Mixed Emotions about Marching for Science

The day before the event, Science March DC co-chair Mona Hanna-Attisha said, in an interview with PRI,

“So I understand that [diversity in science and the Science March is] an issue, but I think there’s huge other diversity issues that we need to be tackling. I think where we need to be attacking diversity is not in science labs and in medicine but in our legislative offices.”

Yikes. Talk about deflating the enthusiasm of those of us scientists who pour hours of our time doing uncompensated work to try to make academia more inclusive and welcoming of underrepresented groups, or those of us who do research that demonstrates how the lack of diversity in science limits what we can discover about the natural world. Talk about invalidating the feelings of members of underrepresented groups in science who struggle daily with the impact of this absence of diversity on their work, their health, and their well-being.

sign skeptical

After much indecision, and holding onto some skepticism, I ended up going to the March for Science in Boston, and I was glad to be part of an affirmation of the importance of science to society. But I couldn’t help but wonder–if we had used the March for Science as an opportunity to truly strengthen our commitment to making science welcoming of underrepresented groups, if we had seen this as a chance to reckon with the bias and discrimination that plagues not only scientific progress but also how science impacts society, would a young, white man have marched at this event with a sign that said “Science is a pretty girl. Don’t you want to get to know her?”

 

*New Paper*: Flower Size and Shape Evolution Following the Transition to Separate Sexes

The main results of my undergraduate honours thesis are now published (open access) in the American Journal of Botany! A few thoughts about it below, and then, because I wanted an excuse to look through my photos, some pictures from the trip to Baja California with my wonderful undergrad advisors, Jill Miller and Rachel Levin, on which we collected the flowers for this work.

  • Lycium is a genus of poky, shrubby plans in the tomato family (Solanaceae) that’s distributed near-globally, in drier environments. Research on these plants has focussed primarily on their systematics, biogeography, and reproductive systems. Most species in the genus have hermaphroditic flowers, with a genetic way of preventing self-fertilization. But in some species, changes in the genome lead to the breakdown of this genetic mechanism, and this change is accompanied by the evolution of separate sexes. Lycium californicum is particularly interesting, because populations of this monophyletic species can have either hermaphroditic flowers or male and female flowers (see  the companion paper to this one, published last year in Annals of Botany for more details). This lets us examine, in the new paper, how selection may have acted on males and females to change the shape and size of their flowers from the ancestral hermaphroditic condition, using present day hermaphrodites from nearby populations as a close proxy for the hermaphroditic ancestor. IMG_1943
  • To this end, we collected hundreds of flowers, and I spent many hours hunched over a microscope listening to This American Life and measuring tiny floral traits. In making these comparisons, we had to take into account a stark environmental gradient in rainfall and temperature across central Baja California. IMG_1975
  • We found that while these abiotic environmental gradients influenced both overall flower size and shape, flower size dimorphism in L. californicum appeared to arise through selection for larger flowers in males but not smaller flowers in females. Axes of flower shape were related to sex (male/female/hermaphrodite) and sexual system (hermaproditic populations vs. separate sex populations). Working at GN
  • Someday I will use this paper as a jumping off point for writing more about differences between botantists’ and zoologists’ approaches to studying reproduction, and specifically how the people studying plants do a much better job of quantifying both sex and mating systems continuously as opposed to categorically. But those thoughts are still forming…in the meanwhile, check out the paper if you want to learn more details about this study, and here are some picture from fieldwork! This trip is when I learnt to love fish tacos, tidepools, and the West Coast light.

IMG_1935

 

 

IMG_2228.JPG

IMG_2114

IMG_2209.JPG

IMG_1989IMG_1978

 

How do we know what we know? Sexual selection, in humans and in lizards.

Over the last few months, there’s been a slow-boiling battle underway between Holly Dunsworth and Jerry Coyne about the evolution of sexual dimorphism in humans, surrounding the question of why male and female humans, on average, differ in size. The battlefield ranged from blogposts to twitter to magazine articles. In a nutshell, Coyne argued that “sexual dimorphism for body size (difference between men and women) in humans is most likely explained by sexual selection” because “males compete for females, and greater size and strength give males an advantage.” His whole argument was motivated by this notion that certain Leftists ignore facts about the biology of sex differences because of their ideological fears, and are therefore being unscientific.

