posted 23 October 2014 by Tom Webb

I recently reviewed a manuscript for the pioneering journal PeerJ. This presented me with a quandary. PeerJ’s experiment in open reviewing is nicely outlined in their recent post, and includes two steps: reviewers can sign their reports, and authors can publish the review history alongside their accepted paper. My quandary was this: I love the second idea, and think it is an important step forward in opening up the peer review process; but I don’t like to sign my reviews.... Read more

About a Blog

Posted 29 August 2014 by Tom Webb

In his early collection of miscellaneous writing Paperweight, Stephen Fry includes a column from The Listener called Absolutely Nothing At All, about… writing a column. He prefaces it in the book with the excuse, “Journalist friends tell me that columnists are allowed to write one column of this nature once in their lives.” On the assumption that bloggers get the same allowance, here we go… * I’ve had this post largely worked out in my head for several weeks. It’s... Read more

On British Values and British Nature

Posted 26 June 2014 by Tom Webb

‘Pride’ has always struck me a peculiar and entirely inappropriate way to express your feelings about your homeland. After all, the accident of having been born somewhere is hardly something over which you had either any choice or any control. But for all that, I’m certainly happy enough to call Britain ‘home’; and despite having had the good fortune to visit some wonderful parts of the world, and to work with people from many different countries, I have never seriously... Read more

What students want – or what students need?

Posted 13 June 2014 by Tom Webb

You can tell from the contrasting expressions on the faces of academics around the department that it’s exam marking deadline time. The harassed anxiety of those with piles of scripts still on their desks is balanced by the smug relief of we happy few who are done and dusted. For me, then, it’s a time to reflect on my teaching, which has led me to an interesting conclusion. Let me backtrack a little. I’ve been lecturing on our level three course,... Read more

Mixed messages on Marine Protected Areas

Posted 5 March 2014 by Tom Webb

I can’t remember the details of the first scientific conference I ever went to - not even its name - but I know it was on marine conservation, in Cardiff, and that a couple of us undergrads had made the trek from Norwich with little idea what to expect. The keynote speaker was Bill Ballantine, some of whose work on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in New Zealand I’d read as research for an essay. I remember no details of his... Read more

Reading, writing, and aestheticism

Posted 30 January 2014 by Tom Webb

Last week my daughter turned one, and - as well as celebrating all the fun of her first year - I found myself reflecting on the growing list of ‘things I used to do’, in those dimly remembered days before the arrival of Webbs 2.0 and 2.1. There are the obvious activities - eating (and drinking) out, sport, long walks and lie ins. There are things that have come alarmingly close to making the list. ‘Doing my job properly’ springs... Read more

Life with Attenborough

Posted 20 December 2013 by Tom Webb

Christmas day 1981. A six-year-old boy sits on his bed in the Horton General Hospital, Banbury. He feels poorly, no worse, but for now nobody knows quite what’s wrong with him. His parents hide their worry so well that he is only now, a parent himself, starting to appreciate it. But on Christmas day it’s all smiles, with mum, dad and big brother all crowded into the small room. His brother’s main present was a portable radio, and the two... Read more