Uncommon Ground

Academics, biodiversity, genetics, & evolution

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Good news for Channel Island foxes

Channel Island foxes

National Park Service photo via Wikimedia (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Urocyon_littoralis_pair.jpg)

San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, and Santa Catalina Island are each home to a subspecies of Urocyon littoralis, a small fox about the size of a house cat. The species was included as one of a number of species for which endangered species listing was “possibly appropriate” in 1982 (http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/federal_register/fr650.pdf). By 2000, there were only 15 individuals on San Miguel, 15 on Santa Rosa, and 55 on Santa Cruz, and the four subspecies were listed as endangered on March 5, 2004.

On September 12, only a little more than 12 years after they were listed, the fox subspecies on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz will be removed from the endangered species list and the subspecies on Santa Catalina will be reclassified as threatened (https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-08-12/pdf/2016-18778.pdf). There are now between 700 and 2100 individuals on the islands where subspecies are being removed from the list.

Foxes on Santa Catalina Island — a tourist destination — also are recovering but not as fast as their counterparts on the northern Channel Islands. Their numbers plummeted in the 1990s after an outbreak of canine distemper, presumably brought over from the mainland.

Federal officials downgraded the status of the Catalina foxes from endangered to threatened because disease outbreak remains a concern. (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-channel-island-foxes-20160811-snap-story.html)

It’s not often we have good news about endangered species. My thanks and congratulations go out to everyone involved in bringing these animals back from the brink of extinction.

USGS topographic maps from National Geographic

Coventry, CT - USGS 7.5 minute quad National Geographic has made available nearly all of the topographic quadrangle maps from the US Geological Survey as PDF download.

They are pre-packaged using the standard 7.5 minute, 1:24,000 base but with some twists:

  • Page 1 is an overview map showing the Quad in context
  • Pages 2 through 5 are the standard USGS Quads cut in quarters to fit on standard printers
  • Hillshading has been added to each page of the PDF to help visualize the topography

I use regularly use a GPS when I’m in unfamiliar territory, but it is even better to have a topographic map to refer to. I’m delighted to have found this resource.

Printable USGS PDF Quads from National Geographic

Climate change neoskepticism

Paul Stern and colleagues1 use the term “neoskepticism” to describe the view that although climate change is real and although humans are responsible for much of it, the costs of attempting to reduce or mitigate it exceed the benefits.

[N]eoskepticism accepts the existence of [anthropogenic climate change] but advocates against urgent mitigation efforts on various grounds, such as that climate models run “too hot” or are too uncertain to justify anything other than “no-regrets” policies as having net benefits. Mainstream climate scientists are well aware of uncertainty in climate projections. But neoskeptics’ citing of it to justify policy inaction marks a shift of focus in climate debates from the existence of ACC to its import and to response options.

The problem, of course, is that uncertainty is a double-edged sword. It’s possible that the impacts of climate change won’t be as bad as current (mean) projections, but it’s also possible that they will be far worse. Worse yet, the longer we wait to mitigate impacts, the more difficult and expensive it will be to prevent them. In response, they argue both for more attention to decision sciences and to the science of science communication. Both are certainly needed. But they also focus only on part of the science communication that’s needed, the part having to do with facts about costs, benefits, and risks of action or inaction.

As scientists, we pay too little attention to the emotional aspects of persuasion involved in guiding public policy, and here I’m not talking about appeals to “your children and grandchildren” or “our fellow creatures.” I’m talking about the emotions people feel when they think about scientists in particular or experts more generally, for example. Science communication is important even when it isn’t imparting facts or knowledge. In fact, it may be even more important when it’s not imparting facts or knowledge. It may be most important when it’s sharing scientists as caring human beings who can be trusted. Only if we are trusted will anyone listen when we share our insights with them.

