Ecology, do we have a problem?

Last week many of us were at the Ecology Across Borders meeting in Ghent, catching up with friends, making new friends, and listening to talks about the latest ecological science. Many of us, of course, were also following social media. On the statistics social media scene a lot of attention was being paid to a post on Medium by Kristian Lum: Statistics, we have a problem. In it she recounts being harassed by two senior statisticians (both of whom have subsequently been publicly identified). The events she describes are appalling, and she has my sympathy, and my admiration for having the courage to speak out.

Kristian’s story is not an isolated incident in science. Over the last few years there has been a drip, drip, drip of stories of bad behaviour and abuse in academia (some of which are summarised here, for example), in the office, when doing field work, and at conferences. But it seems likely that this is only the tip of the iceberg: a lot of women do not report having been harassed, for a variety of reasons. Much of the harassment and bad behavior that is reported is by men towards more junior women, which exacerbates the emotional pressures by adding a fear of retaliation. Even when a report is taken seriously and a perpetrator found guilty, the punishment is often wrapped in a flurry of non-disclosure agreements.

All these stories make me worry about ecology, as a discipline. Whilst I am not aware of any accusations of harassment at our meetings, I can’t see why ecology should be different from other disciplines. My own experience of ecology meetings has been positive, but I have been lucky, and to a large extent this is probably a result of me being male. It seems unlikely that all ecologists are saints. What worries me is that there stories of harassment in ecology, but they haven’t been made public yet. Does this mean that there are issues that we, as a community, will have to face when we find out that some of our biggest names shouldn’t be a part of a scientific discipline that wants to encourage diversity?

At the end of her post, Kristian has a call to arms:

We need to start holding prominent individuals accountable for how their inappropriate behavior negatively impacts the careers of their junior colleagues. I’m saying this publicly because whenever I have shared these stories privately with my colleagues, both men and women, they are appalled. It is time for us to be publicly and openly appalled, not just attempting to tactfully deflect inappropriate advances and privately warning other women. We need to remove the power of the “open secret” that these people use to take advantage of their respected positions in our field. We know who these people are, and we should stop tolerating this culture of harassment, or else we become complicit in it.

I agree: we should be publicly and openly appalled. But we also need to go beyond being appalled. We have to make it clear that this sort of behaviour should not be tolerated. We have to actively support people who come forward with allegations of harassment and make sure that they are heard and taken seriously. We also have to make it clear to people when they have crossed the line.

Now, though, ecological societies are starting to act. The British Ecological Society does have a Code of Conduct for events, and if anyone wants to report harassment or other unacceptable behaviour, they can report it to Amy Everard. The ESA has their own Code of Conduct, and an email address to report misconduct during or following an ESA event. I am confident that both organisations will take any complaints seriously (I know the BES will, having discussed this with them).

So here we are – I feel that we need people to speak out. But the whole problem is one where it is difficult to do this – there are feelings of guilt, shame and fear, and many of the people who need to be talked about have power. But it cannot be the fault of the person who has been harassed, and most people will be supportive.

Peer Review Week: Should we use double blind peer review? The evidence…

Non-blind Peer Review Monster

This week is Peer Review Week, the slightly more popular academic celebration than pier review week. Peer review is an essential part of scientific publication and is – like Churchill’s democracy – the worst system to do it. Except for all of the others. The reason it’s imperfect is mainly that it’s done by people, so there is a natural desire to try to improve it.

One suggestion for improvement is to us double blind reviews. At the moment most journals (including Methods in Ecology and Evolution) use single blind reviewing, where the author isn’t told the identity of the reviewers. The obvious question is whether double blind reviewing does actually improve reviews: does it reduce bias, or improve quality? There have been several studies in several disciplines which have looked at this and related questions. After having looked at them, my summary is that double blind reviewing is fairly popular, but makes little or no difference to the quality of the reviews, and reviewers can often identify the authors of the papers.

Continue reading

The Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5th Anniversary Impact Factor

Thomson-Reuters have just released this year’s Impact Factors. The Methods in Ecology and Evolution Impact Factor is now an astounding 6.554, up from a truly dismal 5.322 last year. We now have enough years of Impact Factors to make it worthwhile drawing a graph.


The Methods in Ecology and Evolution Impact Factor goes up and up (…except when it doesn’t).

