The Inverted Phantom Giant

Erb, Matthias (2014). The Inverted Phantom Giant. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 40(5), p. 417. Springer 10.1007/s10886-014-0444-y

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In his famous children’s book, “Jim Button and Luke the
Engine Driver”, Michael Ende describes a curious character:
A phantom giant. Clothed in rags and with a long beard, the
phantom giant appears enormous from far away, but shrinks to
normal size as one gets closer. Most people avoid the poor
creature, but the ones that dare approach it encounter a gentle,
lonely being called Mr. Tur Tur. Chemical ecology is just the
opposite of Mr. Tur Tur: A phantom dwarf. Or, in other words,
an inverted phantom giant. From a distance, chemical ecology
appears like a slightly odd, marginal section of biology and
chemistry. But, as the interested scholar approaches, it starts
growing and very quickly reaches gigantic dimensions, because
all life is explained by chemistry, and all biological
chemistry is guided by ecological principles. Herein lies the
difficulty with chemical ecology: As it is not perceived well
by biologists and chemists, few approach it to understand its
significance, and the ones that do find themselves in front of a
giant that defies their attempts to define and contain it. This is
where the Journal of Chemical Ecology comes in: It invites us
to take a closer look at an underestimated discipline and
supports us to explore it and deal with its multidimensionality
through the promotion of knowledge and methods. These
services are unique and make the journal stand out of the
crowd of scientific journals.
Writing children’s books has become difficult in the era
of information technology. And, so has the job of the
Journal of Chemical Ecology. Young scientists gather information
through accessible, dynamic websites and social
platforms. They want articles that are available through a
single mouse click, anywhere, anytime. They prefer advanced
interactive hypertext protocols over clumsy pdf
files. They care about transparency, non-profit and open
access just as much as about traditional journal properties.
In my view, reaching “the kids” is the major challenge of
the Journal over the next years.
Promoting an inverted phantom giant in the 21st century
requires a combination of high-quality information and
boosted visibility. In Michael Ende’s book, Jim and Luke
follow exactly this strategy with Mr. Tur Tur: They become
friends and offer him a job as a living lighthouse to protect
their small island. They combine a quality relationship with
high visibility, et voilà, the story ends well! I am looking
forward to seeing if the Journal of Chemical Ecology will
follow a similar path to reach the next generation of
biologists and chemists. If yes, there is a good chance that
in 40 years from now, somebody will write a laudation and
refer to another famous book by Michael Ende: “The
Neverending Story”.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Biotic Interactions
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Erb, Matthias


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)








Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

10 Jul 2015 13:30

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:48

Publisher DOI:





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