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An unintended consequence – Maris Huntsman: A great choice for entomological careers but not so good for farmers

I could have used Sod’s Law or Murphy’s Law as the lead in for this article, but as you will see (if you keep on reading), this story isn’t all doom and gloom 😊. During the 1960s, cereal growers in the UK and on mainland Europe, were subjected to onslaughts on two fronts, yellow rust* ((Puccinia striiformis) (Doling & Doodson, 1968) and cereal aphids (Fletcher & Bardner, 1969; Kolbe, 1969).  Although cereal aphids had been a sporadic problem in Europe for several decades previously (Kolbe, 1969,1973; Rautapää, 1976) and even earlier than that (e.g. Marsham, 1798), 1968 was an exceptional year for them (Fletcher & Bardner, 1969; Kolbe, 1969).  Presaging  Richard Root’s seminal work on crop apparency and pest occurrence, the Dutch agronomist Willem Feekes predicted that changes in agricultural practice, in particular cereal production, would lead to increased pest and disease problems (Feekes, 1967). This was further emphasised by Wilhelm Kolbe of Bayer, who suggested that the big increase in cereal production in Europe between 1950 and 1970 and the switch from oats to wheat was the cause of the cereal aphid problem (Kolbe, 1973).   Similarly, in the UK, where oats were 51% of the cereal crop in 1930, they had fallen to 11% by 1965 (Marks & Britton, 1989).

Cereal production UK

The shift in cereal crops may indeed have been a contributory factor, but I think, certainly in the UK, that we can add another factor to the equation. Over at Maris Lane**, where the Plant Breeding Institute was based at Trumpington, Cambridge, a new variety of wheat, Maris Huntsman, with good resistance to both powdery mildew and yellow rust (Ruckenbauer, 1975) had been developed and introduced as a recommended variety to farmers in 1972 (Hughes & Bodden, 1978).  By 1977 it accounted for almost 40% of the wheat sold in the UK (Hughes & Bodden, 1978), although a mere two years later, it had fallen to just over 20% (Johnson, 1992).  Based at Trumpington, entomologist Henry Lowe, had, since the late1960s been investigating the resistance of crop plants to aphids, first beans (e.g. Lowe, 1968) was at the time, investigating the resistance of varieties of wheat to aphids (Lowe, 1978, 1980). He found, as one might expect that not all cereal species and varieties were equally susceptible to aphids, and if given a free choice, the grain aphid Sitobion avenae, showed a preference for Maris Huntsman.

So what does this have to do with launching the careers of a couple of dozen entomologists? Well, back in the late 1960s Tony Dixon, then based in Glasgow, got interested in the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi  (Dixon, 1971; Dixon & Glen, 1971), a minor pest of cereals in the UK, mainly because of its great ability to transmit Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (Watson & Mulligan, 1960. In those countries, such as Finland and Sweden, where spring sown cereals are the norm, it is a pest in its own right, able to cause yield reduction without the help of a virus (Leather et al., 1989). Tony moved to the University of East Anglia as Professor of Ecology in 1975 and started his new career there by appointing six new PhD students. Three of these were looking at aspects of cereal aphid ecology, Allan Watt researching the biology of S. avenae and Metoplophium dirhodum, Ian McLean looking at the predators and Nick Carter modelling their populations in order to develop a forecasting system.  Research groups at Imperial College and at the University of Southampton also began to work on the problem.  Fortuitously although cereal aphid numbers had fallen since the  

Numbers of Sitobion avenae caught in the Brooms Barn suction trap (data from Watson & Carter, 1983)

populations picked up in 1974 and then rose to outbreak levels again in 1976, just as the new PhD students started their field work. I joined the group in 1977 to work on R. padi, followed in subsequent years by Keith Walters (now a colleague at Harper Adams University), John Chroston, Sarah Gardner, Nigel Thornback, Ali Fraser, Shirley Watson, Trevor Acreman, Dave Dent, and after I left for pastures new, Alvin Helden (now Head of School at Anglia Ruskin University). Similar numbers of students were appointed at Southampton, including Nick Sotherton, now Director of Research at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.  There were also groups started at Imperial College and the University of Reading. There was a certain element of rivalry between the groups, Steve Wratten for example, was an ex-student of Tony’s and there was a certain degree of animosity between Roy Taylor (of Taylor’s Power Law fame) at Rothamsted and Tony Dixon, we had mini-conferences to exchange findings and generally got on well.  Allan Watt for example went to work for Steve Wratten as a post-doc before moving up to Scotland to work on the pine beauty moth alongside me.  It was a great time to be working on aphids and I think we all benefitted from the experience and I for one, am very grateful to the plant breeders for developing a  variety of wheat, that although resistant to rust and powdery mildew, is very attractive to the grain aphid 🙂

Having fun in a Norfolk cereal field; me, Allan Watt and Ian McLean (Nick Carter had the good sense to stand behind the camera).

You may be wondering why I penned this reminiscence. Well, last year, my colleague Tom Pope and I were discussing cereal aphids at coffee time (as you do), and I mentioned how Maris Huntsman had launched my career.  It just so happened that Tom had access to old, ancient and modern varieties of cereals to hand and a final year project student keen on aphids so it doesn’t take a genius to guess what happened next 🙂

Host preferences of Sitobion avenae (Dan Hawes & Tom Pope). Can you guess which is Maris Huntsman?

