Tag Archives: journal

Jokes in Journals: Humour and Engagement in SciComm

Science communication in a post-truth world: promises and pitfalls (2019) Kopf et al., Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2072

Communication in a Post-Truth World

Communicating the importance of restoring biodiversity and fighting against climate change is particularly crucial in a world where facts can be so easily distorted. Misinformation and fake news can be easily spread through social media and other online outlets, but the same outlets could also provide effective means of communication for scientific research. However there’s still a lot of work to be done figuring out how to use these new tools, and today’s paper looks at some of the pitfalls involved.

NB: This paper is very well-written, and it’s definitely worth your time to read the whole thing. It’s not open access, but if you get in touch with the authors I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to send out a copy.

The Fine Line of SciComm

We have a pretty solid idea now of the fact that scientific communication needs to be both engaging and factual, yet scientists often forget one of the two. The authors bring up the recent ‘insectageddon‘ paper, a piece of scientific literature which was widely circulated in the media but made claims on a global scale which the data didn’t really support. While it undoubtedly alerted many people worldwide to a serious problem, the dishonest communication employed could potentially damage people’s trust in science.

Humour is a fantastic form of engaging scientific communication, which can (albeit rarely) be used in scientific literature. For a great example, check out the two papers below.

A Final Warning to Planet Earth features the fantastic line “[w]e therefore strongly oppose the agenda accompanying the warning to humanity and will not tolerate any obstacle to our way of life – be it tree-huggers or the trees themselves.”

The effects of climate change on Australia’s only endemic Pokémon – I wrote about my experience reviewing this paper last week, so go ahead and check it out.

However these carry with them dangers. We don’t expect scientific papers to be sarcastic, so it’s not a huge surprise when the authors point out that the first of these papers has already been cited as if it is a serious publication.

More worrying is the second example today’s authors present. A satirical paper by Leonard Leibovici made the claim that praying for someone’s recovery 4-10 years AFTER their hospitalisation was effective. The paper is obviously a joke, but it has been cited often by religious groups as proof of the power of prayer.

Final Frustrations

I chose to review this article because it encapsulates some of the frustrations I wrote about last week. Funny and engaging scientific communication should not be shied away from. Using humour and other more personal forms of communication humanises scientists and can engender more trust in us. It’s why I started a podcast looking at the biology of movie monsters. And there are plenty of scientists out there using humour to great effect.

Yet there are certain aspects of the way scientists communicate information – chief among them scientific articles – that are so rigid and inflexible that any novel approaches to them come with pitfalls attached. I reiterate my hope from last week that we’ll be able to change this going forward.

Dr. Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist and climate data analyst who completed his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 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: Bernard Spragg

Evaluating Ecology’s Impact Through the Lens of “Solution Science”

Ecological restoration (pictured here, sand dune restoration conducted by NH Sea Grant in New Hampshire, USA) is a form of solution science. (Image Credit: Caitlin Mandeville., CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

Shining a Brighter Light on Solution Science in Ecology (2020) Doubleday & Connell, One Earth, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2019.12.009

The Crux

These days, it can feel hard to go even a day without thinking about the many environmental challenges facing the world. Climate change, habitat degradation, species extinctions… it can all feel a bit overwhelming sometimes. In fact, many of us ecologists chose careers in this field because we hope to contribute to solving these problems. There is no doubt that many of the questions investigated by ecologists have direct relevance to our ability to live more sustainably on earth. But how often do ecologists make the leap from basic ecological knowledge to the ways that this knowledge can be used to make a positive difference in the world?

In a January 2020 publication, authors Doubleday and Connell calculated the percentage of articles published in top ecology journals that have a clear focus on solving environmental problems and found that only 14% of top ecology articles focus on what they call “solution science”.

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Girls, Cats, and Problems With Peer Reviews

Image Credit: Kennet Kjell Johansson Hultman, CC0 1.0, Image Cropped

Last week saw International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It’s an important day, recognising the importance of a strong female presence in the scientific community, and how far all scientific disciplines have to go to achieve gender equality.

So naturally the journal Biological Conservations decided to release a paper entitled Where There Are Girls, There Are Cats*. It’s an ill-informed, ill-conceived paper that essentially blames women for free-ranging cat populations. It is insulting to women, and quite frankly insulting to any scientist who has had a paper rejected in the last year (yes, I’m bitter). It’s also kind of hilarious in all the wrong ways. As such, there was justifiable mockery and jaw-droppage on Twitter. Yet as with the recent #PruittGate debacle, most of the community has veered away from directly attacking the researchers. They’ve been focussing on the real problem here – in this case the peer review system.

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Knocking Down the Paywalls: The Quest for Accessible Science

Scientific understanding is constructed, developed and advanced through open sharing of knowledge generated by scientists worldwide. Yet for years that collective knowledge has only been accessible to those who pay exorbitant amounts of money. Now the pressure is building for publishers to change the system, as more and more scientific communities push to bypass or break down the expensive paywalls that restrict access to global scientific progress.

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Who Gets the Credit?

Scientific papers nowadays are written more on computers than with ink and paper, but no matter how you write a paper it is important to distinguish who gets credit for what. (Image credit: Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)

A huge component of science is the execution of successful experiments and then writing about those experiments. Consequently, a lot of weight is put on who did what, and what kind of credit people deserve for what they do. This can result in some arguments about how much so and so did for the project, and why they deserve authorship credit. In this article, I want to briefly cover some authorship issues and what kind of impact authorship can have on a scientist’s career.

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