Dunsworth’s response to Coyne’s position was that “it’s not that Jerry Coyne’s facts aren’t necessarily facts, or whatever. It’s that this point of view is too simple and is obviously biased toward some stories, ignoring others. And this particular one he shares…has been the same old story for a long long time.” Dunsworth went on to propose, seemingly off the cuff, alternative hypotheses for sexual dimorphism in body size in humans that were focussed not on men but on women, as examples of the kind of hypothesis that is relatively rarely considered or tested in this field.

Though on the surface this battle may seem to be about specific biological facts (Coyne certainly tries to win by treating it that way), in reality this disagreement is, as Dunsworth argues, about the process by which hypotheses are tested and about how knowledge comes into existence. About which hypotheses are considered for testing in the first place. As a result, the two ended up arguing past each other quite a bit.

As I followed this whole exchange, I shook my head at the timing–I had a paper in preparation that was SO RELEVANT to the centre of this debate! That paper is now available as a preprint, so I can try to outline why I think that Dunsworth is right, and Coyne is being short-sighted. My argument has *nothing* to do with humans, however–I don’t know the human sexual selection literature well enough to weigh in on that. Instead, my argument is by analogy with our knowledge of mating systems in Anolis lizards.

Until relatively recently, it’s been widely accepted, on the basis of behavioral studies, that anoles are territorial and polygynous. This description is so prevalent, in scientific as well as popular accounts of these lizards’ biology, that anyone who knows anything about anoles wouldn’t stop to think twice about it.

Following a somewhat circuitous path (which you can hear about at or after my thesis defence on March 28th!), the main project of my Ph.D. ended up being an investigation of exactly this “fact”–are anoles really territorial? Genetic evidence, which has shown evidence for females mating with multiple males as well as complex spatial relationships between mating pairs, led me to wonder if territoriality was a useful description of these lizards’ mating system. And while an important part of my work is empirical, my best sampling was restricted to a single population of a single species. So a complementary and equally important endeavour has been reviewing all of the evidence we have in support of the conclusion that anoles are territorial. And an outcome of this endeavour has been realizing that even things that we *think* are well-supported scientific facts–like territoriality in Anolis–may in reality be based on very little evidence.

I’m not going to rehash the whole argument of the review paper (co-written with my advisor Jonathan Losos) over here. The gist is that the earliest studies concluded that anoles are territorial based on strange and limited data, but the idea caught on. Most subsequent studies, therefore, ended up assuming territoriality implicitly or explicitly. This assumption affected choices made in sampling design, analysis, and interpretation, such that it became unlikely that studies would consider important, or even be able to detect, behaviours that were not quite territorial but were still potentially important for reproduction.

To illustrate what we meant, I am going to excerpt a couple of paragraphs below (edited for out-of-context clarity and to remove examples). In this section,we argued that if studies are designed with the assumption, implicit or explicit, that individuals remain in relatively small, exclusive areas (i.e. they are territorial), then these studies end up being designed such that they will not detect, or won’t consider important, evidence suggesting otherwise:

Because by the 1970’s the consensus seemed to be that anoles are territorial, research at this time was not often designed to explicitly test if these lizards behave territorially, i.e. to show that they stay in the same place and maintain exclusive areas. Specifically, territoriality was an almost foregone conclusion in studies with a limited spatial and temporal extent of sampling.

If the sampling period of a study of social behavior is not long enough, then relatively infrequent but reproductively consequential departures from territorial behavior are unlikely to be detected often enough that they are considered signal and not noise. This includes not only occasional forays away from and returns to a fixed territory, but also shifts in territory location that may take place only a few times per breeding season—neither would be detected by studies with short durations.

Moreover, if a study of social behavior does not sample over a large enough area and a sampled individual disappears from the study site, researchers cannot know if the individual has died or simply moved. Thus, studies with limited sampling areas will be most likely to sample only those individuals who stay in the same place, that is, animals whose behavior appears territorial.

You can read the paper for details and examples of limited sampling, as well as other ways in which research choices were shaped by assumptions of territoriality. But in sum, because of this dependence on territoriality throughout research on anole social behavior, the facts we have come to hold about these lizards’ biology look very different than they may have if biologists had started out with different assumptions, or had clarified what their assumptions were. The upshot is that, at this point, we simply don’t know if anoles are territorial or not–they may well be, but we don’t yet have good evidence for it.

