A Wild Reminder of the Need for Journal Flexibility Appeared!

A few months ago I was riding high off having handed in my PhD thesis. Having handed in said thesis and submitted all relevant manuscripts, I could relax for a bit, and just enjoy maintaining the blog and doing some defense preparation. I also had been asked to review a paper for a journal, a request I gladly accepted.

I feel I’m not the world’s best reviewer (I’ve been knocked back harshly too many times to wish that on anyone and therefore probably go too soft on papers), but I enjoy doing it as it really forces me to go over a single paper in detail, something lots of us probably don’t do enough (more on that later). However I got another request for a review a few days later, and was hesitant, not wanting to put too much on my plate. But this was a request from one of my co-supervisors, and the paper was related to Pokemon (specifically to Australia’s only endemic Pokemon), something I had recently found an almost obsessively curious interest it.

A quick aside. This paper – by Dan Warren and his team – is fantastic (more about why below). It’s just been published recently, and is available at the link below.

Read More: The effects of climate change on Australia’s only endemic Pokémon: Measuring bias in species distribution models

After a first read of the paper I quickly realised that I both loved and hated reviewing it. I loved reviewing it because it used a pop-culture mainstay to discuss a very real problem in ecological modelling. That problem being that biases in data could potentially affect our estimation of where species are found, which in turn could lead to very ineffective conservation measures.

This has obvious implications for real-world species. If we conserve a habitat area on behalf of a threatened species that actually has no use whatsoever for that species we’re just wasting resources) but the use of the Pokemon Kangaskhan was extremely entertaining. In particular, reading an introduction which featured the following passage was a riot:

Garura kangaskhani were previously hunted to the brink of extinction, and one of the primary threats to the persistence of G. kangaskhani populations continues to be the poaching of adults and eggs. While kangaskhan may sometimes be eaten, poaching is primarily motivated by the acquisition of specimens intended for blood sport; captured animals are used in contests in which the maternal defence of the young is exploited to motivate adult G. kangaskhani into fighting both conspecifics and heterospecifics. Individuals deemed to be unfit for combat are frequently ground into ‘candy’ which is fed to combatants. 

Warren et al., 2021

Yet I hated reviewing it because it was a stark reminder of how inflexible and limiting the rules concerning journal publications feel at times.

A fantastic sketch of the G. kangaskhani (Image Credit: Warren et al., 2020)

This paper had a selling point that put it above other papers I’ve read on similar topics. The use of a device like Pokemon made the paper a much more entertaining read, and kept me hooked in much longer than I would have managed to be on a similar paper NOT containing Kangaskhan. My first reaction as a science communicator was STEP UP THE POKEMON JOKES. So it sucks that my first reaction as an objective reviewer was ‘I feel these Pokemon jokes really belong in the methods section’.

I still maintain that if we’re going by what I’ve picked up over the last however many years of wading through academia, the description of the study species belongs in the section traditionally used for describing the study species. But from a narrative point of view, it belongs up top, where it can entertain the reader early on.

I’m painfully aware of how many ecologists (myself included) read about half the intro, skip to the discussion, and then back to the methods and results if they need to clarify something. I’m also painfully aware of the fact that this probably wouldn’t be the case if we were allowed to write papers in a more engaging manner. I probably should have just written back to the relevant editor and said MAKE A GODDAMN EXCEPTION FOR THE SAKE OF THE PUBLIC, but I didn’t.

I didn’t have time to review the version of the paper that was resubmitted (apologies to the authors), and I’m glad this quandary was taken out of my hands. If anyone is interested, you can find the majority of the Pokemon related jokes in the methods section and the Supplemental file, as well as the fantastic realistic sketch of Kangaskhan found above. Congratulations again to all the authors involved, I’m so happy this was published in this form.

Dr. Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist and climate data analyst who completed his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and has spent far too much of the last five months playing Pokemon Go. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.

Title Image Credit: Pokemon/Bulbapedia

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