2017 The Year Of The Critical Thinking Reef Keeper

Every year, more and more products enter the reef keeping world, aimed at making aquarists believe that simply by adding the directed dose, they...
  1. jeremy.gosnell

    jeremy.gosnell Well-Known Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2016
    Messages:
    255
    Likes Received:
    448
    All images provided via copyright free image services.
    Every year, more and more products enter the reef keeping world, aimed at making aquarists believe that simply by adding the directed dose, they will achieve a measure of success. Some claim to clear up nitrate problems, while others claim to balance water quality and maintain aquatic homeostasis. Each year, my email inbox gets filled with messages from aquarists who feel cheated. They’ve spent hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on reef keeping products believing each one to be the silver bullet and yet they’re still struggling with their tank. Immediately, they want answers. Are they doing it wrong? Are they adding too much? Is the miracle-potion being removed by the protein skimmer?

    Most are disappointed by my reply. There is no silver bullet and being a successful aquarist requires critical thinking and patience. I’ve concluded that being taken advantage of is common within our hobby. People love the easy way out. The thought that adding a reactor, or a few drops of something can create an instant reef seems like the perfect notion. Yet, hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars later, still no success.

    As we enter 2017, many people may wonder what reef keeping resolution could bring about real success. I believe, if you want to be a good aquarist and keep a thriving, growing tank, you need to think like a scientist. Instead of holding onto any specific ideology about reef keeping, take an empirical stance and let facts and evidence form your opinions and thus your methodology. In reef keeping, there are millions of ways to reach the summit and millions of ways to flush money down the drain and experience no change whatsoever.

    Assigning blame:

    Forums are littered with messages from consumers who feel like they’ve been duped. Forums are also littered with argumentative threads where someone claiming a revolutionary new reef keeping tool has been asked to prove it. Often, they are defending a pre-conceived notion about reef keeping and not offering a hint of evidence or fact. What we think we see, isn’t always what we see. Usually, someone assigns blame to an individual or company that has marketed a product that doesn’t work. Lots of products have fallen into this category over the years. Aquarists feel like they were lied too and thus, they are angry.

    However, we are fed numerous quantities of pseudoscience and misinformation daily. The international rise of fake news has brought about a period of increased public ignorance. On the national level, outlets like Facebook and Twitter are being blamed, for not filtering through the newsreel before it goes live. In the world of reef aquaria; forums, bloggers and private companies are blamed when something doesn’t perform as advertised. Still, advertising is a cornerstone of our capitalist free market and remains legal. Yet, it’s not the fault of any outlet that someone can’t tell reality from fiction or that they don’t implement critical thinking well enough to determine on their own if something is worth trying. The example of Discovery Channel’s “mermaid documentary” comes to mind, where millions were duped into thinking NOAA was hiding evidence of real mermaids existence. Critical thinking is an innate human trait and is one of the reasons human beings dominate the planet with such vigor. We can inspect, form a theory and then devise a way to test it.

    Take some cues from science:


    I could easily argue that science has brought about more revolutions in quality of life than any other field. Thus, science is used everywhere, from medicine to politics to advertising. Science is less rocket ships and bullet trains (which are products of science) and more a method of thought and analysis. Scientific thinking takes nothing for granted and it stares at something with a blank slate. This means looking at a reef product, methodology or additive and not seeing the claims on the package. Instead of seeing images of thriving reefs or colorful letters claiming the sun, moon and stars; look more for the ingredients (now a fair argument against reef products not sharing their ingredients can be made, but that’s for another post). Look at every reef keeping product as if it doesn’t have a single claim, it promises nothing. Then, determine a way to test it and form your own conclusion.

    A simple experiment can be conducted if someone has more than one aquarium. If an additive peaks your interest, don’t grab it and begin dumping it into both tanks. For example, if some additive promises increased coloration or growth, first find one or two test coral species. If you need too, frag a colony or two so the same coral is growing in both tanks. Just start using the additive in one tank and monitor the results. Do the specific test colonies show an increase in growth? Is their coloration better? Taking some cues from science you can form your governing theory. If no change was detected, then you can theorize that until you have further evidence, the additive is ineffective. If you find a major increase in growth and coloration on the tank the additive was used on, then you can theorize that until you have more information the additive was effective.

