Multiculturalism in the lab

23 02 2017

8294047fabf352ce46f4fd9a89d4a93dWith all the nasty nationalism and xenophobia gurgling nauseatingly to the surface of our political discoursethese days, it is probably worth some reflection regarding the role of multiculturalism in science. I’m therefore going to take a stab, despite being in most respects a ‘golden child’ in terms of privilege and opportunity (I am, after all, a middle-aged Caucasian male living in a wealthy country). My cards are on the table.

I know few overtly racist scientists, although I suspect that they do exist. In fact, most scientists are of a more liberal persuasion generally and tend to pride themselves on their objectivity in all aspects of being human, including the sociological ones. In other words, we tend to think of ourselves as dispassionate pluralists who only judge the empirical capabilities of our colleagues, with their races, genders, sexual persuasions and other physical attributes irrelevant to our assessment. We generally love to travel and interact with our peers from all nations and walks of life, and we regularly decorate our offices and with cultural paraphernalia different to our own.

But are we as unbiased and dispassionate as we think we are? Do we take that professed pluralism and cultural promiscuity with us to the lab each day? Perhaps we could, and should, do better. Read the rest of this entry »





Dealing with rejection

8 02 2017

6360351663382153201743264721_ls_crying-menWe scientists can unfortunately be real bastards to each other, and no other interaction brings out that tendency more than peer review. Of course no one, no matter how experienced, likes to have a manuscript rejected. People hate to be on the receiving end of any criticism, and scientists are certainly no different. Many reviews can be harsh and unfair; many reviewers ‘miss the point’ or are just plain nasty.

It is inevitable that you will be rejected outright many times after the first attempt. Sometimes you can counter this negative decision via an appeal, but more often than not the rejection is final no matter what you could argue or modify. So your only recourse is move on to a lower-ranked journal. If you consistently submit to low-ranked journals, you would obviously receive far fewer rejections during the course of your scientific career, but you would also probably minimise the number of citations arising from your work as a consequence.

So your manuscript has been REJECTED. What now? The first thing to remember is that you and your colleagues have not been rejected, only your manuscript has. This might seem obvious as you read these words, but nearly everyone — save the chronically narcissistic — goes through some feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy following a rejection letter. At this point it is essential to remind yourself that your capacity to do science is not being judged here; rather, the most likely explanation is that given your strategy to maximise your paper’s citation potential, you have probably just overshot the target journal. What this really means is that the editor (and/or reviewers) are of the opinion that your paper is not likely to gain as many citations as they think papers in their journal should. Look closely at the rejection letter — does it say anything about “… lacking novelty …”? Read the rest of this entry »





Journal ranks 2015

26 07 2016

graduate_barsBack in February I wrote about our new bibliometric paper describing a new way to rank journals, which I still contend is a fairer representation of relative citation-based rankings. Given that the technique requires ISI, Google Scholar and Scopus data to calculate the composite ranks, I had to wait for the last straggler (Google) to publish the 2015 values before I could present this year’s rankings to you. Google has finally done that.

So in what has become a bit of an annual tradition, I’m publishing the ranks of a mixed list of ecology, conservation and multidisciplinary disciplines that probably cover most of the journals you might be interested in comparing. Like for last year, I make no claims that this list is comprehensive or representative. For previous lists based on ISI Impact Factors (except 2014), see the following links (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013).

So here are the following rankings of (i) 84 ecology, conservation and multidisciplinary journals, and a subset of (ii) 42 ecology journals, (iii) 21 conservation journals, and (iv) 12 marine and freshwater journals. Read the rest of this entry »





Subconsciously sexist?

29 06 2016

2000px-Igualtat_de_sexes.svgIt was with some consternation that I processed some recent second-hand scuttlebutt about my publishing history with respect to gender balance. I’ve always considered myself non-sexist when it comes to working with my colleagues, but as a white, middle-aged male, I’m willing to admit that perhaps subconsciously I’ve been promoting gender inequalities in science without realising that I’m doing it. As a father of a daughter, I also want to make sure the world in which she grows up isn’t as difficult as it has been for women of previous generations.

It is still an unfortunate fact that the ideal of a 50–50 gender balance in the biological sciences is far from becoming a reality; indeed, women have to be about 2.2-2.5 times more productive than their male counterparts to be as successful in securing financial support to do their work.

In fact, a 1993 study of ecologists attributed the lower (but happily, increasing) productivity and dwindling representation of women with career stage to such institutionalised injustices as: less satisfactory relationships with PhD advisors, difficulty in finding suitable mentors, lack of institutional empowerment, greater family responsibilities, lower salaries, lower job security, and lower evaluation of personal success. A follow-up study in 2012 suggested that the gap was narrowing in many of these components, but it was still far from equal. For a more comprehensive discussion of the complexity of the issues in science (see here), and in ecology in particular, see here.

