An interesting question we should always ask ourselves...
|Precision targeting for SearchResearch. P/C by Mikhail Nilov (Pexels link)
If you've got a new tool (LLMs, for example), as a skilled researcher, you want to find new ways to use that tool. How can you use that new tool effectively?
That's really what this week's Challenge is about: What new abilities do LLMs give us?
Here's one interesting approach that I found--using LLMs to expand your range of thinking about a topic. Here's an example.
As Regular Readers will have noticed, I'm a fan of tropical fish, especially in their native tropical habitat.
One thing I've noticed is that fish in the shallow tropics seem incredibly vibrant and colorful. At the same time, their more northernly cousins are often brown / gray / drab. Is this true? (We asked something similar back in 2022, Does animal color and weight vary by latitude?)
One of the difficulties of searching for answers to questions like this is that it's difficult to find search terms that are on target and useful.
In researching this topic ("are fish in the topics more colorful than fish in northern latitudes?") any combination of those words finds a LOT of results, most of which you have to sift through for anything of value.
I turned to ChatGPT for help in this quest by asking it an open-ended question, carefully NOT trying to bias the answer:
[ are fish more colorful in the tropics than in northern latitudes ]
The result was pretty good.
Yes, fish in tropical regions are generally more colorful than fish found in northern latitudes. This is primarily due to the differences in environmental conditions and ecological factors between these two regions.In tropical waters, there is typically a greater diversity of fish species, and many of them have evolved vibrant colors as a result of various factors. These factors include the need for camouflage within colorful coral reef habitats, mating displays to attract mates, and species recognition within highly populated and visually complex environments. The warm and stable conditions in tropical regions also contribute to the proliferation of colorful organisms, including fish.In contrast, fish in northern latitudes often inhabit colder waters and more temperate environments. The reduced diversity of fish species and the presence of fewer colorful habitats, such as coral reefs, can result in less visually striking fish. Furthermore, the shorter summers and colder temperatures in northern latitudes may limit the availability of resources for colorful displays and breeding.However, it is important to note that there are exceptions to this general trend, as some species found in northern latitudes exhibit vivid colors for various reasons, such as sexual selection, territorial displays, or mimicry. Overall, while tropical regions tend to showcase a greater variety of colorful fish, it is possible to find colorful fish species in both tropical and northern latitudes.
But without references, I'm not sure how to check the accuracy of this result.
When I asked for citations with the prompt:
[ are fish more colorful in the tropics than in northern latitudes? Give citations to the scientific literature to support your claims ]
ChatGPT begged off saying that "As an AI language model, I don't have direct access to scientific literature or the ability to browse the internet."
I asked Bard the same question and got a mess of an answer. Ugh.
Bard: Yes, fish are more colorful in the tropics than in northern latitudes. This is a well-established finding in the scientific literature.One study that investigated this phenomenon was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution in 2022. The study, which was led by Dr. Chris Cooney from the University of Sheffield, found that bird species tend to be 30% more colorful towards the equator. The researchers believe that this is due to a number of factors, including the warmer water temperatures in the tropics, which allow for more complex pigments to develop in the fish's skin.Another study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B in 2016, found that the same pattern of increased coloration is also seen in other animals, such as reptiles and amphibians. The researchers believe that this is because the warmer temperatures in the tropics allow for more complex visual signals to be transmitted between individuals.Here are some of the scientific literature that support the claim that fish are more colorful in the tropics than in northern latitudes:Cooney, C. J., & West, S. A. (2022). The latitudinal gradient in bird coloration is driven by temperature. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 6(4), 697-704.
Ghalambor, C. K., Seebacher, F., & Martin, A. P. (2016). The latitudinal diversity gradient of animal colour. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1830), 20160425.
Shawkey, M. D., & Endler, J. A. (2009). The latitudinal gradient in color: Integrating mechanisms and function. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 40, 211-236.I hope this helps!
Well.. it doesn't really help. Notice that Bard switched from talking about fish to talking about birds and animals. That's NOT helpful.
What's worse, the citations look like they're totally fabricated. I cannot find those articles anywhere. The authors are real people, but the purported articles look like word salad of the articles they've actually published.
Go home Bard, you're drunk.
However, if you ask Bard or ChatGPT for ideas for search topics and keywords, it works pretty well. Here's what ChatGPT told me:
[what are the 5 most common subtopics related to tropical fish coloration?]