So, Maris Huntsman, a great choice for attracting aphids and producing entomologists 🙂 and of course a great big vote of thanks to the PBI

 

References

Dean, G.J.W. & Luuring, B.B. (1970) Distribution of aphids on cereal crops. Annals of Applied Biology, 66, 485-496.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1971) The life cycle and host preferences of the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi (L) and its bearing on the theory of host alternation in aphids. Annals of Applied Biology, 68, 135-147.

Dixon, A.F.G. & Glen, D.M. (1971) Morph determination in the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi (L). Annals of Applied Biology, 68, 11-21.

Doling, D.A. & Doodson, J.K. (1968) The effect of yellow rust on the yield of spring and winter wheat. Transactions of the British Mycological Society, 51, 427-434.

Feekes, W. (1967) Phytopathological consequences of changing agricultural methods. II Cereals. Netherlands Journal of Plant Pathology, 73 Supplement 1, 97-115.

Fletcher, K.E. & Bardner, R. (1969) Cereal aphids on wheat. Report of the Rothamsted Experimental Station 1968, 200-201.

Hughes, W. G., & Bodden, J. J. (1978). An assessment of the production and performance of F1 hybrid wheats based on Triticum timopheevi cytoplasm. Theoretical and Applied Genetics, 53, 219–228.

Janson, H.W. (1959) Aphids on cereals and grasses in 1957. Plant Pathology, 8, 29.

Johnson R. (1992) Past, present and future opportunities in breeding for disease resistance, with examples from wheat. [In] Johnson R., Jellis G.J. (eds) Breeding for Disease Resistance. Developments in Plant Pathology, vol 1. Springer, Dordrecht

Kolbe, W. (1969) Studies on the occurrence of different aphid species as the cause of cereal yield and quality. Pflanzenschutz Nachrichten Bayer, 22, 171-204.

Kolbe, W. (1973) Studies on the occurrence of cereal aphids and the effect of feedingdamage on yields in relation. Pflanzenschutz Nachrichten Bayer, 26, 396-410.

Latteur, G. (1971) Evolution des populations aphidiennes sur froments d’hiver.  Mededelingen van de Faculteit Landbouwwetenschappen, Rijksuniversiteit Gent, 36, 928-939.

Leather, S.R., Walters, K.F.A., & Dixon, A.F.G. (1989) Factors determining the pest status of the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi (L.) (Hemiptera: Aphididae), in Europe: a study and review. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 79, 345-360.

Leather, S.R., Carter, N., Walters, K.F.A., Chroston, J.R., Thornback, N., Gardner, S.M., & Watson, S.J. (1984) Epidemiology of cereal aphids on winter wheat in Norfolk, 1979-1981. Journal of Applied Ecology, 21, 103-114.

Lowe, HJ.J.B. (1967) Interspecific differences in the biology of aphids (Homoptera: Aphididae) on leaves of Vicia faba I. Feeding behaviour. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 10, 347-357.

Lowe, H.J.B. (1974) Effects of Metopolophium dirhodum on Spring wheat in the glasshouse.  Plant Pathology, 23, 136-140.

Lowe, H.J.B. (1978) Detection of resistance to aphids in cereals.  Annals of Applied Biology, 88, 401-406.

Lowe, H.J.B. (1980) Resistance to aphids in immature wheat and barley. Annals of Applied Biology, 95, 129-135.

Macer, R.C.F. (1972) The resistance of cereals to yellow rust and its exploitation by plant breeding.  Proceedings of the Royal Society London B., 181, 281-301.

Marks, H.F. & Britton, D.K. (1989)  A Hundred  Years of British Food and Farming: A Statistical Survey. Taylor & Francis.

Marsham, T. (1798) Further observations on the wheat insect, in a letter to the Rev. Samuel Goodenough, L.L.D. F.R.S. Tr.L.S. Transactions of the Linnaean Society London, 4, 224-229.

Rautapää, J. (1976) Population dynamics of cereal aphids and method of predicting population trends. Annales Agriculturae Fenniae, 15, 272-293.

Rogerson, J.P. (1947) The oat-bird cherry aphis Rhopalosiphum padi (L.) and comparison with R. crataegellum Theo. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 38, 157-176.

Ruckenbauer, P.  (19 75) Photosynthetic and translocation pattern in contrasting winter wheat varieties. Annals of Applied Biology, 79, 351-359.

Watosn, M.A. & Mulligan, T. (1960) The manner of transmission of some Barley Yellow‐Dwarf Viruses by different aphid species. Annals of Applied Biology, 48, 711-720.

Watson, S.J. & Carter, N. (1983) Weather and modelling cereal aphid populations in Norfolk (UK). EPPO Bulletin, 13, 223-227.

Zayed, Y. & Loft, P. (2019) Agriculture: Historical Statistics. House of Commons Briefing paper 3339

 

*Yellow rust is still a  still a major problem for cereal growers worldwide

**an address that is immortalised in the names of several cultivars of crops developed by the PBI

 

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Omphaloskepsis – navel gazing in the time of Covid-19

Advance warning – there is not much science or entomology in this one, although it could be a welcome respite from Covid-19 😊

I am assured that they are gazing at their navels

A couple of days ago I was scrolling through my ‘Blogs to write’ file, clicking on titles that caught my fancy, when I came across this one that I thought looked interesting – Meaningful numbers, with a file date of almost exactly 4 years ago.

What surprises lurk inside this file?

I wondered what I was thinking about at the time so opened the file.  Imagine my disappointment when this was revealed 😊

Nothing but the title, not even a picture to help jog my memory!

