#INT13 day 2 – the problem with space and the problem with publishing in the developing world

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Some thoughts from BMC Ecology on the second day of INTECOL 2013, a joint conference organized by the International Association for Ecology and the British Ecological Society (BES)

“Students should read the classics” seemed like sound advice from plenary speaker IllKa Hanski, as he reflected on a career investigating how populations are spatially structured.

Hanski_INTECOL plenary

The classics referred to here are the most highly cited papers in spatial ecology: Simon Levins’ “The problem of pattern and scale in ecology” and John Weins’ and “Spatial scaling in ecology”. In this context, he also ensured that the influence of past BES presidents Charles Elton, Mike Hassall and Robert May was not overlooked, each having played their role in highlighting the importance of space in the non-random distribution of populations.

Using what John Lawton referred to as one of the finest examples in ecological research of how to combine empirical research with theoretical models, Hanski outlined how the humble Glanville Fritillary butterfly has helped shape and inspire a lifetime of research. The fragmented habitats in which this species are found also served as a reminder that fragmentation should not be overlooked when modeling species-area relationships, as this may lead to underestimation of species extinction risk.

Earlier in the day, Pedro Peres-Neto from Université du Québec à Montréal had also raised the spectre of spatial autocorrelation, an issue that will be familiar to anyone undertaking analysis with a spatial component. Here, he argued that although balancing analytical power over precision might be anathema to some, space really can be the ecologists friend.

Ecology in the developing world

The theme running through this year’s congress is billed as “Advancing ecology and making it count”. Arguably one of the key areas in which this may be achieved is through ensuring that the developing world have equal access to the same academic resources that the developed world often take for granted.

Researchers from developing countries may often feel powerless to influence how their work is perceived by the international research community, and so a workshop inviting researchers to discuss the barriers they face  and how international journals can help, was a welcome addition to the programme.

Organized by the BES’s Journal of Applied Ecology, and including a panel of Editors and publishers from several other ecological journals, this aimed to help guide researchers through the thorny world of publishing.

A personal perspective was also offered from Joice Ferreira of Emprapa Amazonia Oriental in Brazil, who had also garnered the thoughts of colleague and co-workers to assemble a list of existing barriers that researchers in the country face. Part of the problem appeared to stem from researchers lacking knowledge on how to pitch their work to receptive journals, with language barriers and quality of presentation also proving an issue. Less easily tractable is the selectively of some journals to only consider high-profile work, and a feeling in some quarters that manuscripts may be reviewed less favorably by reviewers not sympathetic to the difficulties of work in less well-resourced areas.

Policy-driven issues were also raised, including the lack of leadership in large science projects by native scientists. Using the Amazon as a case study, Brazilian ecology is seemingly not short of researchers to work on large-scale projects –it’s just short on leaders to run them, and take these skills to the next generation.

Journal Editors also acknowledged that there was still some way to go to help research from the developing world get more widespread recognition. Phil McGowan, Editor of The International Journal of Galliform Conservation admitted that journals may not be helping as much as they might because “an Editor’s lifespan may be similar to that of a politicians”. This focus on short-termism means that it is often unclear where the future lies for researchers wanting to get their work seen internationally.

Although it was concluded that plenty of progress still needs to be made to promote access and dissemination of research from the developing world, a number of resources were highlighted that are available to help. These include intitives such as Research for Life to help provide access to subscriber-based primary literature and Author aid which provides mentoring and guidance services for research writing.

It’s worth noting that BioMed Central has always promoted access to research for the developing world, and also has a number of initiatives to help researchers get their work published.

As an open access publisher, we fundamentally believe that access to research should have no barriers, and routinely waive article processing charges for authors from low-income economies.

The large proportion of research from developing countries published across our portfolio of journals is testament to this ethos, and we would certainly encourage ecological researchers to submit their work to BMC Ecology or any of our other ecological  journals. Here’s just a few of the ways we can help:

-    Open access: free to access for anyone
-    Broad scope: It’s very simple – BMC Ecology considers all areas of ecological research
-    Interest levels: If your science is sound, we have a journal for it.
-    Waivers: if you’re from a low-income or lower-middle-income economy, there’s no cost
-    Author academy: our useful guide to structuring a scientific paper
-    Open access in the developing world: some of our initiatives from around the world
-    Writing skills workshops: see how other researchers have benefited
-    Copyediting services: some other services that can help get your paper in good shape.

Why should researchers from developed countries care? This personal perspective from US researcher Josh Drew outlines just one of the reasons why: Why I publish Open Access.

simon.harold@biomedcentral.com

Read more:

#INT13 day 1 – In which ancient Greek philosophy meets “the other Darwin”