R-Ladies: For More Balance in the R Community!

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceForBetter. So, we decided that we’d like to take this opportunity to promote an organisation that supports and empowers women and gender minorities in STEM fields that still suffer from underrepresentation. As a journal, we publish a lot of articles on software and code that are used in the study of different fields in ecology and evolutionary biology. We have a wide audience of R coders and R users who follow us on social media and read our blog. With that in mind, R-Ladies seemed like a fairly obvious group for us to promote…

Post provided by MAËLLE SALMON and HANNAH FRICK, two members of the R-LADIES GLOBAL TEAM.

What is R-Ladies?

R-Ladies is a global grassroots organisation whose aim is to promote gender diversity in the R community. The R community suffers from an underrepresentation of gender minorities (including but not limited to cis/trans women, trans men, non-binary, genderqueer, agender). This can be seen in every role and area of participation: leaders, package developers, conference speakers, conference participants, educators, users (see recent stats). What a waste of talent!

As a diversity initiative, the mission of R-Ladies is to achieve proportionate representation by encouraging, inspiring, and empowering people of genders currently underrepresented in the R community. So our primary focus is on supporting minority gender R enthusiasts to achieve their programming potential. We’re doing this by building a collaborative global network of R leaders, mentors, learners, and developers to help and encourage individual and collective progress worldwide. Continue reading

Code-Based Methods and the Problem of Accessibility

Post provided by Jamie M. Kass, Matthew E. Aiello-Lammens, Bruno Vilela, Robert Muscarella, Cory Merow and Robert P. Anderson

The namesake of our software and founder of the field of biogeography, Alfred Russel Wallace. Photo ©G. W. Beccaloni

The namesake of our software and founder of the field of biogeography, Alfred Russel Wallace. Photo ©G. W. Beccaloni

In ecology, new methods are increasingly being accompanied by code, and sometimes even full command-line software packages (usually in R). This is great, as it makes analyses more reproducible and transparent, which is essential for the development of open science. In an ideal world, code would have informative annotation, generalized functions for multipurpose use, and be written in a legible and consistent manner. After all, the code may be used by ecologists with a wide range of programming experience.

In reality, code is often poorly commented (or not commented at all!), hard to reuse for other projects, and difficult to interpret. To add to that, most code isn’t actively maintained, so users are on their own if they try to commandeer it for new purposes. Further, ecologists with little or no programming knowledge are unlikely to benefit from methods that exist only as poorly documented code. In a positive development, some new methods are accessible through software with graphic user interfaces (GUIs) developed by programmers spending significant time and effort. But too often these end up as tools with flashy controls and insufficient instruction manuals. Continue reading

Policy on Publishing Code Virtual Issue

In January 2018, Methods in Ecology and Evolution launched a Policy on Publishing Code. The main objective of this policy is to make sure that high quality code is readily available to our readers. set out four key principles to help achieve this, as well as explaining what code outputs we publish, giving some examples of things that make it easier to review code, and giving some advice on how to store code once it’s been published.

To help people to understand how to meet the guidelines and principles of the new policy, a group of our Applications Associate Editors (Nick Golding, Sarah Goslee, Tim Poisot and Samantha Price) have put together a Virtual Issue of Applications articles published over the past couple of years that have followed at least one aspect of the guidelines particularly well. Continue reading

Ending the Terror of R Errors

Post provided by Paul Mensink

Last year, I introduced R to petrified first-year biology students in a set of tutorials. I quickly realised that students were getting bogged down in error messages (even on very simple tasks), so most of my time was spent jumping between students like a wayward Markov chain. I would often find a desperate face at the end of a raised hand looking hopelessly towards their R console muttering some version of “What the $%# does this mean?”. I instantly morphed from teacher to translator and our class progress was slower than a for-loop caught in the second Circle.

Error messages are often not very helpful

Error messages are often not very helpful

Fast forward to Ecology Across Borders last December in Ghent, where rOpenSci and special interest groups from the BESGfÖ and NecoV  and Methods in Ecology and Evolution  co-hosted a pre-conference R hackathon. I was elated to see that one of the challenges was focused on translating R error messages into “Plain English” (thanks to @DanMcGlinn for the original suggestion!). Continue reading

Ecology Hackathon at Ecology Across Borders 2017

Post provided by Gergana Daskalova

Brainstorming ideas at the Ecology Hackathon in Ghent.

Brainstorming ideas at the Hackathon.

Imagine an ecologist. Now imagine a programmer. Did you imagine the same person? If you were at the Ecology Hackathon on the day before the Ecology Across Borders (#EAB2017) conference in Ghent, Belgium (a joint conference between the BES, GFÖ, NecoV and EEF), you probably did (or at least we hope you did!).

Ecology is becoming increasingly quantitative and, as a result, we can add one more item on our daily to do lists as scientists:

  • Think of questions
  • Go on fieldwork / run simulations
  • Supervise students
  • Meet with our own supervisors
  • Teach
  • Write articles and review manuscripts
  • Answer emails
  • And now code as well

A Coding Community

Coding doesn’t need to be a lonely activity – one of the areas where it truly shines is collaborative coding. This can take us across borders and bring us together to figure out the best way to answer our research questions. That is exactly what the EAB Ecology Hackathon set out to do. Continue reading