So, I was none the wiser.  I knew it wasn’t about one of my pet bugbears; journals that use numbered references, because that has its own file, in fact two files, because I seem to have started writing it twice 😊 I guess an indication of how much the practice irritates me. As a referee it makes it so much more difficult to check if the authors have cited the relevant literature. 😦

I hate this so much! It goes against my sense of order, literally speaking of course 😊

 It wasn’t about how many times the word insect featured as a worldwide search term in Google Trends, although looking at the graph it is striking that the peak is in June/July, the Northern Hemisphere summer.

Worldwide Google Trends for the search term ‘insect’

 

Staying with insects, (OK there is some tangential entomology in this piece), could I have been meaning to write something about how many insects species there are, given that the estimates range from Terry Erwin’s gloriously possibly over the top estimate of 30 000 000 (Erwin, 1983) to Ian Hodkinson’s 2-3 000 000, that I consider to be very conservative indeed, with Camilo Mora and colleagues oddly calculated 9 000 000 in between.   Or, could it refer to my ten-year data aphid data sets from Scotland, still waiting to be transferred transfer from these battered notebooks to an Excel spreadsheet?

Aphid data, not meaningful until it makes it to a spreadsheet?

Certainly, they contain a lot of numbers but are they meaningful? They haven’t even made it into my Data I am never going to publish series 😊

In desperation I Googled the phrase ‘meaningful numbers’ and ended up, via this piece by Donald Byrd,

http://homes.sice.indiana.edu/donbyrd/Teach/Math/MeaningfulNumbers+SignificantFigures.pdf

on the Wikipedia page about significant figures, which, although the habit that many undergraduates have of reporting their statistical output to the millionth decimal place, is one of my other pet bugbears, was probably not what I had intended to write about, or was it?

I guess we’ll never know what the original title was all about, but on the plus side, I now have a few more ideas to turn into blogs 😊

 

References

Erwin, T.L. (1983) Tropical forest canopies: the last biotic frontier. Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America, 29, 14-19.

Hodkinson, I.D. & Casson, D. (1991) A lesser predilection for bugs: Hemiptera (Insecta) diversity in tropical rain forests. Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society, 43, 101-109.

Mora, C., Tittensor, D.P., Adl, S., Simpson, A.G.B., & Worm, B. (2011) How many species are there on earth and in the ocean? PloS Biology, 9(8):, e1001127.doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127.

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The Natural World in Haiku Form – Volume 3

In what is now a tradition, this is my third collection after all, I have gathered together all the haikus I have written and tweeted over the last  year and present them here for light relief.

 

Plants and seasons

 

Waterside willows,

weeping greenly in the sun.

 Spring is with us now

Harper Adams 20 March 2019

 

Old school entomology

 

Fragrantly flowered

Prunus laurocerasus;

Insect killing jars

Harper Adams 10th April 2019

 

Hedgerow bounty

 

Green and berry red,

Autumn bounty in the hedge

Feeds winter wildlife

Harper Adams September 10th 2019

 

Recycling

 

Autumnal fungi

Springing forth through soft and hard.

From death, new life fruits

Harper Adams September 25th 2019

 

Sorbus green, Sorbus red

 

Sorbus on the turn

Autumn colours on the way

summon falling leaves

Harper Adams October 14th 2019

 

 

Languedoc autumn

 

Oaks with leaves unshed,

Acorns crunching underfoot.

Autumn in Languedoc

Vinca 3rd November 2019

 

Winter icumen in

 

Stark against the sky

Field maples stripped of their leaves

Herald winter’s chill

Sutton 29 November 2019

 

Brown Flutterby

 

Brown leaf flutters by

Heading downward from the sky.

Landing, with a sigh.

January 11th 2019 Vinca

 

Entomology

 

Honeydew

 

As sweet as honey,

Aphid poo; feeds bees, wasps, ants,

Also flies and plants

Harper Adams 2th April 2019

 

Protected

 

Black attendant ants

protect these aphids on broom;

paid in honeydew

Vinca 3rd June 2019

 

Agapanthia villosoviridescens

 

Leisurely flying

and easily grasped by hand.

Now, safely set free 🙂

Harper Adams University

27 June 2019

 

Weather

 

Rain

 

Rain and yet more rain.

Puddling in yards, splashed by cars.

Will it ever stop?

June 12th 2019 Harper Adams University

 

Scented rain

 

A drop of light rain

is just enough, to bring forth

the scent of hawthorn

 

or alternatively

 

A drop of light rain;

and then the scent of hawthorn

floats fragrantly by

Harper Adams 24th April 2019

 

Vertebrates

 

A plurality of sheep

 

Sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep

Done chomping, now digesting

Sleepy sheep, sheep sleep.

7th May 2019

Harper Adams University

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The Roundabout Review 2019 – navel gazing again

Welcome to my, now very, very definitely, traditional review of the past year.

A new roundabout – Jennett’s Park, Bracknell – I have no idea what it is meant to signify

 

Impact and reach

I have continued to post at about ten-day intervals; this is my 273rd  post.  As I wrote last year, there never seems to any difficulty in coming up with ideas to write about; the problem is more in deciding which one to use and when.  As happened last year, some of my blogs have, albeit in slightly modified forms, made it into print (Cardoso & Leather, 2019).