If you read the paper, you may glean that I now think that instead of arguing about whether or not anoles are territorial, it’s more fruitful to ask if territoriality is a useful way to describe behavior. In the case of Anolis, I don’t think it is. Others of course may disagree, and our disagreement could be resolved by testing predictions emerging from territoriality against predictions that do not depend on territoriality. But this would be very different from considering the predictions made by two hypotheses that both reside within a territorial framework. And this, I think, is Dunsworth’s point–which hypotheses we consider and how we decide to test them not only shapes what facts we have the capacity to discover but also depends an awful lot on what we think we already know. What we think we know in turn depends an awful lot on the particular trajectory that a body of research has followed. Consequently, the hypotheses that get tested do not emerge from a vacuum. All hypotheses emerge from assumptions, whether we recognize them or not.

While our paper, by design, deals primarily with assumptions about Anolis territoriality originating within science, it hasn’t escaped my attention that the existing description of these lizards’ social behavior are positively Victorian. This struck me most clearly when I explained my empirical research to non-biologist friends and family. “They sound so old-fashioned!”, I was told, which made me realise that this might well be because the science on which the descriptions are based originated in the social milieu where these now-old-fashioned ideas were a given *. It also hasn’t escaped my attention that most of the research that suggested departures from territorial behavior in Anolis remained unpublished in scientific journals, and that three of the four genetic studies showing female multiple mating were conducted by women scientists. These observations wouldn’t sway anyone who believes that science is 100% objective, and it’s certainly possible that animal behavior could conform precisely to Victorian ideals, but I think the coincidences are at least worth pondering.

In this world where the very concepts of knowledge, facts, and scientific expertise are under dispute, I fully recognize the danger of writing about how science can do an incomplete or even incorrect job of discovering truths about the natural world. But it isn’t doing science any good for us to ignore how our processes of discovery can be blinkered by unwarranted assumptions, assumptions that can originate either inside of science or outside it, from myriad sources of bias that afflict every single one of us. The future of science cannot depend on us pretending that we scientists are infallible.

DSCN1013

 

*Of course, none of this is new to sociologists or historians of science–check out, as just one of many examples, Erika Milam’s Looking for a Few Good Males ^

Beware the Terns

Took this picture last July on the Isle of May in Scotland–at this location and time of year, the probability that you will be dive-bombed by nesting terns is high. Solicited captions on Twitter, and the incomparably talented Rosemary Mosco (creator of the wonderful Bird and Moon comics) supplied these winning words. Now this is my desktop background and makes me smile daily, so I figured I’d share it here too 🙂

tern poster

 

*New Pre-Print*: Why do we think that anoles are territorial?

Jonathan Losos and I have a preprint of a conceptual/review paper up on BioRxiv. It’s about the idea that Anolis lizards are territorial–we trace the historical path of research on this idea, asking how we anole researchers came to hold this idea and what the evidence for it actually looks like. If you’ve read about my fieldwork (and you can do so here!), you’ll know I believe that we currently *do not know* if territoriality is a good description of these lizards’ social lives. If you read this pre-print, you’ll find out *why* I think this.

This paper covers a lot of ground–we wade into the weeds of the definitions of “territoriality,” “site fidelity,” and “polygyny” (it’s not too painful, I promise!), we consider the consequences of sampling and analysis choices, and we pay attention to the fate of data and ideas. Though on the surface it looks like a paper about one type of lizard, we aim for it to come across as a paper about the scientific process as applied to animal biology.

I began working on what became this paper as a second year grad student. At the time, my obscenely ambitious plan was to review the evidence for Emlen and Oring’s (1977) hypothesis that resource distributions drive animal mating systems. Over the years I chiselled that plan down to something manageable–because the most persistent conclusion of this paper in all its iterations has been that we need to pay attention to organisms’ natural history, it made sense to restrict our review to the creatures we know best.

But this is exactly why feedback from folks who study a diversity of organisms would be incredibly useful to us! Is there any chance that research in your favourite organism has followed a similar trajectory? And, of course, if you study anoles, we most certainly want to know if you believe we’ve made a compelling case or not. Read the paper and tell us what you think, and thank you!

15763

Thanks to Jon Suh for the photo!

Seven Months of Attempting Mental Wellness

By all accounts, the last year of your Ph.D. is expected to be, well, difficult. There are obvious challenges that come along with trying to wrap up six years worth of projects, write papers, plan ahead, all while continuing to teach and mentor students and trying to be a somewhat useful member of lab, department, and university communities. But for me, these challenges have all paled in comparison with working towards a long overdue goal–that of maintaining mental wellness.

