Friday links: the Democratic primary field as history department, changes coming to the ESA meeting, and more

Also this week: NEON vs. ecology, the death (?) of megajournals, the fox knows many things (like how to walk), and more.

From Jeremy:

Will NEON kill ecology? That’s the clickbait title of a very detailed and damning blow-by-blow history of NEON. I know nothing about NEON besides what I read in the news, so I have no context for this. Based on what little I know, I agree with the main claim–NEON has so far been a failure and looks likely to continue to be a failure, or at least a suboptimal use of NSF’s money. I would quibble with a few of the details (e.g., the notion that it’s scandalous that NEON Inc. spent a trivial amount of money on t-shirts with the NEON logo). And I disagree with the claim that if only NSF and ecologists hadn’t forgotten what a failure the IBP was, they’d never have started NEON. History does have lessons for us, but they’re never as straightforward as “anything that resembles the IBP is a waste of money” or “if it’s not hypothesis testing, it’s not worth doing”. After all, lots of people complained that the Human Genome Project was going to be an expensive, useless exercise in hypothesis-free data collection. And while the Human Genome Project was never going to live up to the more grandiose claims made for it–that it would cure cancer or whatever–I think it’s hard to argue that it was a waste of money. Very interested to hear comments from folks who know more about NEON than I do, particularly regarding the linked article’s claim that NEON was foisted on ecologists by NSF.

An overview of forthcoming changes to the ESA annual meeting. In general, I think the ESA meeting organizers do a very good job of trying new things at the meeting. The change that caught my eye is that next year in Salt Lake City the meeting will return to 15 minute time slots for oral presentations. That’s what it was back when I started attending ESA meetings back in the late ’90s, and it makes a lot of sense. Personally, I love this change, though I know the membership is split on it. I was interested to read that part of the motivation for this change is so that more conference centers are willing to host ESA. Apparently some conference centers don’t like hosting conferences with many parallel sessions relative to the overall size of the meeting. In 2020 ESA also will start charging $60 for all oral presentations, which if I understand correctly will be non-refundable and in addition to the meeting registration fee (is that right?). The goal is to encourage some people to give posters instead of talks. Other scientific societies do this, and in parallel with this change ESA is going to make some other tweaks to increase attendance and interaction at poster sessions (though personally I feel like ESA’s poster sessions are already well-attended and have lots of interaction…). But I predict the fee is going to be controversial in some quarters. It’s going to be viewed by some members as forcing students and others of less financial means to give posters rather than more “prestigious” talks.

Open access author-pays megajournals that evaluate mss only for technical soundness are declining in influence and impact by various bibliometrics. I knew that Plos One was declining but hadn’t realized that other unselective megajournals are showing similar symptoms. Most interesting to me was that papers in unselective megajournals are increasingly unlikely to cite (not just be cited by) papers in leading selective journals. (ht Retraction Watch)

A brief statistical history of ecology doctorates in the UK. Or at least of the word “ecology” in UK doctoral dissertation titles and abstracts.

The Democratic primary field as academic history department. 🙂 (ht @jtlevy)

Multa novit vulpes. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Friday links: the Democratic primary field as history department, changes coming to the ESA meeting, and more

  1. Re: Dem field in history dept. Even in satire, the scientist gets no attention: John Hickenlooper.

    Art mimics life.

    My personal experience working from the early days of NEON in Puerto Rico is that there are a lot of people who are vocally opposed and that NEON and NSF have been chronically terrible (not just bad) about building the community and engaging scientists.

    However, I think the idea that NSF forced NEON on ecology is totally off. The lessons learned from attempted meta-analysis of LTER data in the 80s-90s had already started a call for standardized data collection and protocol. There were numerous special sessions and workshops about this at that time, including ones I attended as a grad student.

    That the original NEON designs which were all things things to all people and budgetarily impossible should be no surprise. Each time NEON had to scale back due to reality it lost another segment of scientists. (“If NEON isn’t going to have acoustic recorders, it will be worthless.”) I’d say the jury is out still. Depends on NEON’s continued commitment to working with scientists, being transparent, and upholding promise to facilitating value added research.

    The ecological community is still calling for standardized large scale projects/measurements. Look at results from last year’s Coastlines and People workshops, for example.

  2. Regarding papers in unselective megajournals not citing papers in leading selective journals, I’m guessing* that’s at least partly because there’s less of a need (when publishing in these unselective journals) to place the work in context or, similarly, provide rationale for why a study matters or is timely. Papers in selective journals tend to contain results that provide such rationale and motivation.

    *I don’t have access to the paper beyond the abstract, so this is mostly an educated guess that I can’t check

    • Could be in some cases, sure. Which if so would kind of reinforce the argument that unselective megajournals are becoming a dumping ground for work that even the authors themselves don’t consider all that interesting or important.

      You could of course argue that that’s actually a valuable role for unselective megajournals to play. That there are good reasons to make sure that no science remains unpublished, not even boring or unimportant science (e.g., to minimize publication bias against negative results). I think there’s a lot to that argument.

  3. Love the idea of shortening talks. 15 minutes is plenty of time to get the main message across. I also think shorter talks make better advertisements for later networking conversations later, since a natural question is something like “How exactly did you …”. There were way too many parallel sessions at ESA for its size in recent years (its actually the second biggest reason why I don’t go! Besides the long plane trip). Long talks and many parallel sessions create smaller audiences for the talks. So I absolutely support 15-minute slots. I even think 10 or 12 min is fine. Lower than 8 and the talks get really superficial.

    If the $60 fee goes to adding free food and drink to the poster session, I don’t mind that. Cash bar could include a system where if you gather stickers from 5 posters you get a free drink, 10 posters for two free drinks. Popular posters run out of stickers which force people to go to less popular ones. I’ve seen this work at the Ecological Society of Australia Annual meeting.

    • “Cash bar could include a system where if you gather stickers from 5 posters you get a free drink, 10 posters for two free drinks. Popular posters run out of stickers which force people to go to less popular ones. I’ve seen this work at the Ecological Society of Australia Annual meeting.”

      Interesting idea!

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