Many of you remain lukewarm about the idea that social media has a place in science. I would, however, ask you to think again and if you need any more convincing, read this paper that very clearly demonstrates the benefits arising from such interactions (Côté & Darling, 2018); evidence that science communication via social media is a very worthwhile use of our time. Highlights of the year included a joint blog with Stephen Heard, about paper titles. Semi-related to my Blogging and Tweeting are my other forms of science communication, giving talks and helping at outreach events, such as the Big Bang Fair, which continue unabated.  I also had three Skype a Scientist dates this year, two with schools in the USA and one with a school in Switzerland.  I really enjoyed the experience and hope that the pupils were as pleased as I was. If you have not come across this scheme, check them out here.

My blog had visitors from 179 countries (181 last year, 165 in 2017, 174 in 2016 and 150 in 2015), so only another 16 to go to achieve total global domination 😊  My blog received 63 710 views (54 300 last year,  40 682 in 2017,  34 036 in 2016; 29 385 in 2015). As with last year, most views came from the USA, with views from India holding on to 4th place and Nigeria entering the top ten for the first time.

Top ten countries for views

Top reads

My top post (excluding my home page) in 2019 was the same as last year, one of my aphid posts,  A Winter’s Tale – Aphid Overwintering, (with almost 200 more reads this year than last, 4108 to be precise) although there may have been some disappointment felt by those who were hoping to find a reference to Shakespeare’s play or the song by Queen. It is now my all-time winner with just over 13 000 views, with Not All Aphids are Vegans with over 11 000 views still maintaining an honourable second place.  My top ten posts continue to be either about aphids or entomological techniques/equipment, which I guess means that I am filling an entomological niche. Aptly, my two posts about the loss of insects made it into the top ten this year.

A Winter’s Tale – aphid overwintering 4,108
Not all aphids are vegans 2,458
“Insectageddon” – bigger headlines, more hype, but where’s the funding? 1,829
Aphid life cycles – bizaare, complex or what? 1,762
Meat eating moths 1,226
Entomological Classics – The Pooter or Insect Aspirator 1,217
Not Jiminy Cricket but Gregory Grasshopper – someone ought to tell Walt 1,158
Ten papers that shook my world – watching empty islands fill up – Simberloff & Wilson (1969) 1,089
Entomological classics – the sweep net 1,052
Global Insect Extinction – a never ending story 1,045

 

My Pick & Mix link fests stalwartly foot the table, although disappointingly, my second collection of natural history haikus is also in the bottom ten 😦

Trends

Although in general, there still seems to be no signs of the number of people viewing my site reaching an asymptote or for that matter, the figures for December were the lowest of the year, by a considerable margin.  Is this the beginning of the end?

Linear still the best fit but is it levelling off?

Tweeting for entomology

I still find my interactions on Twitter very rewarding, although this past year I have become somewhat more political; Brexit and Trump, need I say more?  Most of my tweets are, however, still entomological and ecological and the increase in political comment has not stopped my followers from growing.  I finished 2018 with 6884 followers and begin 2020 with just over 8000, 8088 to be precise.   Many thanks to all my readers and especially to those who take the time to comment as well as pressing the like button.  My top commenters, as indeed they were last year, were fellow bloggers, Emma Maund, Emily Scott, Jeff Ollerton, Amelia from A French Garden and Philip Strange.  I look forward to interacting with you all in 2020.

In theory I am semi-retired from my daytime job, academia but I hasten to add, not from entomology.  I do, however, seem to be spending considerably more than 60% of my time doing stuff that I thought I would no longer have to do 😦

This time last year, I reported that I had submitted a proposal to OUP for a semi-popular entomology book.  I am happy to report that it was accepted, and I am now behind schedule in writing Insects – A Very Short Introduction 🙂

On a less happy note; to me, this has been, in some ways, a horrendous year.  Due largely to the selfish, bigoted and xenophobic behaviour of a large proportion of my very privileged generation, we are set to leave the great European project that has kept Europe largely peaceful for more than forty years. I would remind you, that not all of us voted to deprive our children and grandchildren of the rights and privileges that we have enjoyed since 1975.  It is also appropriate to remember that my father and his generation fought to enable us to enjoy that peace.

My late father (a fervent pro-European) and I (equally pro-EU), both aged 21; he in 1945 after having served in the Royal Marines since he was 17, endured the D-Day landings and fought in the Pacific, me in 1976, in my penultimate year at Leeds University. My teeth would have been the same but I had braces as a child 🙂

On the other hand, a lot of good things have happened; new friends, old friends and family all make life worth living, so in the words of the song “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again”.

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all.

References

Cardoso, P. & Leather, S.R. (2019) Predicting a global insect apocalypse. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 12, 263-267.

Côté, I.M. & Darling, E.S. (2018) Scientists on Twitter: preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?  Facets, 3, 682-694.

*The number of views for my annual reviews are as follows: 2014 (86), 2015 (110), 2016 (179), 2017 (115, of which 112 were in January).

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Should a paper title tell you what the paper is about? Yes, but not the way Simon/Steve thinks

Image: You know what you’re walking into. © Gary J. Wood via flicrk.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

This is a joint post (argument and rejoinder) from Steve Heard and Simon Leather.  You can find it on either of their blogs.

Should a paper title tell you what the paper is about?  Yes, but not the way Simon thinks.

Steve opens with – A few weeks ago, Simon Leather blogged about one of his writing pet peeves: “titles of papers that give you no clue as to what the paper is about”.   I read this with great interest, for a couple of reasons – first, Simon is consistently thoughtful; and second, I’m terrible at titles and need to learn as much about good ones as I can!  Much to my surprise, I found myself disagreeing strongly, and Simon was kind enough to engage with me in this joint post.

