David Duthie: Lets be open about it – overload?


David Duthie’s posts are always of interest to Hugh Paxton’s Blog and to a lot of people involved in wildlife/environment conservation be they in armchairs, offices or up to their necks in a Sunderbans swamp with half a kilo of mosquitos attached to each ear and a night vision set of military binos to help tally tiger populations. David’s post – read on! – hits a very necessary nail squarely on the head.

Begin forwarded message:

From: David Duthie <davidjduthie>
Date: September 5, 2014 at 9:40:18 PM GMT+7
To: bioplan <bioplan>
Subject: Lets be open about it – overload?
Reply-To: bioplan <bioplan>


I know that most of us feel that we are "drinking from a fire-hydrant of information" these days – 6,000 academic papers are published every day – so I was a little surprised to read the two news articles (pasted below) highlighting how LITTLE of the primary research literature is still not accessible to the majority of conservation "workers".

Both of the news articles below are "borrowed from the excellent Conservation magazine now published by the University of Washington. Both of the original research articles summarised below are, of course, open access!

After writing the above this morning, I then read another article, this time from this week’s Nature magazine, on how to better cope with the "fire-hydrant" of information (I guess they assume full, university-style access).

That article is also free access at http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/513129a

And if you want to know what the real world is spending it time on, try


Best wishes

David Duthie


Most conservation science not available to conservationists

September 2, 2014


Does anyone have $51 million lying around? Asking for a friend.

Well, a whole lot of friends actually—all the thousands and thousands of people around the world who are actively engaged in some branch of applied conservation science, from saving the whales to reforesting Indonesia. It turns out that $51 million might be enough to get all those conservationists access to the research and science they need to do good work; access many of them currently lack.

A couple of weeks ago in this space we discussed a study on how important it is for conservation practitioners—people engaged in protecting against bird predation, in this particular case—to actually lay their eyes on the evidence and research underlying what they do. A new paper in the same journal, Conservation Biology, now takes a broader, bird’s-eye view of this issue, and examines just how much conservation research is actually available to the public. The picture isn’t particularly pretty.

“Unlike the pure sciences, whose raison d’être is to discover how the world works, the applied environmental sciences attempt to influence how Earth’s resources are managed by people,” write authors Richard Fuller, Jasmine Lee, and James Watson. They looked through a group of 20 scientific journals, from Biological Invasions to Insect Conservation and Diversity, that publish research of immediate practical use for conservation practitioners. By manually scanning each issue of these journals between 2000 and 2013, they determined how much of that useful research is available through open access options.

Of a total of 19,207 papers published in that period, fewer than nine percent of them (1,667 total papers) are freely downloadable. Even fewer (938 papers, or 4.88 percent) meet the stricter criteria for “open access,” which means the content can be reused if attribution is given. If I told you I wanted to save the rainforests, but I only knew five percent of how to do it, you probably wouldn’t hand me the conservation keys.

The authors then compared those numbers to another discipline, evolutionary biology. They chose this field since it can be considered somewhat related, but it is a field “that is focused largely on discovering how the world works rather than trying to influence how it is managed.” In a group of 20 evolutionary biology journals, almost 32 percent of the papers were freely downloadable and 7.49 precent were open access.

All those conservation papers that are not available for free are instead available for boatloads of money. Individual papers cost more than $30, and subscriptions to each of the journals in the study would cost more than $26,000 per year for small institutions. Adding up the various ways to access all that material, the study authors found that a tidy sum of $51,258,370 would cover the costs of making every bit of conservation science published between 2000 and 2013 in those journals available to all.

The conflict between corporate interests and scientific interests is at times overt: Wiley, one of the big three of scientific publishing had revenue of $1.775 billion last fiscal year; Wiley publishes Conservation Biology, in whose pages these study authors decry the publishing model.(Elsevier, the biggest of the big three, had profits of more than $2.8 billion.)

The study authors call this state of affairs “unfortunate and ironic, given that conservation science is an applied science with an urgent deadline.” The results here, taken along with the earlier study on how easily conservation practitioners might change practices if they simply saw the evidence in their field, highlights how immediate and direct a concern this is. Without access, we don’t conserve as well; and generally speaking, we don’t have access.

The authors note a few possibilities for improving the situation, including an increased role for professional societies in granting access to journals and the idea of a “lagged embargo” where research becomes available after, say, two years. No matter what the solution, though, it is clear that something needs to be done. “Conservation is one of the few scientific disciplines that depend on practitioners for success. It makes sense to provide those who undertake the practice of conservation access to everything we know.” – Dave Levitan | September 2, 2014

Source: Fuller RA, Lee JR, Watson JEM (2014). Achieving open access to conservation science, Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12346


How can we translate conservation research into actual conservation?

August 19, 2014


It’s easy to forget sometimes that the mammoth time, effort, and money spent on scientific research actually does have a point. We hope, as we engage in all that work, that it will actually yield results that we can, you know, use. But one tiny branch of research has shown in the past that people whose job is to engage in environmental management very rarely actually listen to the advice of the scientists working in their fields. There is a disconnect, it seems, between research and real-world application.

A new study, published this month in Conservation Biology, looked a bit deeper into that disconnect. Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology conducted a survey of 92 conservation managers from 26 countries (though mostly in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand), to find out how they use or would use scientific evidence to reduce predation on birds.

The participants first answered questions about 28 management interventions that are designed to reduce predation on birds by invasive or problematic species; these ranged from the use of electric fencing and artificial nests to “cat curfews” and predator translocation, among many others. Afterward, they were asked to answer more questions about these conservation practices, only this time while reading parts of the Bird Conservation Evidence Synopsis, a free tool summarizing research on all the various practices the managers were asked about. The average respondent had heard of 57.1 percent of the 28 interventions, and had actually implemented 18.5 percent. Encouragingly, there was a positive correlation between what research has shown to be an actually effective intervention and the number of people who used it—which suggests that the evidence is, to some extent, making its way into the right hands.

However, 85 of the 92 participants did say they would change their view of a given intervention after reading how effective they are in the Synopsis. In other words, they simply didn’t know, beforehand, that someone had done some research and proven one way or another that a certain technique worked or didn’t. All it took was seeing the evidence to change a mind.

Survey respondents who said they were not likely to change their current practices for protecting birds did tend to have more experience in the field… which sounds great, until you realize that those with more experience were no more aware of existing scientific literature than less experienced people. However, the more experienced folks had also simply used more of the interventions in the past, and specifically more of the effective ones.

The issue underlying this study is so simple as to sound ridiculous when laid out in front of us: “One reason for conservation science to be funded and conducted is so that it can be used by practitioners,” the authors write. But they often don’t use it, and the biggest reason, the authors claim, is that the vast bulk of scientific research is stuck behind paywalls and huge subscription fees. (This very study we’re discussing is currently one of 10 “open access” papers on Conservation Biology‘s Early View page—out of 70 total papers, reviews, and commentaries.) As in this study, just putting the evidence in front of the faces of those who might use it to save birds or for any other conservation issue may be enough to move the needle.

In other fields, there may be less distance between scientific enquiry and practice. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, are heavily engaged in the search for new drugs, both at their own labs and at universities and institutes everywhere. Because conservation science is a much more distributed field, with individuals and groups at a huge variety of scales engaged in it, we may need to work harder to get the hard-earned evidence out into the world where it belongs. – Dave Levitan | August 19, 2014

Source: Walsh JC, Dicks LV, Sutherland WJ (2014). The effect of scientific evidence on conservation practitioners’ management decisions, Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12370

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