    A test tank:

    For years now, I’ve run a small test tank simply for testing methodologies and products. I populate the test tank with fragments of coral living in my display. It also has a small population of fish. If I am curious about an additive, I begin using it solely on the test tank. Since the test tank is small, I can use less of the additive and ensure that if it doesn’t perform, I won’t be caught buying a second bottle. While there is, a cost associated with running a test tank, when you factor in the money that might be wasted on ineffective additives, it’s possible to break even.

    In the case of methodologies, it can be a real undertaking to convert a large reef tank to a new method of care. Often this is expensive and in some cases, does more harm than good. It’s much simpler to experiment with a new methodology on a small tank, monitor the changes you witness and make evidence based decisions about how to proceed with the display.

    Don’t be shocked by what you find. Several years ago, I began running a test tank and putting additives through their paces, before implementing them wide-scale on my display tank. Overall, I found that nearly half of additives on the market had no measurable effect on the health of my corals, fish or tank’s water quality. That means you could browse online, or stand in a shop and remove almost half the additives from the page or shelf and still possibly stumble on something that will do little to nothing. At first it was disconcerting, but it underscores the need for rigorous testing to be a successful aquarist.

    Prepare for blowback:

    If you’re a vocal aquarist like myself and spend time sharing your thoughts online, don’t be surprised if you get blowback when announcing the results of your tests. This isn’t what every vendor wants to see. Many products are built around the idea that reef keepers are so hungry for success, they will try anything and even a placebo effect will keep them coming back for more. This doesn’t just exist in the market around aquaria. Homeopathic remedies and pseudoscience have entered the human health care market, animal care market and even home health. I know many people who rely on a host of vitamins and supplements that have been debunked by third party, private research labs. Still, the placebo effect is strong and if someone thinks something is working, they can be stubborn about abandoning it, even in the face of cold, hard facts.

    Any time a blog of mine has questioned the effectiveness of a product and provided results of personal experiments, I always find myself amid some blowback. Vendors and product manufacturers want to argue the merits of their products and that is understandable, but I’ve found that to both be a successful aquarist and offer real world aquatic advice, it’s best to rely on results that you directly see yourself, in one form or another.

    Trim the fat and trust yourself:

    The reef aquarium world is littered with product reviews and testimonials that claim to shed light on the effectiveness of new methodologies. While I don’t discourage aquarists from seeking that information out, I highly recommend that they form their own opinions, based on their own testing. It’s quite possible that third-party reviews are created under collaboration with various vendors or product makers and the results are being manipulated to create a visage of success. There are so many accurate testing tools (from PAR meters to Triton Water Testing) available to aquarists, it’s very easy for us to set-up a miniature lab capable of producing real, measurable theories.

    An example of reviewers working with product manufacturers took place during the launch of the original Xbox 360. A popular game review outlet had been paid in advance by a developer to praise a buggy, dysfunctional launch game. The review outlet gave it a near perfect score, even praising the fact that the game offered no ability to save. Per the reviewer, the lack of a save feature simply increased the game’s challenge and was positive, as the game was short overall. Once gamers began discussing the title, they quickly learned that it was full of major bugs and not worth anywhere near the 60-dollar price of admission. The façade fell apart and it caused real issues for the integrity of the game review outlet.

    Questionable third-party conflicts of interest run both way in reef aquaria. Sometimes a reviewer is trying to prove an effective product is flawed and sometimes they are trying to prove a flawed product is effective. In the end, it’s best to do your own tests and make up your own mind.

    2017, year of the critically thinking reefer:

    Critical thinking, in my humble opinion, is one of the greatest life skills. I set-up miniature experiments with my daughter often, hoping to show her that it’s important to collect your own evidence and form your own conclusions. Some may argue the merits of my parenting approach (as our experiments have encompassed both the tooth fairy and Easter bunny, but so far left Santa out of the picture) but I find it more important to raise a child that is aware when they are being taken advantage of, then one that blindly follows the pack.

