In some island systems, an ‘anomalous’ feature of species richness on smaller islands, in comparison with larger ones, has been observed. This has been described as the small island effect (SIE). The precise meaning of the term remains unresolved, as does the explanation for the phenomenon and even whether it exists. Dengler (2010; Diversity Distrib, 16, 256–266.) addresses a number of conceptual and methodological issues concerning the nature and the detection of the SIE but fails to settle conclusively most of the issues he raises. We contend that his approach is theoretically flawed, especially in its treatment of habitat diversity. We offer a few suggestions of what is needed to advance understanding of the SIE.