I don’t mean that I disagree that a paper’s title should tell you what it’s about.  That’s exactly what a good title does!  My disagreement is, I think, more interesting.  Simon offered some examples of titles he scored as failing his tell-you-what-it’s-about criterion, and some he scored as passing.  I found myself scoring those examples exactly the opposite way: the ones that failed for him, succeeded for me; and vice versa.

What gives?  Well, most likely, I’m just wrong.  Simon has a couple of years more experience than me in science, has published many more papers than I have, and has significantly more editorial experience.  But “oh, I guess I’m just wrong” doesn’t make a very interesting blog post; so I’m going to work through my thinking here.

Here are two titles from Simon’s disliked list:*

Towards a unified framework for connectivity that disentangles movement and mortality in space and time

Seasonal host life-history processes fuel disease dynamics at different spatial scales

And here’s one from Simon’s liked list:

Ecology and conservation of the British Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio machaon britannicus: old questions, new challenges, and potential opportunities

They’re on exactly opposite lists for me.  Simon dislikes the first one because “it takes until line 9 of the Abstract before you find out it’s about an insect herbivore, [and] until the Introduction to find out which species” (he dislikes the second for the same reason).  Simon likes the third because “you know exactly what this paper is all about”.  I think this is all wrong (sorry, Simon).   Since I’ve been writing about scientific writing as storytelling lately, let me put it this way.  Simon would like to know that the paper is “about” an insect herbivore, or “about” the British Swallowtail Butterfly.  But to me, that isn’t what it means to say a paper is “about” something – the study species is character, not plot.  Would you say that The Old Man and the Sea is “about” Santiago, or that Slaughterhouse-Five is “about” Billy Pilgrim?  Well, maybe in casual conversation, but not in a book review you were getting graded on.

I want a paper’s title to tell me about its plot.  By “plot”, I mean the questions the authors ask, and the way the experiments (or observations, or models) answer them.  That’s what a paper is “about” – the way The Old Man and the Sea is about a man’s struggle with his catch, his failing career, and his mortality (but I should stop before I venture further into literary criticism for which I am poorly qualified).  The “unified framework” and “seasonal life-history” titles tell me what questions the papers ask and answer.  It’s true that they don’t tell me which characters (species) they answer them with, but that’s not what I’m looking for in my first pass at a title.  And the swallowtail title?  It tells me nothing other than that the paper has to do with conservation of the swallowtail.  It mentions “questions”, but doesn’t say what they are; and it mentions “challenges” and “opportunities”, but these remain similarly shrouded.

A title that announces what species a paper is about doesn’t grab me, unless I already work on the species (or a similar one).  Who would pick up the swallowtail paper, except someone already interested in swallowtails or similar butterflies?  Is that the only audience the authors want?  What if the paper asks questions with implications for the conservation of mammals, or birds, or orchids?  Those audiences won’t be engaged.  With a title that announces what question a paper is about (and if possible, what the answer is), authors can recruit a broader audience.**  And readers can find out what species the question is asked with (and ponder whether the answer applies more broadly) at their leisure.

 

Should a paper title tell you what the paper is about?  Yes, but not the way Steve thinks.

Simon replies – I totally see where Steve is coming from with his point about plots and storylines and his references to Slaughterhouse-Five and the The Old Man and the Sea (although I could of course, somewhat tongue in cheek, riposte with a whole slew of titles such as Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield to name just a few.***) I think that I come at paper titles from two aspects of my academic profile.  First as an applied entomologist, I really do want to know if the paper is about the particular species or related group of species that I am working on – so referring back to Steve’s footnote about Tables of Contents (or even Current Contents)****, both of which I remember – yes, the title needs to be highly specific. Second, this is a debate I have had with conservation biologists working with vertebrate animals.

I am, as my Twitter handle indicates, an entomologist, and at the risk of being seen as narrowly partisan and parochial, means that I, and all other invertebrate zoologists, work on, until evidence is presented otherwise, the animals most relevant to ecology in general 🙂 . A paper on the movement ecology of zebras, for example, is unlikely to give me any insight into the migratory behaviour of aphids (of which there are more species than there are mammals), whereas an insect migration paper might give a mammal ecologist something to think about (incidentally I just realised that this helps Steve’s argument, in that an unwitting mammalogist might read an opaquely titled paper about insects). As a PhD student, when I first got interested in life history traits, I noticed that many vertebrate zoologists were publishing papers addressing concepts that were already well known to entomologists (e.g. Tinkle, 1969*****),  but not referring to those studies; so much so that I made rather a point of referring to vertebrate papers in my thesis whenever possible 🙂

And in the spirit of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch, third, (yes I know I said two things initially) is the point I made in my blog post about ‘scientific fashion’ and what we now call ‘click bait headlines’ (my example of one of my own titles in that post underlines this very neatly).  On the other hand, as Steve and other commentators have pointed out, there is a cost to both download and citation rates when titles of papers are very specific and lengthy (Letchford et al., 2015), which is surely why high impact and more general journals encourage the titles I abhor, and Steve favours. A new pet hate of mine, and something favoured by high impact general ecology journals, are titles with question marks: it is obvious that the answer is always going to be yes!