    I feel the same way about advising reef keepers. We live in a world where anyone can try to capitalize on our hope for a simple solution. We find it in how we outfit our homes, care for our personal health and manage our reef aquarium. An open mind, empirical approach and reduced ideology can all help you dodge the bullet of blowing money, time and learning that it made absolutely no difference.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 2, 2017
    Tags:
  2. OLDREEFER44

    OLDREEFER44 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2016
    Messages:
    68
    Likes Received:
    49
    Great article. It is interesting to me how, on one hand most of us are constantly searching for the next "secret sauce" that will cause our tank to do everything quicker and better. We try to shortcut the natural ebb and flow of chemical fluctuations in our water and the coming and going of Dino's and different types of algae. My experience after 30 years of reefing is that the number one product that we all need to put at the top of our list is a giant bag of patience. Well down the list should be all of the magic products that seem to come out on an almost daily basis. When I go to my bins of old parts and products looking for a hose or something, all I have to do is look at all of the products I bought that are no longer relevant to be reminded of all of the money spent on something that I didn't need. The great thing about patience is that it is free.
     
  3. revhtree

    revhtree Owner Administrator Staff Member Team R2R R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Photo of the Month Award Article Contributor Partner Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2006
    Messages:
    55,747
    Likes Received:
    14,552
    Location:
    Heaven On Earth
    Another nice article!
     
    Robthorn likes this.
  4. Ljaus

    Ljaus Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2016
    Messages:
    1,223
    Likes Received:
    1,656
    Location:
    Queensland, Australia
    +1. Fantastic article, I've seen people caught out by magic potions and tricks and in the end the tank is gone and they never get back into the hobby.
     
    Elementalj likes this.
  5. Diesel

    Diesel 11.111............. R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Photo of the Month Award Reef Spotlight Award Partner Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2012
    Messages:
    11,035
    Likes Received:
    12,191
    Location:
    Katy Texas
    IMO and I've been saying this for a long time leave the thinking out "Critical doing" is more in line as most hobbyist just do before they think.
    Never the less a great article.
     
    Cruz_Arias likes this.
  6. Nano sapiens

    Nano sapiens Well-Known Member R2R Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2010
    Messages:
    587
    Likes Received:
    154
    Location:
    Northern California
    Article is spot-on. To quote P.T. Barnum, "There's a sucker born every minute". Our capitalist system relies on this truism, but it is up to each of us to think critically and educate ourselves if we wish not to be duped.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2017
    Elementalj and RobinsonReef like this.
  7. Brew12

    Brew12 Electrical Gru R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Reef Squad Article Contributor Partner Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2016
    Messages:
    4,092
    Likes Received:
    5,683
    Location:
    Decatur, AL
    this is absolutely fantastic, and applies to so much more than aquariums!
     
  8. Kungpaoshizi

    Kungpaoshizi Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,309
    Likes Received:
    467
    Location:
    Earf
    It's a good start to something that will need to be integrated into the hobby, but correctly.
    I see too many people that think 'I've seen no ill effects'. In science, given the limitations of human vision, that almost means nothing.

    The examples could probably be endless, that would pass visual inspection by our eyes and thus 'the pack' is duped and adopts unsafe methods. This mentality needs to be eliminated. Adoptions for finer scientific observation needs to be adapted. It's a tough thing to get people to do because many are just too lazy to investigate further.
     
  9. mdbannister

    mdbannister Ahh...the Reef Life Staff Member Team R2R R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Article Contributor Partner Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2012
    Messages:
    16,592
    Likes Received:
    5,851
    Location:
    Ontario, California
    Thinking critically is always good advice. Let's hope we all learn to follow that in 2017! :D Happy New Year, y'all!
     
    Cruz_Arias and hybridazn like this.
  10. DeanF

    DeanF Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2013
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    omaha, ne
    I would like to see you expand on this with some takes on products you have found to work well over the years. If you feel brave, possibly some products that did nothing. I realize this is based on one person's experiences, but I think this would also be a help to those of us that might be interested in trying some products. Would also add additional evidence to what you found. Just a thought.
     
