Thursday, October 1, 2009

powerpoint parsing fail

Yesterday, I was puzzled by this curious bullet-point at our weekly ecology seminar:
- recruitment unlikely due to Allee effects

Because I was parsing "unlikely" as an adverb modifying the verb "due" - of course, this didn't make any sense because Allee effects are not typically mentioned except as a mechanism to inhibit recruitment. Even more confusing was the previous sentence that no significant recruitment had been observed since the 1960s - so in some ways the statement that there *was* recruitment could have been new evidence to overturn earlier findings.

Eventually, I figured out that the intended parsing was for "unlikely" to be an adjective modifying the noun "recruitment" - recruitment is unlikely to occur because of low population densities (Allee effects).

Which begs the question of using complete sentences vs. phrases in powerpoint bullets: in this case, I think a complete sentence would have been fairly unambiguous, and would only have needed to be a bit longer - but in other cases, a complete sentence would take up a lot more space and be confusing as a block of text for the audience to read.

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