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Science—what am I up to anyway?

Science—what am I up to anyway?

It’s occurred to me that I have been writing quite a bit about broadening participation in science lately and have not actually talked much about what science I have been up to. So here is a brief update about recent developments on that front.

At the IGCP 653 meeting in Yichang, China, I presented new research on some very interesting and rare fossils from the lower part of the Cincinnatian Series. Over the past few years, I have been very fortunate to receive a series of rare fossils collected by some of the fantastic amateur paleontologists of the Dry Dredgers in Cincinnati, Ohio. In particular, Ron Fine, has collected some intriguing brachiopods from the lower Cincinnatian Kope Formation (Edenian Regional Stage) that look like they belong to lineages otherwise only known as invasive taxa from the upper Cincinnatian (Richmondian Regional Stage). These pre-Richmondian “invaders” comprise an interesting set of species that shed light on invasion dynamics in the fossil record.

At Yichang, I argued that interbasinal species invasions (or immigrations) could be considered in a hierarchical context, with ranks including ephemeral invasion, incursion epibole, and biotic immigration events. I am currently expanding this invasion hierarchy into a full article for Annual Reviews in Ecology and Evolutionary Systematics. (AREES), so I won’t elaborate here, but I think this is a really exciting and potentially transformative concept about the assembly of diversity through time.

At the GSA meeting in Seattle, I am presenting research related speciation mechanisms and how we can move from a basic correlation of diversity with Earth systems events to a causal mechanism for increasing diversity based on the process of speciation. Much of the arguments for this talk are in press already within my Lethaia paper (here).

So…for the near term, these are the scientific questions that I am investigating and the questions that keep me up at night: how do we really resolve speciation processes in the fossil record, how can we use that information to understand diversification during the Ordovician Radiation/Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, and how do invasions (of varying intensities) contribute to diversity patterns of life through time?*

*obviously these questions are best addressed with data about articulated brachiopods from the Ordovician Period

IGCP 653: Yichang Reflections

IGCP 653: Yichang Reflections

I’m currently on a 12 hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago as part of my 3 flight (and 29 hour) itinerary home from the 2nd Annual IGCP 653 meeting in Yichang, China. I can say, unreservedly, that this was a fantastic meeting!

Attendees included more than 60 delegates from 10 nations. The fact that most attendees were Chinese—and I am not—provided a wonderful opportunity for me to meet many new and upcoming scientists—both students and early career professionals that I have not previously had the opportunity to interact with. I was so impressed by the quality of their science and their ability to communicate at a high level on an international stage. What a talented group of young scientists! I am incredibly encouraged and inspired by them.

Of course, I was also able to reunite with (and meet new) colleagues from Europe, Africa, and North America as well. Truly this meeting met the spirit of UNESCO, our funding agency for the IGCP project, in terms of bridging international divides and fostering common interests and collaborations.

At this conference, provocative scientific ideas were espoused—generating substantial discussion, important geologic sections were visited (including the GSSPs for both the Hirnantian and Dapingian stages!), and cultural differences were both explored and celebrated. It’s exciting both how much we have learned about the Great Ordovician Biodiverisfication Event in terms of ocean chemistry, oxygenation patterns, diversity patterns of metazoans and also how much we have to learn—such as when did this event start and end, whether such things can be clearly defined, and what does that mean for the Earth system?

Speaking for myself, my favorite parts were probably the fact that we had an international assemblage of brachiopod workers to talk with (it’s great-and rare to be among people that love my favorite fossils as much as I do!) and that there were so many dynamic young female researchers in the group.

As anyone who is relatively close to me knows, I am very concerned with increasing participation in science on both a national and international level. I was so encouraged to see so many young and dynamic female scientists! Female students earned awards for both poster and oral presentations. This is pretty groundbreaking.

To place this in context, I had a conversation with a colleague, who I generally admire very much as a scientist, in which he said to me one evening {I’m paraphrasing} “You know, we always try to hire men instead of women for permanent jobs. You can’t say that in open meetings, but in secret meetings, we always say this.” I asked why this was the case and was told that it could be problematic for women to both be in charge of or be the majority of a field team to remote regions. I pushed back on this concept (I certainly was told the similar things as a grad student), and my friend said “Well, most women are not like you. They are not assertive and independent.” On one level, I was glad that my colleague appreciated that some women could be leaders, but it also made clear to me that there are many countries where women still need to fight hard to be considered scientific equals. I am not special. Female scientists need the chance to grow and shine and deserve the same support as our male colleagues.

The male student at our table noted that the female students work much harder and achieve higher levels of excellence than the male students. He sees the value in this contemporaries, and I am heartened that over time this view will win out…but I’d much rather we achieve equity in the near term and not wait 20 years and lose out on the great science these young women could have done by excluding them.

I hope that my work in the international community can help to foster a sense of empowerment for female (and other underrepresented) scientists in both the USA and other nations. At this meeting, I was assertive. I capitalized on my leadership as a co-chair of IGCP 653 role to be present, to chair sessions, to judge and present awards, to invite everyone to Athens, Ohio in 2018, and I hope that seeing one woman do that in a sea dominated by male leadership can help to inspire the fantastic and talented women that I met at this meeting to be assertive and empowered in their own scientific lives.


Diversity, equity, and scientific misconduct

by Alycia Stigall
Diversity, equity, and scientific misconduct

For the past few decades, there has been a push to increase diversity in science. However, many of those efforts have been targeted at fitting members of under represented minorities within the structural framework developed in the early 20th century or before.  When that structural framework was developed, the typical scientist was a white male who was either single or had a spouse who did not work outside the home.  Such a profile no longer fits the majority of people who aspire to become professional scientists.  Thus, in order to achieve full inclusion and enhanced participation in science, changes must be made to structural barriers that restrict participation in science.

Recently, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) adopted a new Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy that is a step forward in changing the scientific culture to reduce structural barriers to full participation in science.  The AGU Board of Directors approved a revised code of ethics that includes language against sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Here is the announcement of the policy: https://eos.org/agu-news/agu-revises-its-integrity-and-ethics-policy

Announcement from On The Prow: http://fromtheprow.agu.org/setting-the-bar-high-to-end-harassment-in-the-sciences/

And here is the policy itself: http://ethics.agu.org/files/2013/03/Scientific-Integrity-and-Professional-Ethics.pdf

This policy is a bold and necessary step forward in reducing structural barriers to participation by underrepresented minority groups. By including harassment, discrimination, and bullying as equally egregious types of scientific misconduct as classically recognized research misconduct like data falsification and plagiarism, this policy aims to provide a more equitable working conditions and that can foster truly collaborative and innovative science.

Importantly, AGU has provided not just a policy, but mechanisms to enforce the policy. I am particularly impressed that AGU has developed a process to mediate and handle misconduct that does not rise to the level of formal complaint.

Formal complaints are often met with backlash, which reduces the frequency that harassment, discrimination and bullying events are reported.  So having a support system for incidents that may be perceived as a lower threat—at least initially—is really important. Many of the challenges that underpresented scientists face can be classified as microagressions, which build up over time and become significant factors in why members of underrepresented groups choose to leave science.

I am enthusiastic about AGU’s new ethics policy. Yes, a policy doesn’t change the culture of science overnight. But having strong policies like this will provide a pathway for the really needed and overdue culture shifts to operate and strengthen. By making discrimination, bullying, and harassment a mainstream scientific concern, AGU is taking a bold and meaningful step in building a better, more inclusive geoscience community.