    ThunderGoose likes this.
  11. Nano sapiens

    Nano sapiens Well-Known Member R2R Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2010
    Messages:
    587
    Likes Received:
    154
    Location:
    Northern California
    What makes product testing and comparisons so difficult/confusing in this hobby is that certain products can work well in one system, and do nothing (or worse) in another. As an example, take amino acids. In an ULNS/near ULNS type system, they can be helpful in providing these often depleted substances to increase health and vitality as well as enhance coral pigmentation. In a more nutrient rich system, they can cause algae blooms and an over abundance of zooxanthellae. The trick is in intimately understanding your particular system and then critically analyzing if there is anything that truly needs adjustment, and if so, which method/product is best utilized for the purpose intended. In 30+ years of reef keeping (and especially within the last 10 years or so), I've seen many people with good intentions toss product after product into their tanks without any real understanding of the consequences of their actions.
     
  12. jeffrey holloway

    jeffrey holloway Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2016
    Messages:
    163
    Likes Received:
    124
    Location:
    Gulfport, Mississippi
    I must admit I went thru a lot of snake oils before I came to realize that this is the land of opportunity and I that was the opportunity. I have come to learn that their are basic needs and functions in this hobby, and their are no shortcuts to achieving them. Perfect what works for you and spend your money on fish and corals.
     
  13. MaiReef

    MaiReef Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2016
    Messages:
    634
    Likes Received:
    500
    Location:
    Albany, NY
    Great article.

    It pains me how many people just rush into things. Like a saltwater and/or reef aquarium and want "the" way. If there was only one way it wouldn't be a hobby. This article explains a life approach and not just a hobby approach. People will throw money at anything to make it better. Usually what makes just about anything better is learning with time and patience. I have been doing much better in this hobby with daily checks. The change of lighting within the same fixture. Height, lenses, colors, length of time at a certain intensity, an overall photo period to name a few.
     
  14. bif24701

    bif24701 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2016
    Messages:
    1,140
    Likes Received:
    585
    Thank you for putting this out. If we can spread the word and get it out there more folks may start looking at products this way and demanding vendors and manufactures to disclose more information and possibly discourage the production of snake oil of some degree.
     
  15. KenJ

    KenJ Active Member R2R Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    19
    Location:
    Sparks, Nevada
    Great read thanks for the uplifting thought, experimenting took lots of time what works for some does not always work for others.
     
  16. jeremy.gosnell

    jeremy.gosnell Well-Known Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2016
    Messages:
    255
    Likes Received:
    448
    I don't think it's appropriate for me to go into detail, as to what products I've found that don't work. I will say, the majority of products I've tested that make audacious claims do very little, if anything. One line of products I've recently tested that I was very impressed with was AquaForest's line of additives and zeolite. As of now, I am using their probiotic reef salt along with their Zeolite and additives. For me, it has performed equally as well at other zeolite products and is much easier to use.
     
    Cruz_Arias and mdbannister like this.
  17. reefwiser

    reefwiser LMAS R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Reef Squad Article Contributor Partner Member

    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2013
    Messages:
    3,611
    Likes Received:
    2,684
    Location:
    Louisville,Kentucky
    When go against the norm in this hobby people tend to attack those that question the current trend. I remember when the Berlin method was first starting to be used. Everyone was using wet/dry systems and everyone thought that just placing live rock into a tank could not provide filtration for a reef tank. There where many hostile discussion thread's on forum's. I see that now with lighting people question the current trend and hostility comes into play. If one does not constantly question the proper way to do something we never learn anything. Just because others say something is great doesn't make it so in all cases. :)
     
  18. Robthorn

    Robthorn Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 16, 2009
    Messages:
    378
    Likes Received:
    159
    Location:
    Largo, FL
    Best article ever. I have been wanting to write something like this for a long while but I suck at writing so thank you very much.
     
  19. sghera64

    sghera64 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2013
    Messages:
    67
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    Fishers, IN, USA - 3rd rock from the sun
    Great article, Jeremy. Your advocation of Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (scientific method) would make W. Edwards Demming proud.

    Are you a scientist or Lean practitioner by profession?
     
  20. SR Aquaristik

    SR Aquaristik www.sraquaristik.com R2R Supporter Gold Sponsors

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2016
    Messages:
    133
    Likes Received:
    97
    Location:
    Chicago
    Great article! Bonjour from Chicago!
     
    Cruz_Arias and sghera64 like this.

Share This Page

Loading...