A thought (oops, now a fourth point – the Spanish Inquisition strikes again) that occurred to me as I was writing this and beginning to feel that I was succumbing to Steve’s cogent and compelling arguments, has to do with science communication.  We are being encouraged (some would say forced) to become ever more open access so that in theory  the whole world can read our outpourings (although I suspect that most proponents of Open Access are more concerned with their ability to instantly access data, than for the general public to access the ever increasing number of academic papers).  If this is the case, then surely, rather than use titles that are said to increase scientific citation rates, we should perhaps be using very explicit titles that will enable the general public to know what to expect?

To wrap up: Steve admits to being terrible at titles, and to Simon being a more experienced author and editor than he is.  And yet Simon admits that Steve’s arguments had him (ever so briefly) questioning his own.  So we’d like to turn this over to you.  Where do you stand on titles, character, and plot?  Please tell us in the Replies.

© Stephen Heard and Simon Leather August 27, 2019


*^I decided that I wouldn’t actually read any of the papers.  I wanted to react to titles as I would if I encountered them in a Table of Contents (anybody remember those?) or in a Google Scholar alert.

**^The obvious compromise is a title that reveals both of those things.  I like that sort of title, although the cost is they can get long, and there’s empirical data suggesting that they reduce citation rates.

***^Steve can’t help himself, and footnotes Simon’s half of the post (chutzpah!) to point out that saying that David Copperfield is a novel about David Copperfield is true, but not particular enlightening.  He doubles down on his argument, therefore, while wondering what the Dickens was up with that particular novelist’s penchant for character-based titles.

****^I felt that as this is a joint effort with Steve, parenthetical interjections were essential 🙂

*****^Incidentally, the title of that paper fits Steve’s point under his second – that the ideal paper title reveals both character and plot, although this one does it even better: “Grazing as a conservation management approach leads to a reduction in spider species richness and abundance in acidophilous steppic grasslands on andesite bedrock”.


Letchford, A., Moat, H.S. & Preis, T. (2015) The advantage of short paper titles. Royal Society Open Science, 2, 150266.

Tinkle, D.W. (1969) The concept of reproductive effort and its relation to the evolution of life histories of lizards. American Naturalist, 103, 501-516.

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In Thrall or Enthralled? – The Academic Work-Life Balance

I‘ve written about the academic work-life balance before, but that was about the conflicts arsing between research, teaching and administration.  This time I want to address the real work-life balance i.e. home life versus work life and the angst that it causes many of us.

In the UK we have a number of Bank Holidays*, the two most recent at the time of writing, the May Day Holiday and the late May (Whitsun) Bank Holiday. The former, despite the name was May 6th this year!  I felt the need to log on Twitter and wrote “It is quite revealing how as an academic I am feeling guilty that I am not marking student research projects today even though it is a Bank Holiday. How is that we have allowed ourselves to get so in thrall to #academiclife that even the bits we don’t like can cause guilt 😦

Immediate responses to my tweet about work guilt

Given the current state of the Academy, I was not surprised to find that I was not the only one 😊

If only we all had the will power and sense, that Olaf Schmidt has

When I first became an academic more than forty years ago, albeit in a research institute, we had typists and departmental secretaries who did a lot of the things that we do now.  We had technical support teams that ordered our supplies and we had administrative staff that got our estimates for the equipment that we needed for grant applications. We also didn’t have email, although it very soon arrived!   It seems to me that as we have got more and more computerised and do more things on-line, we as academics are doing things, that in the past, were done by non-academic staff.  We are now also faced with ever tighter deadlines to get marked assignments back to students and urged to give more detailed feedback.  Much of this is in response to provide data for the metrics by which universities are now judged.  Couple this with the increased number of students on modules, brought about by the way in which universities seek savings by reducing module choice and the need to publish and bring in grant monies and there just aren’t enough hours in the day ☹ The generation before mine had it even easier and although I am not advocating a return to those days, scientists were perhaps more likely to take more risks with their research in those less metric-driven times.

Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, it is why I moved from working in a research institute to a university, although I really, really, hate marking.  I also love research and being in a university environment allows you the freedom to do both, but the pressures, especially in research intensive institutions means that the job is far from stress free.  In my case, and for many of my colleagues, if you don’t take some of your work home it doesn’t get done. There are just not enough hours in the working day.  If you do outreach as I do, most of that happens in the evenings, so again you are working outwith ‘office hours’.  In theory, one can opt to take ‘time off in lieu’ (TOIL), but when, especially as in my case and of that of many colleagues, our official work loads show us working in excess of 100%, mine for example is 113%.

As Tamsin Majerus remarked in response to my Tweet  “I agree, it is just wrong. The whole system is based on a history of dedicated researchers working long hours doing something they loved. The amount of work now deemed ‘normal’ assumes all academics will continue to work the long hours regardless of the task or other commitments”

So, we are our own worst enemies, and this takes me to the title of my post. When you’re in thrall to someone, you are under their control in some way. If you’re being held as a hostage, you’re in thrall to your captor. You can be in thrall to anything that holds you captive or controls your thoughts or actions, like an addiction, a disease, or a cult leader. The Old English word that thrall comes from literally means “slave” or “servant.” Another word with the same root as thrall is enthrall, which is a sort of friendlier version of the same idea. If you’re enthralled by someone, you’re captivated or fascinated, rather than “held in bondage.” I certainly became a researcher because I was fascinated by insects, and never expected or wanted  to be a slave to paperwork.

So which is it, are we enthralled or in thrall and if the latter how do we go about changing things and live a guilt-free life?

Many thanks to any of you who answered the poll.

