Should’ve posted this earlier, but hopefully better late than never: I’m hosting a Zoom seminar at noon today from Tim Parker on the reliability of ecological knowledge and how we can improve it. Tim’s thought a lot about the “replication crisis”, whether it might apply to ecology, and what could be done about it. And also about openness, transparency, and best practices in scientific research. Tim’s going to talk for about 45 minutes, and there will be an extended discussion afterwards. All are welcome, hope you can join us. Zoom link and a brief advert below.
Speaker: Tim Parker from Whitman College in Washington State
Title: What undermines reliability in ecology and evolutionary biology and how can we improve?
Context: In a variety of empirical disciplines, the last decade has seen a growing awareness that results may be less reliable than we might hope for or expect. Although we lack precise estimates of the reliability of results in ecology and evolutionary biology, there is evidence from these disciplines of a variety of practices that undermine empirical reliability. This presentation will review this evidence and discuss proposals to increase the reliability of research in ecology and evolutionary biology.
Background: Tim Parker is a behavioral ecologist with a long standing interest in the reliability of results in ecology and evolutionary biology. He began investigating this issue more than 10 years ago, and has co-authored multiple reviews, opinion pieces, and empirical papers on this topic. He is a professor of biology and environmental studies at Whitman College in Washington State, and he is a founding member of SORTEE – the Society for Open, Reliable, and Transparent Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
I am seeking two graduate students (MSc or PhD) to start in Sept. 2022 or Jan. 2023.
For background on my lab, visit my lab website. Briefly, my own work mostly involves modeling and experiments on population and community dynamics using laboratory-based microbial model systems. But some of my students have worked in other systems, including alpine plants, plant-pollinator interactions, bean beetles, fossil bivalves, and meta-analysis of data from the literature. So whether you want to join one of the ongoing lines of research in my lab, or have your own ideas, please do get in touch.
See my research page for more on ongoing research in my lab. Current lines of research include:
Spatial synchrony of population cycles. Why do population cycles and spatial synchrony often (but not always!) seem to go hand-in-hand?
Higher order interactions and species coexistence. Are communities more than just the sum of their parts, and if so, what implications does that have for species coexistence?
The Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary has a strong group of over a dozen ecologists and evolutionary biologists, with strength in depth in evolutionary ecology, population ecology, aquatic ecology, and other areas. The department has two field stations in the mountains, next-generation sequencing facilities, access to various high-performance computing clusters, and everything else you’d expect from a big, well-equipped research university.
Grad students in the department are guaranteed a minimum of $23,000/year through a mixture of TAships, RAships, and other sources like fellowships. In practice, students in my lab make more than the departmentally-guaranteed minimum.
Calgary is a city of about 1.3 million people, 45 minutes drive from the Canadian Rockies with all the opportunities for field work and recreation that implies. I mean, look at these mountains!
If you’re interested, please email me ASAP (email@example.com). Doesn’t have to be a super-long email. Just tell me a bit about your background, interests, and long-term goals, and about what specifically attracts you to my lab, and/or Calgary more broadly. Please also include a cv, transcripts (unofficial is fine), and contact details for three references.
McMaster University recently completed its investigation into serious accusations of scientific misconduct against prominent behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt. My understanding is that Canadian universities have to notify federal scientific funding agencies of the outcomes of completed misconduct investigation, so that the funding agencies can take appropriate action. It looks like action may have been taken last week? Specifically, it looks like Pruitt may have lost his Canada 150 research chair:
Canada 150 Research Chairs are a small number of very prestigious (and well-funded) research chairs that the Canadian government funded to mark 150 years since Canadian federation. I just checked myself, and can confirm that Pruitt is no longer listed on the Canadian government’s webpage listing the Chairholders.
To which, if Pruitt has indeed lost his Canada 150 Research Chair, why has there been no public announcement? What useful purpose could possibly be served by lack of transparency around actions taken in response to a completed investigation? Conversely, is there not a public interest not only in institutions taking appropriate remedial and disciplinary actions when such actions are required, but in their being seen to do so?
UPDATE: Science’s news team followed up Nick’s tweet and got NSERC (the Canadian federal funding agency that administers the Canada 150 Chairs program) to issue a brief statement:
Click through for the full statement (it was short enough to quote in two tweets…), but the key points are that (i) McMaster did indeed inform NSERC that Pruitt has been placed on administrative leave, and (ii) NSERC has accordingly “temporarily suspended” Canada 150 Chair payments to Pruitt pending further notice from McMaster.