When I started therapy, people were surprised that I felt I needed it. I guess from the outside I’ve usually seemed high-functioning, someone who has things in control. And it’s exactly this response that’s prompting me to write and talk more about mental health now, because it’s important to me that we all try not to assume that how someone appears on the outside is necessarily an accurate representation of their inner life.

But on the other hand I don’t quite know what to say or write. So as a start, I’m just going to describe all of the practices I use and have used in the past to try and maintain mental wellness. It’s a continual struggle that comes and goes, some days better and some worse than others. Some minutes better and some worse than others. Absolutely NONE of this is prescriptive, and none of this is static. I don’t have any of the answers, just a few things that have helped me. None of this is easy, and I don’t want to pretend it is. But I think it’s worth it.

Therapy: I lucked out, in that the very first therapist I saw last August turned out to be a perfect fit. Everyone recommended that I try someone who practices cognitive behavioral therapy, but I found myself veering away from those practitioners–it seemed too logical, too science-y for me. Which is an odd thing for a scientist to say, but I was realising that I had come to over-identify with the professional part of my identity, and I didn’t want that to permeate therapy too.

My therapist practices a model of therapy called Internal Family Systems wherein you conceive of yourself as a family of parts, all of whom interact with one another, and with the Self. The goal of this therapy practice is to bring decision making under the purview of the Self, leaving the parts to do the specific things they’re good at. It’s a lot like the movie Inside Out, except that the little people inside you are more complex than a single emotion. I love this model. It works beautifully for me, and I would be happy to tell you more about it if you’re interested.

Meditative Self-Inquiry: The basic process of IFS therapy involves “checking in” with your parts, seeing whether the source of your discomfort lies in some interaction between parts that the Self isn’t aware of. One reason I love IFS is that it gives me this tangible way to meditate. I still don’t practice this often enough, but it always resets my soul. Before IFS, though, I found these audio mindfulness meditation guides pretty useful too.

Dressing to Reflect How I Feel: Many of my anxieties are rooted in societal expectations surrounding appearance and attractiveness. I’m sure many women, and perhaps many men too, feel similar pressures. I’ve addressed this for the last few years by paying very careful attention to my feelings about my own body image first thing in the morning, and dressing to reflect those feelings as closely as possible. That way, I never feel like I’m dressing to adhere to a societal norm, and it helps me to feel comfortable in my own skin.

Gratitude Journal: To force me to direct attention outside of myself and remind myself of the good things in my life, I tried to keep a daily gratitude journal starting on my 27th birthday. The entries range from sappy (“I am grateful for the forgiveness of the people around me”) to cynical (“grateful for the small amount of self-restraint I occasionally display. I hate X.”). Some days, I had nothing (“not much today, right now. Let’s see how the day progresses”). I kept this on and off for five months, and my last entry was “grateful for the resilience that is allowing me to wake up happy so regularly.”

Hobbies that I suck at: I write bad poems. I play the guitar terribly. I draw mediocre charcoal drawings. I sing out of tune. I love all of these, because the only thing that counts with them is that I’m trying. I can celebrate improvement but don’t need to lament getting worse, because it *does not matter* one bit.

Cooking fits in here too, though I don’t suck at it. But it’s low stakes–I need to eat, and the consequences of a bland meal aren’t dire. I also love the repetitive ritual of making tea or coffee in the morning. Finding order in daily life helps me be calm, and I always look for new sources of such order when, say, in the field or travelling.

Finding exercise I enjoy: I despise the gym. So I take two dance classes, and have cobbled together a dance+strength training+yoga routine for days in between when I feel like a blob. I recently bought a hula hoop, which was a spectacular investment. It’s calming, repetitive and meditative,  and can take on different levels of energy depending on what music you play while hooping. I also used to hate running, before I came across the “run-walk” method, which works great for me because I love walking and can vary the times spent on each depending on how enthusiastic I’m feeling. I’m never running a race, but 20 minutes of daily exercise in the warmer months made me much happier.

Being open with friends: actually, more important was having friends who were open with me about their mental health struggles. That gave me the courage to go to therapy, and I know I can count on these folks to be a voice of reason when I’m overcome with anxiety and about to make silly decisions. Just last night when I couldn’t fall asleep, I was able to talk to one such friend (conveniently located in Australia) from 4:00 am to 5:00 am, else I wouldn’t have slept at all. The flip side, of course, is that you are there for them when they need to talk, and all of this normalizes the struggle and spreads the burden a little bit.