*

 

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Graphical abstracts are so passé, let’s hear it for the haiku highlight

Graphical abstracts,

They’re past their sell by date;

Use Haikus instead

 

It may surprise you, or perhaps not, that insects, as well as inspiring poets to wax lyrical, inspire many entomologists to wax poetical 🙂  Indeed, I have, on occasion, penned the odd verse myself.

Available at a very reasonable price from Pemberley Books  and no, I have no vested interests 🙂

Back in 2016 I stepped down as Editor-in-Chief of Insect Conservation & Diversity to become a Senior Editor, handing over the reins to Raphael Didham who had been a Senior Editor since 2010.  Now, I have known Raph a long time, back in the 1990s we were colleagues at Silwood Park, but it wasn’t until I convinced him to join Twitter as @EntoRaph, at the Royal Entomological Society Publications Meeting in March this year, that I discovered his dark secret.  He is a poet as well as an entomologist!  Raph is, despite his late conversion to Twitter, a pretty innovative guy; just look at the excellent changes he has made to our journal, and once he discovered, via Twitter, that I too, indulge in the odd spot of verse, haikus to be precise, it was inevitable that the idea of the Haiku Highlight was born 🙂

The birth of a notion

And that dear Reader, is how it all began………


I was quite proud of this one 🙂

The eagle-eyed reader may have noticed that the hashtag for our Haiku Highlights is #sciku. The Sciku project  is the brainwave of zoologist Andrew Holmes @AndrewMHolmes, who argues that writing haiku has made him a better scientist.  Being asked to keep your writing short and sweet, yet still understandable, may sometimes be difficult, but as Judy Fort Brenneman points out, it can be great fun.

If you would like to contribute to our Haiku Highlight project do get in touch. I wonder if it will catch on with other journals, it would certainly be fun.  While I am on the subject of entomologist poets, if you like butterflies and poetry, I can thoroughly recommend The Butterfly Collection, by Richard Harrington; beautiful photographs and a range of verse from haiku to sonnet.

 

Published by Brambleby Books http://www.bramblebybooks.co.uk/butterfly_collection.asp

 

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The Verrall Supper 2019 – entomological convivality

For many entomologists The Rembrandt Hotel in South Kensington and the first Wednesday of March means only one thing – the Verrall Supper. I report on the activities of the Verrall Association annually and if you click on this link you will be able to work your way back through previous reports to my very first attempt.  This will, once again, be largely a photographic record.  This year the first Wednesday of March was the 6th but despite the date of the Supper always being the first Wednesday in March it still seemed to have caught a few Verrallers by surprise.  Consequently numbers were slightly down compared with last year’s, although the number of non-attending Verrallers paying to retain their membership was at an all-time high.  One notable absence, due to a slipped disc, was Richard Lane, the newly elected Treasurer of the Entomological Club, under whose auspices, the Verrall Association is privileged to run.

More positively we were slightly up on female entomologist this year, 36 % compared with last year’s 32%.  There is still much progress to be made, but we have seen a year on year increase now for the last four years so, perhaps one day we will hit that magic 50:50 mark.

I performed a humanist blessing, which seemed to meet with satisfaction from all sides, and unbeknownst to me was caught on video by one of the Verrallers  I reproduce it here if anyone feels like using it at a similar occasion.

As we come together at this special time, let us pause a moment to appreciate the opportunity for good company and to thank all those past and present whose efforts have made this event possible. As we go through life, the most important thing that we can collect is good memories.  Thank you for all being here today to share this meal as a treasured part of this collection.

And now as the old cliché goes, let the pictures tell the story.

Clive Farrell doing his usual stint on the Registration Desk.  Something seems to be puzzling him?

Max Barclay presenting Professor Helmut van Emden with a copy of the latest Royal Entomological Society Handbook, Beetle Larvae.  Van’s father was a Coleopterist who started this book more than fifty years ago, hence the presentation.

Pre-Supper drinks – and some evidence that not all Verrallers are gray, male and balding, although many are 🙂

The Wyebugs Team – Mike Copland and Sue Stickels – Ray Cannon in the background talking with Keith Walters and Roger Booth

And here they are revealed!

People with drinks including the President of the Royal Entomological Society Chris Thomas, doing some arm-waving, and the rather too-long queue for the bar.  There was supposed to be another bar but there was an electrical fault.

The next set of photographs are what I describe as ‘Ento Bling’. When it comes to “smart casual”, which is the dress code for the Verrall Supper, I feel that in most cases, it is easier for female entomologists to show their dedication to insects than the male of the species, alternatively, perhaps males are just less imaginative and go for the easy tie option 🙂

The food, as usual, was excellent and most tables seemed to have a healthy mix of entomologists of different age classes and sex.

You try your best but bald heads keep appearing 🙂

 

And finally, I wonder who this was?  🙂  I’ll give you a clue – she is a Dipterist!

 Many thanks to all who attended and I hope to see you all again next year plus many new faces.

 

 

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The Roundabout Review 2018

Welcome to my, now very definitely, traditional review of the past year.

Enjoying ENTO18 at Edgehill University

 

Impact and reach

Brigitte Nerlich warns against measuring the impact of science communication but as far as I can tell she is not against reporting the following type of data, although if I was looking for impact these annual review posts would not be the best way to go*.

I have continued to post at about ten-day intervals; this is my 229th post.  As I wrote last year, there never seems to any difficulty in coming up with ideas to write about; the problem is more in deciding which one to use and when.  As happened last year, some of my blogs have made it, albeit in slightly modified forms, into print (Cherrill & Leather, 2018; Leather, 2018).

