This week, a syndicated article appeared across a number of online media platforms under various different headlines. It covers the doomsday insect apocalypse narrative and appears to cast doubt on the issue of insect decline, largely blaming media and ‘activists’ for promoting the hype. The author links to my blog posts on the insect apocalypse, my BioScience paper co-authored with Jasmine Janes & James O’Hanlon, and my American Scientist article as evidence against the hype, and some sections paraphrase or directly quote from my work. To the average reader, it could appear that I have talked to the author, and that I endorse the article. I did not, I do not, and I was not aware the article was being written.Continue reading
More on insect conservation
A few recent panels on insect conservation I’ve contributed to:
Off Track – great program on ABC’s Radio National (Australia) telling stories of nature. This week, the program featured myself and a couple of other Aussie invertebrate experts, Kate Umbers and Nick Porch. We talk about insect conservation in Australia, as well as challenges facing conservation policy and action in Australia more generally.
LISTEN to Off Track: Conserving small things on a big scale
British Ecological Society – the society recently ran a number of events as part of National Insect Week and the Edinburgh Science Festival in the UK. I contributed to an excellent panel discussion on the Insect Apocalypse and insect conservation, along with Adam Hart, Nick Isaac, and Ashleigh Whiffin.
WATCH the panel: Insectageddon: is global insect extinction real?
What the windscreen anecdote tells us about science
The windscreen anecdote has been doing the rounds on social media again.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about why this anecdote is not reliable evidence of insect population trends.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it goes a little something like this. “When I was a kid we would drive long distances for holidays and get bugs all over the windscreen. I don’t see any bugs on the windscreen anymore, therefore….” The interpretation, whether implied or stated explicitly, is that this is yet more evidence that a global insect decline is happening.
There are obvious flaws in this assumption, but the anecdote still strikes a chord with so many people, perhaps through some kind of confirmation bias. We know that biodiversity is in trouble, we know humans are having damaging effects on the environment, so it must be true, right?Continue reading
A lot happened last year.
Twelve months ago I’d been breathing bushfire smoke for months and I was struggling with despair and anxiety (personal and empathetically global) over Australia’s devastating bushfire summer, after our hottest and driest year on record, and the lack of responsible climate action our government maintains.
Now, we’re on track to have experienced one of the wettest years on record for our region, with some areas flooding in recent months, others seeing welcome regrowth in farms, forests and gardens. After severe drought and bushfires, some places may not find the sudden deluge so exciting. While our new garden is loving the conditions, our garage has suffered some minor flooding as the dehydrated clay soils slowly drown under the weight of water. (Nice reminder that climate change brings rapidly changing extremes, not static increases or decreases.)
In between, we’ve suffered from pandemic anxieties, losses and inconveniences, along with the rest of the world.Continue reading
Admin: drowning, not waving
I worked in admin before my science career, in many roles, in many sectors. I’ve worked as a corporate receptionist, oversaw corporate communications, worked in document control for engineering consultancies, and managed content translation requests for university students with learning disabilities. I’ve been co-managing an unfunded citizen science project for more than six years.
So I’m no stranger to admin and I have no grudge against admin professionals – they are essential!
But, in some cases, the admin sagas that academics are forced to star in are a bit much.
Universities hire admin staff. Even within our own departments, academics generally have access to department-specific admin, finance and technical professionals. So why is so much of an academic’s time taken up with enforced admin, when it’s not technically part of their job description, and they’re not trained to deliver the desired admin outcomes?Continue reading
Why common names are essential for bee conservation
This is a guest post by Dr Tobias Smith, a bee ecologist and stingless bee expert at University of Queensland. He founded Bee Aware Brisbane and is also on the board of Wild Pollinators Oceania. Tobias is one of Australia’s leading native bee experts and has published an easy to use identification key to Australian bee genera, which you can download for free here. Effective communication plays a key role in conservation of bees (and biodiversity generally), a topic Tobias and I have published on before.
Lately on social media I have seen some spread of the idea that common names for bee species are detrimental to the science and conservation of bees and so should be avoided. I disagree, and in fact I regard common names as a vital part of bee conservation. Let me explain why.
First of all, let’s look at scientific naming, using Australia’s two biggest bee species as an example, Xylocopa (Koptortosoma) aruana and Xylocopa (Koptortosoma) lieftincki. These are big (males up to 26mm in length, females up to 22–23mm in length) beautiful, furry, yellow and black bees. These bees have the genus name Xylocopa. In Australia there are eight known Xylocopa species, but there are hundreds more found around the world. The second name, Koptortosoma, is the subgenus name. It tells us which part of the evolutionary tree of Xylocopa these bees are in.Continue reading
No evidence of seasonal blog post views in the southern hemisphere: response to Leather (2020) and Ollerton (2020)
Leather (2020) and Ollerton (2020) both suggest that views of insect-related blog posts are associated with seasonal factors.
Here I show there is no evidence that this is worldwide phenomenon, with data from the southern hemisphere (n = 1).Continue reading
Does science need press releases?
It’s increasingly common to see universities publishing press releases about newly published papers from academics. This practice emerged a few decades ago and originally seemed to be associated with health and medical research (educated guess, not sure there are any data on this).
But it has since spread more widely to many other disciplines. Ecology journals are now doing it; some ask you to submit a mandatory media summary with your manuscript ‘just in case’ (most authors will never get a media request). Some of the Big Famous journals operate on a strict authoritarian embargo system, to ensure the author doesn’t exercise their right to talk to people about their own research.Continue reading
Academia isn’t all bad, and a PhD is definitely worth it
I read this recent Thesis Whisperer post a few times, and it troubled me. Then they posted this follow-up post doubling down on the original argument denouncing academic writing.
Comments aren’t allowed on the Thesis Whisperer blog, so I’m writing here. I really think these posts send negative messaging to prospective (and current) PhDs. Do read the original posts, but here’s a quick summary of how I interpreted the Thesis Whisperer’s argument:
(i) the way we do PhDs needs to change;
(ii) we should galvanise PhD students to go against the norms of academia to get the personal outcome they want.
(iii) academic writing is ritualised and archaic and it “sucks”.
From a distance, this general argument might resonate. Yes, as with most sectors, there are many ways the past is holding academia back.
I agree, PhD students need to make sure they get what they need out of the 3 or more years they spend on the PhD.
But PhDs are definitely still “a degree worth having”. They will always provide the opportunity for graduates to develop a unique set of skills and expertise that are useful for academic and non-academic careers.Continue reading
New paper: Conceptual ambiguity and ecosystem disservices
Just published in Journal of Applied Ecology: Conceptual ambiguity hinders measurement and management of ecosystem disservices.
Ecosystem services is one of the most misunderstood scientific concepts. Ambiguity and confusion can be a real barrier to establishing a new scientific concept or field of research. Ecosystem services is still a young discipline (formalised in the 1990s based on a much longer heritage) and is often misrepresented as being a purely economic concept that is damaging to biodiversity conservation and ecological science. This couldn’t be further from the truth, yet this misguided opinion consistently gets regular airtime and clouds broader understanding of the relevance of ecosystem services to research, policy, and land management.
The term ecosystem disservices was first used to address an early criticism of the ES concept, i.e. that ES was largely focused on benefits and overlooked the ecological reality that nature sometimes harms us. This is a valid issue that must be addressed in any ES approach. But, as we argued a few years’ ago, creating a false dichotomy around opposing terms is not the most effective way to solve this problem.Continue reading