Are you planning to get creative with your prerecorded #ESA2020 presentation?

The 2020 ESA meeting will be a virtual meeting, with prerecorded talks and posters being uploaded to the meeting website for asynchronous viewing and asynchronous Q&A.

I’ve been thinking about how to get creative and take full advantage of the format. I mean, it’d be fine to just record myself talking about my slides in Zoom. But I feel like there must be ways to do better than that. Ideally ways that would be fun for me as well as for the audience, and that wouldn’t be too much additional work for me.

One idea I had was to let my student give part of the talk. The work I’ll be talking about involves an undergraduate summer research assistant. It wouldn’t be hard for us each to give part of the talk and then splice it all into a single video. A joint talk wouldn’t be possible during a normal ESA meeting, obviously. So it feels like a good way to make the best of a bad situation.

If I was doing a talk that could be given as a “chalk talk”, and I had access to a lightboard, I’d totally film a lightboard talk. (But I’m not, and I don’t, so I won’t.)

What about posters? Is there anything fun and useful you can do with a digital poster, that’s not possible with a physical poster? What about incorporating animated gifs into the poster?

I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of the possibilities here. What are your best creative ideas for prerecorded #ESA2020 presentations?



The most, and least, influential calls for future research in ecology

Many papers in ecology (and other fields) end with calls for future research. Sometimes those calls are vague as to exactly what future research is needed. Other times they’re calls to pursue very specific research programs.

Speaking as someone who has concluded papers with calls for future research, I have mixed feelings about such calls. On the one hand, new grad students love it when papers identify knowledge gaps, because the dissertation proposal writes itself. On the other hand, I feel like many calls for future research are basically useless (some of mine very much included!) “There are still things we don’t know about X, so further research is needed” is always true, for any X, and so is a totally unhelpful thing to say. After all, nobody ever writes “We now know everything there is to know about X; no further research is needed”! Plus, calls for future research are so numerous that many (most?) of them are bound to be ignored. We’re not short on ideas for future research! So surely only a tiny fraction of calls for future research are likely to be heeded by any substantial number of readers.

Hence my question: what are the most influential calls for future research in the history of ecology? Are there any cases where somebody called for research on X, and then a bunch of other people went out and did that research?

Conversely, what are the least influential calls for future research in the history of ecology? The topics on which people have repeatedly called for future research, only to be repeatedly ignored (hence the repeated calls!) At the ASN meeting in Asilomar a few months ago, Christopher Moore pointed out that theoreticians have spent decades calling for more models of the population dynamics of mutualists. So that’s a candidate for “least successful call for future research in the history of ecology”.



Does publication of a meta-analysis encourage or discourage further studies?

Weird question: is there any data on how publication of a meta-analysis affects the rate at which subsequent researchers publish effect size estimates that could have been included in that meta-analysis? For instance, after someone publishes a meta-analysis of the effect of [thing] on [other thing], do subsequent researchers do fewer studies of the effect of [thing] on [other thing] than they otherwise would have? Perhaps thinking that we now know the answer, so it’s time to move on to studying something else.

Or maybe not. After all, lots of factors affect individual researcher decisions on what studies to conduct, besides “has this topic already been meta-analyzed?” And there certainly are cases in ecology in which a meta-analysis was followed years later by a second meta-analysis on the same topic, incorporating new studies that were published after the first meta-analysis.

It would be hard to prove causality here. For instance, if a meta-analysis is published, and subsequent researchers publish few studies of that topic, well, maybe that’s because interest in the topic was starting to wind down anyway. It didn’t wind down because the meta-analysis was published.

Anyone know of any data on this?

I ask about this because I’m interested in what drives the collective waxing and waning of research effort on a given topic.


Saturday blast from the past: helping grad students prepare for non-academic careers

What can individual graduate supervisors, and departments, do to help graduate students prepare for non-academic careers? Anne Krook is a former academic; here’s her excellent advice. Sample quote, to encourage you to click through:

There aren’t many academic jobs, relative to the number of people who want one—but the path to them is straight, narrow, and knowable. In a perverse way, that is comforting to many graduate students and makes them anxious about leaving academia. There are many more non-academic jobs than academic jobs, but there is no single, straight, narrow, knowable path to one.

Ask us (well, Brian and Jeremy) anything!

Every year we invite readers to ask us anything. So, here you go!

Leave your questions in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to reply as soon as we’re able. Past questions have concerned everything from the design of the perfect intro biostats course, to our darkest professional moments, to whether there’s a place for “hot takes” in ecology, to the most interesting ecological claim that we’d bet our lives on.

Note that Meghan rarely answers AUAs; her blogging muse finds inspiration elsewhere. So the “us” in “ask us anything” is “me and Brian”.

What, if any, are the circumstances in which the authors’ background or expertise should inform journal publication decisions? (UPDATED)

Here is a Science news article on the recent retraction of high-profile papers on COVID-19 treatment. The retractions are for dodgy data that came from dodgy doctor Sepan Desai (see here for further background). I was struck by this comment on the situation in the Science news article from former NEJM EiC Jerome Kassirer:

Desai, Mehra, and Patel had never before published together, and that should have been a red flag to any journal, says Jerome Kassirer, editor-in-chief of NEJM during the 1990s. Co-authors of high-profile papers normally share subject area expertise or have clear professional ties, he says, calling the collaboration of the apparently disparate individuals “completely bizarre.”

The trend in ecology and evolution is towards double-blind peer review. But Kassirer’s comments suggest that there are rare circumstances in which it might be informative for reviewers to know the authors’ identities. Or that there are rare circumstances in which editors should take author identities into account in their decision-making, even if the author identities aren’t revealed to the reviewers.

What do others think of this? I’ve only just started to think about it myself, so here are my tentative thoughts:

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