blame the readers not the journals

Following on the last upwithclimate post by Paulo Olivas

There has recently been a lot of criticism of the super high-impact, prestige journals (e.g., Science, Nature) to the point that some scientists are now pushing for a boycott.  I certainly agree that these journals are not perfect in that everything they publish is not good and they don’t publish everything that is good.  However this is a “hindsight is 20/20” type of argument and more importantly is misdirected blame.  The true problem is not the journals themselves but rather the weight that we as readers and hiring committees place on publishing in these journals.  Having now been on both sides of many faculty searches, I am consistently amazed (and dismayed) by how a paper in Science or Nature can immediately raise the value an otherwise-mediocre applicant. The reason why we place so much value on where papers are published and the impact factors of journals is very simple – we are busy and/or lazy.  Search committees simply do not have the time or the energy to read every publication of every applicant, and even if they could read every paper they certainly don’t have the time or expertise to evaluate the true worth of each publication.  Likewise, as readers, we do not have the time to read all articles in all journals and to choose the very best ones to cite and base our work on.  We must rely on a system of external evaluations to guide our readings and to tell us how “good” articles are.  Right now the best evaluation metric available to us is the impact factor of the journal where it is published (and given enough time the number of times that an individual article has been cited).  In other words, we let the editors and journals’ reviewers do the work for us.  What other option do we have?  I guess we could all just read more – but who has the time for that?

To boycott or not to boycott: a privilege for the successful or a need for change?

The recent Nobel Prize winner Randy Schekman suggests the idea of boycotting highly recognized journals (Cell, Nature, and Science) in order to focus our energy into doing science for the need of new knowledge instead of concentrating on what is fashionable and sensationalistic.

It is very easy to think about boycotting the most recognized and high impact journals once you have published several times in them and have been rewarded with the highest prize: a Nobel.

But what about young scientists?

As an early career scientist with a need to develop a well known and successful research program in a very competitive field, going against the status quo by boycotting the big journals might be a luxury that few could afford. In particular, peers evaluating someone’s career success often do rely on metrics such as publications in high impact factor journals. As a colleague of mine, James Stroud, points out, one cannot stop having some feeling of curiosity about Dr. Schekman’s boycotting opinion when he is the editor of a journal (eLife), which is competing with the mentioned high impact factor journals. Certainly taking the advice of Dr. Schekman to boycott is a tough path to follow.

Although I can understand the idea of boycotting, I do agree with the fact that I have found myself many times pondering what research question is going to produce results worthy of Science. Certainly, the need of publishing in high impact factor journals can detract attention from science that may not be flashy but is still important. In a way, this situation violates the foundation of science in the quest for knowledge by establishing a bias.

While the appeal and need of being a successful, published author in a high impact journal will not vanish from night to day, the evaluation of one’s own career or that of one’s peers should not be focused on the development of a research program simply aimed to publish in these journals. It should be focused on the development a rigorous research program that will aim to satisfy the need for scientific knowledge.

To boycott or not to boycott: can we afford it? Can young or pre-tenure researchers just turn their backs to the luxury journals when one article in these journals can mean a job or tenure?

Probably not…

Researchers predict environmental factors will imperil banana production by 2060

This is repost of an article in FIU News written by Evelyn Perez about work done by upwithclimate contributors Brian Machovina and Ken Feeley.  The original article can be found HERE.


In the next 50 years, approximately 50 percent of conventional plantations in Central and South America are predicted to become unsuitable for the production and export of bananas.

This is a claim made by FIU biological sciences researchers Brian Machovina ’91, MS ’94 and Kenneth Feeley in their study titled, “Climate change driven shifts in the extent and location of areas suitable for export banana production.”

The researchers used global climate projections for the year 2060 and species distribution modeling (SDM) to predict the geographical shifts and map areas predicted to be suitable for commercial banana production. They found climate change, deforestation and lack of water availability will cause banana plantations currently found in areas suitable for production to shift to other countries. Countries such as Mexico, Ecuador and Peru will gain suitable cultivation areas while other countries will lose suitable areas, including Honduras and Colombia. In fact, it is estimated that Colombia will lose an estimated 62 percent of its cultivation areas.

Machovina holds a banana sprout soon headed for a plantation in Costa Rica.

Machovina holds a banana sprout soon headed for a plantation in Costa Rica.

“Climate change is real and it is impacting our food systems and what people eat around the world,” Machovina said. “Recently, drought in the U.S.  affected corn crops to the point where we had to import corn from other countries to make up for the loss in yields. With climate change, we expect extreme weather events to occur more often around the world and, as years pass, we will have more and bigger problems as they relate to food.”

According to the study, a decrease in areas suitable for conventional banana production is expected. However, areas suitable for organic banana cultivation will increase due to the generally drier climate predicted for this region in the future thus creating opportunities for organic farming in the area. Conventional farming focuses on monoculture, or the mass production of one crop in one location, and uses synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to yield crops. Conversely, organic farming employs polyculture, or the production of multiple crops in one space, and natural fertilizers and pesticides, to produce crops.

To maintain the long-term global system of commercial banana production, the researchers recommend that agricultural management and policy decisions maximize water conservation and availability to offset changes in climate; shift location of commercial banana cultivation zones; and invest in research and development of climate-resilient bananas.

“I believe human beings are resilient and adaptive,” Machovina said. “We are undergoing a learning phase and will hit road bumps along the way that may be very stressful for society, but in the face of climate change we will have to learn to adapt our global food production systems to feed people.”

Bananas are the developing world’s fourth most valuable food crop and the world’s 12th most important plant crop in value and quantity. Production is concentrated in Africa, Asia, India, Latin America and the Caribbean, with Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia and the Philippines currently the world’s largest exporters. Bananas have long been the leading fresh fruit imported into the U.S.

Machovina is set to present his research at a meeting hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to discuss the future of Ecuador’s banana production in the face of climate change.

The study, titled “Climate Change driven shifts in the extent and location of areas suitable for export banana production,” was published in the scientific journal Ecological Economics.