To which, I’m glad we now have at least a brief statement from NSERC. But why did we only get it in response to a question from a reporter from the world’s leading scientific journal? Obviously it would be silly for institutions to issue press releases about every little action they take. But personally I feel like the public interest and newsworthiness of this case rises to the level where it would be appropriate for the institutions concerned to issue public statements, without reporters having to ask for them. After all, that’s why there’ve been news stories about this case in Science that then got picked up in general media outlets like the Toronto Star and the CBC. Am I just being naive here?
And I remain mystified why McMaster still needs to provide “further notice” to NSERC. McMaster’s been investigating for 22 months. How can the investigation possibly still be at some sort of interim stage?
It’s not clear when the dissertation was withdrawn from the repository. The linked page doesn’t say, and I got no joy when I tried to figure out when the page was last modified.
I’m also not clear on the implications of this. I kind of doubt it means that Tennessee has officially rescinded Pruitt’s PhD, though I’m just guessing on that. On the other hand, it’s certainly not a vote of confidence from Tennessee in the integrity and validity of Pruitt’s dissertation research, is it? It sure would be nice to have some transparency from Tennessee on exactly what action they’ve taken and why, and whether there are any further actions pending.
UPDATE: Here’s the Tennessee repository’s official policies. The policy on withdrawal of materials says:
TRACE is meant to be a permanent scholarly record (working papers may be an exception). Once an item is deposited, a citation to it will always remain. Removing content is discouraged. However, authors may request the community manager to remove an item, except for peer-review series and journals, where removal is not allowed. No files will be removed by the TRACE administrator or community managers without author notification. If a contributor leaves the University, the material will remain in TRACE; upon request, new contact information will be added to the files.
So I guess it’s possible that the dissertation was removed from the depository at Pruitt’s request? Or that it was removed at the request of someone else and that Pruitt was notified?
UPDATE #2: Retraction Watch has a story on this. No new info, except for one small tidbit of questionable relevance: Pruitt’s Twitter bio now says he’s based in rural Florida, even though his department webpage at McMaster University is still live and he’s still listed in the department faculty listing. Not sure what to make of this, but it probably doesn’t mean anything. He’s listed as the instructor for Comparative Social Evolution during the F 2021 term, and the course is being taught virtually rather than in person, so it might just mean that he’s teaching remotely? (go here, open a search, search on subject “PSYCH” and the exact course number 3SE3) Or maybe he’s not even in rural Florida, who knows. I don’t really see how it’s relevant in any case. /end update #2
UPDATE #3: CBC News reports that, according to a UTennessee spokesperson, Pruitt still holds his PhD. /end update #3
p.s. In the unlikely event that you’re just joining us and have no idea what I’m talking about, start here and say goodbye to your day!
As most of you know, I compiled a lot of data on the pre-pandemic job market for tenure-track (TT) ecologists in the US and Canada. Obviously, the pandemic changed things. #understatement But what exactly did it change?
Some changes are obvious–no on-campus interviews during a pandemic, for instance. But it’s not so obvious if other things changed. In particular, did the pandemic make the TT ecology faculty job market more competitive?
Yes and no. The answer depends on how you define “competitive”. For the details, read on.
Note that it’s an end, not the end. Brian, Meghan, and I are going to leave the blog up. We hope and anticipate that we’ll post occasionally in the future, when we feel inspired to do so. But we’ll no longer be posting once or twice a week, never mind the near-daily posting we used to do back in the day. Many blogs these days are “slow blogs”; that’s what Dynamic Ecology will be too.
Between the pandemic, and our growing personal and professional obligations, it’s been a long time since any of us had both the time and inspiration to blog well. So Dynamic Ecology has slowly been going downhill, in terms of the number, quality, and variety of posts. That’s reflected in our traffic as well. We now get many fewer pageviews than we used to, both on a per-post basis, and in total. Our posts are no longer widely shared on social media (which may reflect changes to social media as well as to Dynamic Ecology…). We still retain many longtime readers, but other readers have gradually drifted away, and we’re no longer attracting many new readers. For a while, we hoped that all this was just a temporary state of affairs, that we’d eventually get back to normal and feel the urge to post again. But the longer any “temporary” state of affairs goes on, the more permanent it feels. The three of us talked recently, and we all agreed that it was time to read the writing on the wall. Dynamic Ecology’s never going to go back to what it was. It’s time to acknowledge that, and turn it into something else.
Dynamic Ecology has been a big part of our professional lives for the last 9+ years (yes, it’s been that long!). We’re proud of our body of work, and gratified that so many others have found it interesting, thought-provoking, inspiring, and helpful (while also recognizing that we weren’t always perfect…) And even in our current diminished blogging state, we still have a large readership, for which we’re very appreciative. It’s tremendously validating that so many of you have read, shared, and discussed our posts over the years, and we’ve learned so much from your comments. We didn’t want to let Dynamic Ecology just silently peter out, which is the fate of so many blogs. So below, we each reflect on Dynamic Ecology, and say a big THANK YOU to all of you for reading. We hope that you’ll continue to do so in future.