I think that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll write more as and when I think of things. I don’t know if this is helpful–if anything, I want to highlight how individually tailored these practices are, though maybe something will resonate with you. I’m hoping this will broaden my community of people who feel comfortable talking about mental health.

DSCN2008.JPG

*New Paper*: Ecological Specialization in Individuals and Species of Anolis Lizards

Over at Anole Annals, Travis Ingram has written a really nice summary of my new paper with Jonathan Losos on ecological specialization among individuals within a population and among species within a community of Anolis lizards. I don’t want to add anything here about the science–for that, you can read Travis’ post or the paper itself (email me if you’d like a copy). But I do want to tell you a bit about how this study came into existence.

img_4519

A male Anolis sagrei from one of the other sites we sampled in 2014

A majority of the data in this paper was collected for an entirely different purpose, namely tracing the movement patterns of individual lizards to test whether they depart from territoriality or not (further details on that project can be found here). To this end, we collected repeated observations of individuals’ locations, but like all good anole biologists, we also measured perch height and diameter at each observation, just because.

2014 was my trial field season for this project, and because I wasn’t yet convinced the project would pan out, we spread our efforts across multiple sites and ideas. About a month in, I realised I’d need to focus intensively on one site to get the requisite data, necessitating a 2015 field season for my main thesis project. At about the same time, postdoc Oriol Lapiedra came down to Gainesville to get his first taste of anole field work, and one evening over dinner, we were talking about whether anything could be salvaged from my 2014 data. Oriol realised that I had inadvertently collected the data to measure individual specialization in habitat use in a species of Anolis, a genus famed for habitat use specialization at higher levels of biological organization. So for the rest of the summer, my field assistants and I scrambled to measure limb and toepad morphology as well as the perches available to each individual, so we could ask if either morphology or habitat explained which perches individuals used.

The moral of this story is, I guess, to be okay with re-evaluating your plans at any point in the field season, and to talk early and often during fieldwork to your colleagues–their outside perspective may recast your seemingly worthless data into an unanticipated paper!

img_0358

Me, with the people who made data collection for this paper possible–Sofia Prado Irwin, Rachel Moon, Christian Perez, and Oriol Lapiedra.

Schimel vs. Heard: Comparing Two Guides to Scientific Writing

41iev4oncdl-_uy250_

This and last fall, I was a teaching assistant for a class taught by Andrew Richardson called Writing Scientific Papers, in which we workshopped papers that graduate students were writing. The textbook that Andrew has used for this class since its inception in 2012 is Josh Schimel’s Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded. But before this year’s class, we both read and really enjoyed Stephen Heard’s recently published The Scientist’s Guide to Writing: How to Write More Easily and Effectively Throughout your Scientific Career.

In a nutshell, the main difference between these two books is captured by their subtitles. While Schimel’s book is shorter, to the point, and very goal-oriented, Heard’s is longer, a bit more meandering, and more process-oriented. I think both books are worth reading if you work in science and write papers or grant proposals, and either could be a good textbook for the sort of class we were teaching. Below, I’ve listed some more comparisons between the two, with the caveat that I last read them back in September, and some points may be retrieved from a fuzzy memory:

  • Neither book is prescriptive, and both recommend following principles over rules. This makes sense for a writing guide, in my opinion, as there are a million ways to write something well.
  • Both books focus, at their core, on story telling. However, this emphasis is stronger and more present throughout Schimel than Heard. Schimel advocates for focussing on the story at every level of writing, from sentence to paragraph to whole paper. I personally find this a bit too much (I’m not sure I believe that every sentence has to tell a full story). However, it lends a coherence to the whole book that translates well into the classroom–whenever we got stuck in critiquing some writing in class, we could move forward by asking “what’s the story here?”
  • The discussion of narrative arcs and funnel- or hourglass-shaped stories (start and end broad, narrow in the middle) is very similar in both books.
  • While both books mix examples and principles, I learnt more from Schimel’s examples and Heard’s principles than the converse. I think this is an important way in which the two books complement one another.
  • In particular, Heard carefully thinks through all possible ways of approaching particular writing challenges. For example, he has a section titled “Three properties of good paragraphs,” in which one subsection titled “Making paragraphs coherent” has a list of seven possible ways in which to organize a paragraph. The whole book is peppered with such examples of comprehensive thought, which I really enjoyed.
  • Heard includes multiple chapters on the writing process, as well as the scientific authoring process. Schimel’s book doesn’t have equivalent chapters. We assigned chapters from Heard as supplemental reading, e.g. the chapters on outlines, tables and figures, and self-revision. With more planning, we would no doubt have added more, e.g. the chapters on coauthorship and review, both from colleagues and peer review.
  • I think this approach of mixing the two books is ideal for the classroom. A course taught entirely off of Heard’s book may become frustrating if students don’t care about the process of writing at all. With just Schimel’s advice, I think you could hate writing but still get the job done. Heard, however, is probably a bit more likely to get you to enjoy writing.
  • Whose advice you like better is going to be a matter of personal preference. I happen to like Heard’s choices and examples a  bit more than Schimel’s, because my style happens to match Heard’s a bit more closely. But again, there are a million ways to write something well, and both of these books are impeccable guides to writing. This is one of those choices where you can’t really go wrong.