This puts us ninth in Ecology, and we would be fifth in Evolutionary Biology if Thomson-Reuters thought we published stuff in Evolutionary Biology. We would also be top in Statistics and Substance Abuse if we could get ourselves into either of those categories. Continue reading

Our New Impact Factor (or why the five year impact factor is much much much more important)

Yesterday Thomson-Reuters finally released their impact factors for 2013. And ours is …


Which has gone down by 0.602 from last year. This also means we’ve moved down to 15th in the Ecology rankings. And what is worse is that the Journal of Ecology has overtaken us!

Impact factors are notorious for only covering 2 years of citations, which is not a long time in ecology. Our five year impact factor is 6.587, which puts us 9th in ecology, and ABOVE JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY. This is only from 4 years of publication of MEE, so we’re even giving everyone else a head start.

What can we conclude from this? Clearly, the 2 year impact factor is not adequately capturing the performance of ecological journals and the 5 year impact factor is a far, far superior measure of performance. Anyone who suggests differently must be in the pay of Big-JIF.

Alternatively, it suggests that we are still doing well as a journal: our papers are getting cited, and presumably read (but see Know-Thine-Own-Self Results). Having good metrics like the (5-year) impact factor is nice, but these are a reflection of quality, not the quality itself. There is more than one way that research can have an impact, which is why we are happy to continue to have Altmetric scores on all of our papers.

Altmetrics: how was the trial for you?

Last May we started a trial with Altmetric, using their tools to track the online presence of papers, e.g. on Twitter, blogs, and Facebook. Each paper gets an Altmetric score, which is updated as more data comes in. So, for example, this paper currently has a score of 42 (and boy will I be upset with myself if this blog post pushes it higher than 42). If you click on the score, you go to a page with the breakdown. We didn’t get any papers into the Altmetric Top 100, alas. But which MEE paper has the highest Altmetric score (at the time of writing this)?: Calculating the ecological impacts of animal-borne instruments on aquatic organisms (which has an accompanying video and press release).

Anyway, the trial is now coming to its end, so we want some feedback. Have you found the Altmetric scores useful? Have they been interesting? We would be interested in any feedback (please comment below), and Wiley also have a quick survey they probably want you to fill in.

Be nice to vandals, and they won’t be vandals?

Sometimes you read a paper and think “ooh, that’s cool”. As an editor you get the added delight that it’s a manuscript submitted to your journal, so you get to think “ooh, I really want to have that in the journal”. This is followed by “I hope it’s good enough”. At Methods we’ve just published one of those manuscripts where that was my reaction. And it was good enough.
Continue reading

Join one of our sister journals

J. Applied Ecology coverIn case you haven’t seen this over the past few days, the Journal of Applied Ecology wants a new Senior Editor. The job will be to work with the other Editors “to determine journal strategy and to increase the reputation and quality of the Journal, in addition to making decisions on around 1000 manuscripts submitted each year”. If it’s anything like MEE, it is a lot of fun. The bread and butter work of deciding on papers is surprisingly interesting: you get to read a lot about a whole variety of things, and most submissions are interesting in one way or another.

If you are interested, there are more details on the BES site, and the job description is available as a PDF. If you want to apply, send a CV and cover letter to Andrea Baier, Deputy Head of Publications, explaining what you have to offer to the Journal and how you would develop it in the next three years. If you’re not sure about how to develop the journal, just write “we’ll watch Methods in Ecology and Evolution and copy whatever they do”. You’ll be bound to get the job.

Journal Triathlon

The Journal Triathalon
Those of you who have looked carefully at the MEE submission system will know that, like a lot of other journals, we use the ScholarOne software to organise our review process. ScholarOne (who are owned by Thomson-Reuters: suppliers of Impact Factors to the gentry since 1975) have decided to run a Journal Triathlon this autumn. So, they are asking for nominations for journals in three categories:

  • Swimming (Agility) — how quickly and easily a journal is able to validate that they’re accepting the right papers for their journal.
    (Nominations 9th-23rd Sep. Voting 24th Sep-7th Oct)
  • Biking (Speed) — how a journal has implemented ways that increase their efficiency.
    (Nominations 8th-21st Oct. Voting 22nd Oct-4th Nov)
  • Running (Endurance) — how a journal seamlessly adapts their processes to stay competitive in this ever-changing industry.
    (Nominations 5th-18th Nov. Voting 19th Nov-2nd Dec)

You can read about the competition on the competition’s webpage, and also on their blog. You can also nominate a journal on the webpage, or vote for us as the greatest journal in the world.
Continue reading