…i.e., institutions that hire academics often do not incentivize writing specifically for an audience outside of academia. This may or may not be the case for scientists depending on the institution. Either way, scientists often do not have the time to write a blog post, an article for The Atlantic
, or The New York Times
, in addition to doing research and writing academic papers about it. In the current system, we have a two step process of dissemination: 1) Disseminate to fellow scientists, and 2) Disseminate to the public (if you have time).
The system worth dreaming of, then, is one where scientists write up just one publication that is informative, impactful, and accessible to anyone above a certain level of education (say to all those who have been through college General Biology). We're not there yet, but many journals are taking steps in that direction. PeerJ
and PLOS One
only publish open access papers, removing the monetary inaccessibility of typically $35 papers. Science
are making strides in the realm of intellectual accessibility, publishing papers where after the abstract is only the story
of the research — from where the researcher picked up their research question to the implications of their results. The complex and technical methods proceed afterward, almost like an appendix only for those who are interested enough to look. By emphasizing that research is often about the telling of a story
— a story in which something was learned that has never been learned before — the research paper becomes interesting to anyone curious enough to look.
Until we get to a point where the monetary accessibility of PLOS One
and the intellectual accessibility of Nature
are combined, and all the problems associated with getting there are resolved, there is still cause for excitement. I came across a gem of a paper recently wherein the current state of ecology was summarized: "Identification of 100 fundamental ecological questions
". Not strictly research, the paper set out instead to review the trials and triumphs of ecology, doing so by identifying 100 ecological questions to which we do not yet have answers. Divided into 7 sections — Evolution & Ecology, Populations, Disease & Micro-Organisms, Communities & Diversity, Ecosystems & Functioning, Human Impacts & Global Change, and Methods — the questions succinctly describe "where we're at" in ecology, doing so in only 10 pages. It is an admirable example of large-scale, synthesis kind of work made intellectually accessible to any reader. Props to Sutherland et al.
So, for all those interested in accessing ecology "behind the curtain," look no further than the paper cited below this essay. Below, I have a curated selection of my favorite questions, saving those that were of interest to me, an that could conceivably be examined using birds.