Small step for scientists, large leap for science communication

It’s said that many hands make light work, but could that be true for science communication too? In an opinion piece in PNAS that came out last week (Kuehne and Olden 2015 http://www.pnas.org/content/112/12/3585.full ), we propose that lay summaries – published online alongside traditional abstracts – are an efficient and needed science communication option in a changing media landscape. Communication of research is undergoing radical and rapid change through ever-increasing reliance on the internet, resulting in a shift from traditional top-down knowledge transfers to a “media ecosystem” (see figure below). Within this ecosystem, widespread adoption of lay summaries could substantially bolster current science communication efforts by creating reliable and direct pathways between scientists and diverse audiences including journalists, policymakers, resource managers, and the general public. We argue that it wouldn’t hurt interdisciplinary communication between scientists either! PNAS 2015 Mar 112(12) 3585-6, Fig. 1

Although lay summaries should enhance science communication across all disciplines, the need for broadly accessible research results is paramount in ecology and the environment. So we are taking this opportunity to urge journal editors and publishers in these fields to provide the platform for publication and incorporate requirement of lay summaries into their peer-review process.  If you support the inclusion of online lay summaries we hope that you’ll join us in signing an open letter http://washington.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bQIXBWeha7Aeahv to major ecology and environmental journals which will be sent on April 10th.

Thanks!

Lauren Kuehne and Julian Olden

University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

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Science communication in grad school: should you or shouldn’t you?

Taking part in education and outreach events: time well spent or a distraction on the way to a thesis?

Science communication in graduate school: time well spent or a distraction on the way to a thesis?

Spoiler alert: I am going to try to persuade you that all graduate students should engage in science communication.  In fact, our Freshwater Ecology & Conservation lab – made up of 3 master’s and 2 PhD students, 1 post-doc, 1 research scientist, and 1 early career professor – wrote a hot-off-the-press journal article in Conservation Biology about how graduate students can (and should) do science communication. But we know that grad students don’t have time to read any more papers, so a “Cliff Notes” version seemed in order.

If you are reading this blog, you may know something about science communication, by which I mean (very generally) talking about research to audiences other than scientists. Maybe you even have an opinion about it, something like “I wish I knew how to do that better”, or “If only I wasn’t so busy”. Or maybe you already dislike this post, because “I’m still learning how to DO science – I’ll figure out communicating it later!” Continue reading

A year in the lives of early career ecologists

Sorry we’ve been MIA for a while, but it turns out we actually have been in action – and plenty of it. An update on what’s been happening with ECE is overdue, but we thought it was also a good opportunity to ask: “What ARE early career ecologists doing when they aren’t blogging about their research?”. Since we are scientists, a graph was in order (Fig. 1), so you can examine the data yourself. Continue reading

From the Field to the Hill: ESA Graduate Student Policy Award Congressional Visit Day

Left: Caitlin in Peru (photo credit Jess Goldman), Right: Caitlin on the Hill with the Massachusetts-Colorado BESC pack (Left to Right: Paul Tanger, Rebecca Certner, Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, Jennifer Rood; photo credit Julie Palakovich Carr)

Left: Caitlin in Peru (photo credit Jess Goldman), Right: Caitlin on the Hill with the Massachusetts-Colorado BESC pack (Left to Right: Paul Tanger, Rebecca Certner, Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, Jennifer Rood; photo credit Julie Palakovich Carr)

By Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie

In April, I had the honor of visiting the Congressional offices of my home state Massachusetts to lobby on behalf of science funding.  I spent Monday morning tromping between snow drifts off the coast of Maine, but by Tuesday evening I was wandering under cherry blossoms along Washington DC’s tidal basin in a T-shirt.  I was a week into my field season monitoring flowering phenology in Acadia National Park, but I had traded my down jacket and LL Bean boots for a pencil skirt and pumps, hopped on a tiny eight-seated Cessna at the Bar Harbor airport, and flown to Washington DC as an Ecological Society of America (ESA) Graduate Student Policy Award recipient. Continue reading

An Early Career Ecologist in The NY Times = Science Communication at its Best

A toy wagon transports scientific equipment to Toolik Field Station on the North Slope of Alaska (parked here beneath the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline). Photo Credit: Mike SanClements, 2012.

Field work is often the basis of ecological research. It allows researchers to directly assess the natural world and its many complexities. It also gives us access to many things we rarely encounter in our daily lives . . . Adventure? Definitely. Awesome landscapes? Duh. The Arctic? Yep. Wait, what? No, way. Who works in the Arctic? Now, that’s worth writing home about!

And, that is precisely what one of our very own ecologists, Dr. Mike SanClements, did following his most recent trip to the Toolik Field Station in Alaska’s Arctic Tundra. Check out his field notes on his adventures in climate change research via The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog: Creating a Vital Long View for Gauging Environmental Change. The best science (and scientist) is pounding the pavement and communicating with the masses. Go, Mike!

Forty years after “The Limits to Growth”: A focus on global food production

Satellite images by Earth Observatory (2006); composition by WK Smith (2012).

By Bill Smith

“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.  Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio.  A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.” 

Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, (1798)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the seminal book The Limits to Growth, which details the first, global-scale computer model (developed by researchers at MIT) to analyze the potential future outcomes of unchecked economic and population growth in a world of limited resources.  The main factors considered by the analysis included world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion.  The take-home conclusion of the analysis was simple: if we control growth and resource consumption, a “stabilized world” is achievable (Figure 1a); if growth and consumption continues unchecked, “overshoot and collapse” is the only system response (Figure 1b).  So how has humanity responded since the publication of this thought-provoking, anxiety-inducing analysis …

Continue reading

Early Career Ecologist Profile: Meet Nate Hough-Snee

The Arctic Ocean outside of Kaktoviak, AK, USA 2006.

I have always struggled to describe the rise of my interest in ecology or how I became an ecologist. At this point, asking me why and how I became an ecologist is kind of like asking a backcountry snowboarder why he or she is checking the weather every 30 minutes. Ecological research and restoration have become a part of my identity – it’s just what I wake up thinking about. Oddly though, I never really anticipated that things would turn out this way. Eventually, I ended up in the woods, on the river and out in the muskeg. To narrate this I’ll focus on a few anecdotes that, in hindsight, determined the R-squared of how I became an ecologist. Continue reading