A few additional thoughts from Meghan:
Back when Jeremy first invited me to blog, I knew it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up, and I’m so glad I’ve had this opportunity — grateful that Jeremy reached out, grateful to Jeremy and Brian for all the conversations we’ve had over the years, and grateful to all the people who’ve read, commented on, and otherwise responded to posts I wrote over the years. Hearing from readers about a post that resonated meant so much!
So why stop? In the past, I would write posts in my head all the time — on a run, walking to daycare, during seminars. During periods where I didn’t have enough time to get them from my head into wordpress, it almost felt like I would explode for not being able to write them. Then the pandemic came.
In general, right now, what feels right for me is to focus my energy and time more locally. (I’ve also been off twitter.) Maybe that will change some time in the future but, for now, I think it’s telling that, for the first time in over a year, I found myself unable to stop my brain from trying to write a post at 2AM. It was this one.
I shall remain forever grateful to Jeremy for inviting me to join this blog and to Meghan for also agreeing to join. I knew when invited that it was one of those things that my career advisors would tell me to reject (if I asked them), but that I was going to say yes to. Hard to believe it’s been 9 years. I’ve said since the first day that the reason I blog is to have discussions with a community I could not talk with through other channels (i.e. more than my university, my colleagues and my meetings). And that has happened in spades. DE has been blessed with what is surely the best commentor community ever. I have agreed, disagreed, and learned a ton from commentors, all while having fun. And Jeremy and Meghan have become very close colleagues. So I am really glad I ignored my head and followed my heart and jumped on board!
For me the transition has been gradual. The pandemic has not helped for sure. But I had been trending to fewer posts even before. Partly other career directions (including the increased levels of service that come with advancing career stage and fun things like working on a book). Partly the shifting social media trends (twitter is where it is at these days, at least in professional academic circles, and I have no desire to move over there and honestly even felt like it robbed the blog of some of its ambience as a place for thoughtful discourse). And a big part is just that I have now already said a lot of the things I most cared about saying (question whether complex statistics are an improvement, do science for science’s sake and ignore attempts to quantify productivity, think deeply about how science works and how science is embedded in society, biodiversity is unsurprisingly showing really complex and varied responses to human impacts and if scientists want to earn credibility we have to do better than sweeping scare stories implying the world is doomed, academic careers are achievable and can be really rewarding, be kind to your peers who are mostly trying to be kind to you, and much more). Probably the thing accomplished that I’m most proud of is that I think all 3 of us did a lot to write down and decode the unwritten rules of how to succeed in academic ecology – I hope there are people still in science today that otherwise wouldn’t have been.
I’m not done done. I’ve still got random posts rattling in my head, and plan to continue to post on an occasional basis. But it is important to recognize the transition. And hence to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the community (who I hope will also continue to check back in) and to my co-bloggers.
The fox knows many things, as our pretentious tagline says. Including when to stop blogging so much.
Some readers will know that I’ve actually been blogging about ecology for even longer than Brian and Meghan–almost 11 years. At this point, I think you have what Meghan calls “old school science cred” if you read my work for Oikos Blog. 🙂 Blogging’s been my main professional identity for years now. At in-person conferences (remember them?), most everyone I meet, friends and strangers alike, compliments me on Dynamic Ecology or else apologizes for not reading it. So you might be surprised to learn that I’m not sad about closing this chapter of my professional life. Indeed, I’m a bit surprised myself to discover that I’m not sad! It feels like the right time to stop–like a retirement.
One small indicator that it’s the right time: I have no urge to go back and total up all the posts we’ve written, all the pageviews and comments we’ve gotten, etc. I know the ballpark figures without having to look–we’ve written 2000ish posts and gotten millions of pageviews. But I can’t be arsed to look up the exact values. I’m sure longtime readers will agree that, when I no longer feel like compiling any data to make my point, something has clearly changed for me. 🙂
So I’m not sad, and I hope you’re not either. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to start blogging, I tried my best to make the most of it, I had a blast doing so, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from others, and hopefully I’ve had some net-positive influence on ecology. Oh, and last but most: I now count Meghan and Brian as two of my closest colleagues and best friends in ecology. What more can anyone ever ask for, professionally? And who knows, maybe one of these years I’ll finish the book I’ve been trying to write–the ideas for which all grew out of my blogging. Dynamic Ecology is over, at least in its current form, but its legacy will hopefully live on for a little while yet.
I’ve been on a music kick lately, so I’ll leave you with this. It feels apropos.