Tag Archives: research

Carsten Rahbek: The Role of a Natural History Museum

Image Credit: Sam Perrin, CC BY-SA 2.0

My number one go-to when visiting a new city is their Museum of Natural History. And whilst it may have stemmed from a love of massive dinosaur skeletons, it eventually developed into a appreciation of the concepts that drive the natural world. I now work at NTNU’s Natural History Museum, and getting a glimpse at what happens behind the scenes has deepened that appreciation further.

With that in mind, I sat down with Professor Carsten Rahbek of the Natural History Museum of Denmark to talk about the role of a Natural History Museum in today’s world. Carsten and I previously spoke about the relationship of ecology with the media (which you can read about here) but in this interview I wanted to talk about whether Natural history Museums needed to evolve, and the connection between a Museum’s research and its exhibitions.

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Brexit and Ecology

The last three years have seen some serious political upheaval in the European region, Brexit being perhaps the pinnacle of that. It’s an issue on which everyone has an opinion and which no one seems to have any answers to. So I thought that this week I’d try to put together a synthesis of sorts on how Brexit will possibly affect the ecological science community. Below are a series of links to articles that describe the affect of Brexit on, and responses by, the ecological community.

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Locating Shark’s Teeth in the Phone Book

Supervisors: they’re our mentors, bosses, idols. Sometimes, they can seem almost super-human – they know everything, and find every single flaw in your work.

So it can be easy to forget that your supervisors and various other higher-ups are not necessarily a species of perfect, paper mass-producing, hyper-creative geniuses, but in reality just experienced people, who still make mistakes and have “brain-farts”. The following is a personal encounter I had which serves as proof.

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Shannon McCauley: The Role of Gender in Authorship Bias

Who gets the credit in scientific articles is a pressing question (covered in a previous opinion piece), and deciding how to award authorship is especially relevant given the impact that papers in high-impact journals can have on the trajectory of a scientist early in their career.

With this in mind, I spoke with Dr. Shannon McCauley of the University of Toronto-Mississauga during her November visit to the University of Arkansas (more about Shannon can be found in our previous interview). In addition to giving a talk on some of her research, Shannon also led a workshop on authorship in science. I sat down with her afterwards to talk more about the subject.

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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)

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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Bigger is Not Better

Not all GPS coordinate data are created equal, and some of it may actually be meaningless. (Image Credit: Daniel Johansson, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The smartphone fallacy – when spatial data are reported at spatial scales finer than the organisms themselves (2018) Meiri, S., Frontiers of Biogeography, DOI: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2n3349jg

The Crux

One of the greatest annoyances when using museum specimens, old datasets, or large occurrence databases (such as GBIF) is when the locality of an occurrence is only vaguely described, and the coordinate uncertainty is high; “Norway” or “Indochina” doesn’t really tell you much about where that specific animal or plant was seen. Luckily, the days where such vague descriptions were the best you could get are long gone, as most of us now walk around with a GPS in our pockets, and even community science data can be reported very accurately, and more or less in real-time.

However, we have now encountered the opposite problem: the reported coordinates of organisms are often too precise to be realistic, and in the worst-case scenario, they might be borderline meaningless. The author of this study wanted to highlight how this advance in technology coupled with our eagerness to get more accurate data and results have made us too bold in our positional claims.

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Crossing the River Between Fishers and Fish Science

"We need the next generation of scientists to be at the coalface, communicating good scientific information."

Some fish scientists, like recent ASFB delegate Jarod Lyon, have regular contact with fishers who benefit from the work academics and researchers carry out on fish. But is there enough of this sort of communication between the fish science community and fishers? (Image Credit: Jarod Lyon, CC BY-SA 4.0)

When a food source provides almost half a planet with protein, you can expect the people who deliver that food source to play an important role in society. Fishing is no exception. Any country that has a marine or freshwater ecosystem in close proximity will have a fishing community, and that community can play a variety of roles, from something as simple as putting food on people’s tables to campaigning heavily to keep your country from joining the EU.

So it makes sense that fishers should have access to good fish science, at every level. If you’re a multi-million-dollar corporation, you need to know how fish stocks will respond to certain catch levels over a sustained period. If you’re a local or specialised fishing community, you need to know how available your catch will be in five years given temperature increases. And if you’re one person on a boat in a river, you might want to know how best to treat an over- or under-sized fish to ensure it survives being released.

It follows, then, that there should be open communication between fish scientists and fishers. At this year’s Australian Society of Fish Biology conference, I asked a variety of delegates a simple question: Is there open communication?

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