Others have more recently reported no evidence for a gender effect in paper acceptance rates (Biological Conservation), and no difference in the level of perceived expertise between men and women (in long-term environmental or ecological research at 60 protected areas stratified across forests of the Asia-Pacific, African and American tropics).

Read the rest of this entry »





Shadow of ignorance veiling society despite more science communication

19 04 2016

imagesI’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but it wasn’t until having some long, deep chats today with staff and students at Simon Fraser University‘s Department of Biological Sciences (with a particular hat-tip to the lovely Nick Dulvy, Isabelle Côté & John Reynolds) that the full idea began to take shape in my brain. It seems my presentation was a two-way street: I think I taught a few people some things, and they taught me something back. Nice.

There’s no question at all that science communication has never before been so widespread and of such high quality. More and more scientists and science students are now blogging, tweeting and generally engaging the world about their science findings. There is also an increasing number of professional science communication associations out there, and a growing population of professional science communicators. It is possibly the best time in history to be involved in the generation and/or communication of scientific results.

Why then is the public appreciation, acceptance and understanding of science declining? It really doesn’t make much sense if you merely consider that there has never been more good science ‘out there’ in the media — both social and traditional. For the source literature itself, there has never before been as many scientific journals, articles and even scientists writing. Read the rest of this entry »





How to rank journals

18 02 2016

ranking… properly, or at least ‘better’.

In the past I have provided ranked lists of journals in conservation ecology according to their ISI® Impact Factor (see lists for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2013). These lists have proven to be exceedingly popular.

Why are journal metrics and the rankings they imply so in-demand? Despite many people loathing the entire concept of citation-based journal metrics, we scientists, our administrators, granting agencies, award committees and promotion panellists use them with such merciless frequency that our academic fates are intimately bound to the ‘quality’ of the journals in which we publish.

Human beings love to rank themselves and others, the things they make, and the institutions to which they belong, so it’s a natural expectation that scientific journals are ranked as well.

I’m certainly not the first to suggest that journal quality cannot be fully captured by some formulation of the number of citations its papers receive; ‘quality’ is an elusive characteristic that includes inter alia things like speed of publication, fairness of the review process, prevalence of gate-keeping, reputation of the editors, writing style, within-discipline reputation, longevity, cost, specialisation, open-access options and even its ‘look’.

It would be impossible to include all of these aspects into a single ‘quality’ metric, although one could conceivably rank journals according to one or several of those features. ‘Reputation’ is perhaps the most quantitative characteristic when measured as citations, so we academics have chosen the lowest-hanging fruit and built our quality-ranking universe around them, for better or worse.

I was never really satisfied with metrics like black-box Impact Factors, so when I started discovering other ways to express the citation performance of the journals to which I regularly submit papers, I became a little more interested in the field of bibliometrics.

In 2014 I wrote a post about what I thought was a fairer way to judge peer-reviewed journal ‘quality’ than the default option of relying solely on ISI® Impact Factors. I was particularly interested in why the new kid on the block — Google Scholar Metrics — gave at times rather wildly different ranks of the journals in which I was interested.

So I came up with a simple mean ranking method to get some idea of the relative citation-based ‘quality’ of these journals.

It was a bit of a laugh, really, but my long-time collaborator, Barry Brook, suggested that I formalise the approach and include a wider array of citation-based metrics in the mean ranks.

Because Barry’s ideas are usually rather good, I followed his advice and together we constructed a more comprehensive, although still decidedly simple, approach to estimate the relative ranks of journals from any selection one would care to cobble together. In this case, however, we also included a rank-placement resampler to estimate the uncertainty associated with each rank.

I’m pleased to announce that the final version1 is now published in PLoS One2. Read the rest of this entry »





Bad science

10 02 2016

Head in HandsIn addition to the surpassing coolness of reconstructing long-gone ecosystems, my new-found enthusiasm for palaeo-ecology has another advantage — most of the species under investigation are already extinct.

That might not sound like an ‘advantage’, but let’s face it, modern conservation ecology can be bloody depressing, so much so that one sometimes wonders if it’s worth it. It is, of course, but there’s something marvellously relieving about studying extinct systems for the simple reason that there are no political repercussions. No self-serving, plutotheocratic politician can bugger up these systems any more. That’s a refreshing change from the doom and gloom of modern environmental science!

But it’s not all sweetness and light, of course; there are still people involved, and people sometimes make bad decisions in an attempt to modify the facts to suit their creed. The problem is when these people are the actual scientists involved in the generation of the ‘facts’.

As I alluded to a few weeks ago with the publication of our paper in Nature Communications describing the lack of evidence for a climate effect on the continental-scale extinctions of Australia’s megafauna, we have a follow-up paper that has just been published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B — What caused extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna of Sahul? led by Chris Johnson of the University of Tasmania.

After our paper published earlier this month, this title might seem a bit rhetorical, so I want to highlight some of the reasons why we wrote the review. Read the rest of this entry »