1Stern, P.C., J.H. Perkins, R.E. Sparks, and R.A. Knox. 2016. The challenge of climate-change neoskepticism. Science 353:653-654. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf9697

Kudos – Help promoting papers to new audiences

I was catching up on my reading last weekend when I ran across an article in Nature describing Kudos, a site that promises “broaden readership and increase the impact of your research” (https://www.growkudos.com/about/researchers). Here’s a bit more about what they say about themselves:

Kudos is more than a just a networking site, and more than just a publication listing. It is a toolkit for explaining your work in plain language and for enriching it with links to related materials (watch a video about explaining and enriching). Kudos also provides a unique one-stop shop for multiple metrics relating to your publications: page views, citations, full text downloads and altmetrics. When you explain, enrich and share your work through Kudos, we map your actions against these metrics in charts that show you which activities are most effective when it comes to increasing the reach and impact of your work (watch a video about sharing your work).

I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds promising. According to the article in Nature

The site is free for academics because scholarly institutions, societies, publishers and other commercial clients pay for its upkeep. Kudos helps these customers to track and evaluate their researchers (or, in the case of publishers, their authors) and foster a stronger relationship with them, explains Rapple. By encouraging researchers to do outreach, the site also indirectly builds the profile of their institution or their journal, she adds. And Rapple hopes that publishers and institutions can build up valuable intelligence from the Kudos database about the effects of different kinds of outreach. The site has established partnerships with some 65 publishers so far, including well-known firms such as Wiley and Taylor & Francis.

I’m going to try register soon. I’ll keep you posted on what I find.

Wellcome Trust establishes Open Research

The Wellcome Trust just announced that it will launch a new publishing platform for scientists who receive support from Wellcome (https://wellcome.ac.uk/press-release/wellcome-launch-bold-publishing-initiative). Work published through Wellcome Open Research will be open access, and Wellcome will cover all article processing charges.

Wellcome Open Research will use services developed by F1000Research  to make research outputs available faster and in ways that support reproducibility and transparency. It will enable Wellcome grantees to publish a wide variety of outputs from standard research articles and data sets, through to null and negative results.

The platform will use a model of immediate publication followed by transparent invited peer review, with inclusion of supporting data, enabling researchers to reanalyse, replicate and reuse the data, all of which will help to improve the reproducibility and reliability of the research it publishes.

Once articles pass peer review, they will be indexed in major bibliographic databases and deposited in PubMed Central and Europe PMC. Wellcome Open Research will disseminate results almost immediately, ensuring critical advances in urgent areas of research are not held up by lengthy journal processes.

Hat tip: Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, STAT.

Science communication and experts

Michael_Gove_at_Policy_Exchange_delivering_his_keynote_speech_'The_Importance_of_Teaching'_(cropped)In early June, Michael Gove was Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom. (Image at left By Policy Exchange [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons) He helped lead the effort that lead to the vote for the UK to leave the European Union. He appeared on a Sky News program where he “refused to name any economists who back Britain’s exit from the European Union, saying that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’.” (https://next.ft.com/content/3be49734-29cb-11e6-83e4-abc22d5d108c) While Gove was speaking about economists, his words have clear implications for scientists. Being expert isn’t enough. Commanding the facts isn’t enough. I’m no expert, but this strikes me as a pretty good example of why the “deficit model” of science communication (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_deficit_model) is wrong.

Writing in EoS, Amy Luers and David Kroodsma have some good advice. Don’t report facts. Join conversations. Here are a few of the key points:

  • Science communicators need to focus on developing strategies to join and initiate conversations that start with people, not science.
  • Credibility is determined more by the communities scientists are associated with than by the papers they publish.
  • Scientists should embrace the fact that online communities enable people to come together and collaborate, and use this to identify new opportunities for coproduction of knowledge that can complement more conventional science communication efforts.

Summary of tweeting from #Botany2016

Twitter activity for #Botany2016 has declined now that the conference has been over for a couple of days.


Spirts remained high throughout the runup to the conference, dipping below zero only once about a week before everyone arrived.


@JChrisPires contributed a larger number of tweets (including tweets of others that he retweeted) than anyone else,


but @uribe_convers had a larger impact, regardless of whether you measure impact in number of retweets


or in terms of number of likes


If you’d like to play around with the code, it’s available in Github: https://github.com/kholsinger/Twitter-stats.

I’m back

The PC on which darwin was running blew up a couple of weeks ago. I’m in the process of reconstructing what I can, but it’s going to take a while. I’m not likely to recover old posts. Sorry about that.