Answer (bolding by Dan):
The study of tropical fish coloration encompasses various subtopics. While it's challenging to definitively list the five most common subtopics, here are five frequently explored areas related to tropical fish coloration:Camouflage and Cryptic Coloration: Many tropical fish species exhibit coloration that helps them blend into their surroundings, such as coral reefs or rocky substrates. The study of how fish use color patterns to hide from predators or ambush prey falls under this subtopic.Sexual Selection and Mating Displays: Colorful displays play a significant role in attracting mates and signaling reproductive fitness in many fish species. Researchers often investigate the evolution and function of bright coloration and elaborate patterns related to courtship and mate choice.Warning and Aposematic Coloration: Certain tropical fish species display bold and vibrant colors as a warning to potential predators that they possess toxic or venomous properties. Understanding the signals and mechanisms behind these warning colors is another common subtopic.Environmental Influences: The environmental factors that influence tropical fish coloration are of interest to researchers. These may include the impact of light availability, water quality, temperature, and habitat characteristics on the development and maintenance of colors in fish.Color Change and Adaptive Plasticity: Some tropical fish species have the ability to change their coloration, adapting to different environmental conditions or social situations. Studying the mechanisms and functions of color change, such as camouflage, communication, or physiological regulation, is a prominent subtopic within tropical fish coloration research.It's worth noting that the study of fish coloration is a diverse and dynamic field, and researchers may delve into various other subtopics depending on their specific interests and goals.
And if you add in the idea of variation by latitude, the subtopics get even better:
The study of fish coloration by latitude encompasses various subtopics. While the specific ranking of the most common subtopics may vary, here are five frequently explored areas related to fish coloration across different latitudes:Environmental Gradient and Color Variation: Research focuses on understanding how fish coloration varies across latitudinal gradients, considering factors such as temperature, light availability, and habitat characteristics. This subtopic examines how environmental differences influence color patterns and pigmentation in fish populations.Adaptation to Different Habitats: Fish species in different latitudes often inhabit distinct habitats, such as coral reefs, freshwater streams, or polar regions. Investigating how fish coloration adapts to these specific habitats, including camouflage, disruptive coloration, or habitat-specific visual signals, is a common subtopic.Seasonal Variation and Color Change: Many fish species exhibit seasonal changes in coloration, especially in higher latitudes where temperature and light conditions vary significantly throughout the year. Research focuses on understanding the mechanisms and functions of seasonal color variation, including breeding displays, temperature regulation, or response to changing environmental cues.Reproductive Strategies and Mating Displays: Colorful displays and patterns play a vital role in fish reproduction and mate selection. This subtopic explores the evolution, function, and significance of color traits in courtship rituals, mate choice, and sexual selection across different latitudes.Latitudinal Gradients in Biodiversity and Color Diversity: Research in this subtopic investigates the relationship between fish color diversity and species richness across latitudes. It explores patterns of color variation in diverse ecosystems and seeks to understand the underlying mechanisms driving these patterns.
This prompt trick ("what are the <N> most common subtopics related to <topic>?") works well. You plug in a number for N and plug in a topic for <topic> and you're good to go.
Another variant on this prompt is a way to just get suggested search keywords:
[ list without description the 5 top keywords for searching the topic tropical fish coloration variation by latitude ]
1. Tropical fish coloration latitude variation2. Latitudinal gradients in tropical fish color patterns3. Color diversity in tropical fish across latitudes4. Environmental effects on tropical fish coloration by latitude5. Latitude-dependent variation in tropical fish pigmentation
1. tropical fish coloration latitude2. tropical fish color variation3. tropical fish coloration latitudinal gradient4. tropical fish coloration temperature5. tropical fish coloration evolution
As you can see, these lists of keyword/phrases to use for "regular search" are very different, but both have really great suggestions about ways you can continue your search. And they teach you great terms to use ("color diversity" or "latitude-dependent" variation.")
Bottom line: LLMs can be used to generate really great IDEAS and keywords for continuing your search.
And, as I've said before, don't trust the LLMs to give you a coherent (or accurate) answer to a complex question.
Idea for this prompt snarfed from the Search Engine Journal article "How to use ChatGPT for Keyword Research." Thanks to Dan Smullen for the inspiration.