heard_scientistsguide-cover-e1456942846818

 

I Hate the Standard Advice on Word Choice in Recommendation Letters

So if you’re an academic and have written or read recommendation letters for your students and care at all about gender equality in academia, you’ve probably come across this handy poster:

rec-advice

Most of this advice is pretty nuanced and thought-provoking, and will get most of us to write better, more balanced letters for all our students. But I cannot express how angry I get every time I see the section titled “Stay away from stereotypes”, in which it is suggested that letter writers stay away from using adjectives like “caring”, “compassionate”, and “helpful” in letters for women, because these sorts of words “are used more frequently in letters for women and can evoke gender stereotypes which can hurt a candidate.” A more detailed list below expands this list of words to avoid, including “tactful”, “dependable”, and “diligent”. The words that the poster recommends that letter writers retain include “ambitious”, “confident”, and “intellectual.”

You’ll notice right away that the words in the two lists are not at all equivalent. It’s not like the words to avoid are slightly less impactful versions of the words to include. The two lists of adjectives tell us fundamentally different things about a person, and words we’re being told to avoid actually describe traits that I hope we all want in our colleagues. These two sets of adjectives are far from mutually exclusive, but if they were, I know I’d choose to work with someone who is hard-working and compassionate over someone who is ambitious and successful. The colleagues I most enjoy working with, regardless of their gender, embody the best of both lists.

So what this poster is effectively, and not even subtly, telling us is that we should avoid using words that provide useful information simply because they are coded as female. Like so many other purported solutions to gender bias, this advice furthers patriarchal values instead of subverting them. If we follow the advice in this poster, and then turn around to complain that academia is full of tactless, uncaring, and selfish people, we are being hypocrites.

But the poster also points the way forward. Turns out that recommendation letters for men are 16% longer than letters for women. So use that extra space to fully describe your female students who are both hard-working and accomplished as such, and cut out some instances of “excellent” and “intellectual” to do the same for your male students. It’s then up to the search committees to decide what they value in their colleagues. If these search committees would rather hire someone who is “excellent” over someone who is “excellent” AND “hardworking”, the problem lies there, and not in the letters of recommendation.

*New Paper*: “Facilitating discussions about privilege among future conservation practitioners”

Holly Milton Brown, Margaret Rubega, and I have a new paper out in Conservation Biology, in which we write about why and how conservation biologists and practitioners should and can discuss privilege in the conservation biology classroom. It’s based on an exercise that Holly ran when a TA for a graduate level conservation biology course at UConn, and we thought the exercise plan, and the motivation for it, would be useful to share with the community of biologists that teach conservation. Check it out!

As we were looking over the proofs a few weeks ago, we wondered if the release of this paper was timely. And we decided a couple of things. First, generally speaking, a paper about the consequences of disparities in socioeconomic status is not going to be untimely any time soon. But second, more specifically, there’s been a sense in the academic circles I inhabit of not being quite sure what to do to in response to the current political climate. Doesn’t the importance of our research pale in comparison with the societal challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead of us? What are we going to change about how we teach and mentor and conduct research? Where should we focus our efforts? Obviously each of our answers to these questions will vary, each of us reaching a solution that seems correct for us.

But two things are clear, to me at least:

Our paper lies at the intersection of these two things, and gives all of us biologists invested in conservation a concrete step that we can take to broaden the discussion of this intersection. Even if you don’t like the steps we propose, we hope that we can get you thinking about why and how to bring discussions of privilege explicitly into the conservation classroom.

Let us know what you think!

P.S. I loved this essay from Eric Anthony Grollman on being committed to fighting injustice and oppression in academia.