For those of you who remain lukewarm about the idea that social media has a place in science, I wold ask you to think again and if you need any more convincing, refer you to a recent paper that very clearly demonstrates the benefits arising from such interactions (Côté & Darling, 2018); evidence that science communication via social media is a very worthwhile use of our time. Semi-related to my Blogging and Tweeting are my other forms of science communication, giving talks and helping at outreach events, such as the Big Bang Fair and EntoSci18.  I also had three Skype a Scientist dates this year, one with a school in the USA and two with schools in the UK.  I really enjoyed them and hope that the pupils were equally pleased. If you have not come across this scheme, check them out here.

My blog had visitors from 181 countries (165 last year, 174 in 2016 and 150 in 2015), so only another 14 to go to achieve total global domination 😊  My blog received 54 300 views (40 682 last year, 34 036 in 2016; 29 385 in 2015).  This year, as last year, most of my readers came from the USA, with views from India moving from 5th to 4th place and Brazil being replaced by South Africa.

Top reads

My top post (excluding my home page) in 2018 was the same as last year, one of my aphid posts,  A Winter’s Tale – Aphid Overwintering, although there may have been some disappointment felt by those who were hoping to find a reference to Shakespeare’s play or the song by Queen. It is now my all-time winner with just over 9000 views, knocking Not All Aphids are Vegans with over 8 000 views into an honourable second place.  My top ten posts tend to be either about aphids or entomological techniques/equipment which I guess means that I am filling an entomological niche.

A Winter’s Tale – aphid overwintering 3,941
Not all aphids are vegans 2,113
Not Jiminy Cricket but Gregory Grasshopper – someone ought to tell Walt 1,338
Ten papers that shook my world – watching empty islands fill up – Simberloff & Wilson (1969) 1,225
Entomological classics – The Moericke (Yellow) Pan Trap 1,105
Entomological Classics – The Pooter or Insect Aspirator 1,097
Aphid life cycles – bizaare, complex or what? 1,051
Entomological classics – The Tullgren (Berlese) Funnel 948
Entomological classics – the Window (pane) Flight Intercept Trap 871
Not all aphids have wings  769

 

Trends

There still seems to be no signs of the number of people viewing my site reaching an asymptote or for that matter, taking off exponentially; just a straightforward linear relationship.

Still no signs of slowing down?

Tweeting for entomology

I still find my interactions on Twitter very rewarding, although this past year I have become somewhat more political; Brexit and Trump, need I say more?  Most of my tweets are, however, still entomological and ecological and the increase in political comment has not stopped my followers from growing.  I finished 2017 with 5860 followers and begin 2019 with just over a thousand more, 6884.   It would have been nice to have hit the 7 000-follower milestone before the end of the year but many thanks to all my readers and especially to those who take the time to comment as well as pressing the like button.  My top commenters, as indeed they were last year, were fellow bloggers, Emma Maund, Emily Scott, Jeff Ollerton, Amelia from A French Garden and Philip Strange.  I look forward to interacting with you all in 2019.

This past year marked my partial retirement from academia but I hasten to add, not from entomology.  I have, as planned, spent more time doing the things I enjoy and finally got some of my book projects off the ground.  My co-authors Tilly Collins and Tricia Reader and I spent a week together at our house in France writing a book outline and in December signed a contract with Oxford University Press for our provisionally titled ‘Field Course Handbook’.

Authors at work 😊

I have also submitted an outline for a semi-popular book about insects which I have great hopes will appeal to the Commissioning Editor’s choice of reviewers.

And if anyone is worried that this means that the entomological provision at Harper Adams University will be diminished, rest assured.  Not only did we appoint a very talented junior member of faculty, Heather Campbell (@ScienceHeather) we also appointed another talented entomologists (whom I taught some years ago), Simon Segar (@simonsegar); both are proving very popular with the students and staff. I am doing pretty much the same teaching as I have always done, so our entomology provision has actually increased, which is just as well as we have now started an undergraduate degree in entomology, the only one in the UK.

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all.

References

Cherrill, A.J. & Leather, S.R. (2018) Predatory journals a growing threat to scientific integrity?  In Practice, 102, 38-40.

Côté, I.M. & Darling, E.S. (2018) Scientists on Twitter: preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?  Facets, 3, 682-694.

Leather, S.R. (2018) “Ecological Armageddon” – more evidence for the drastic decline in insect numbers.  Annals of Applied Biology, 172, 1-3.

 

 

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Dear Dr Researcher – Epic Predatory Journal Fails!

As a follow-up to my earlier post on predatory journals I thought I would share some of the many invitations I have received since it appeared 🙂   What I do find annoying is that our email Firewall system sis extremely efficient at intercepting real emails and putting them on hold for us to approve, but that all the emails shown below got straight through the system without any trouble.

 Over the top glorification!

Beware of journals that use over the top language trying to appeal to your vanity.

 

Poor English is always a clue that things are not what they seem.

Precious indeed!

 

Totally wrong discipline

It is always a bit of a give-away when over the top language is coupled with a journal title where the field is somewhat removed from your own.  I am an entomologist and ecologist.

 

and then you have this journal – they desperately need a proof reader 🙂

These journals make the mistake of advertising a totally unrealistic publication schedule

 

It is possible that if they had put a more realistic publication schedule an engineer might have fallen for this one.

 

Cunning ploys

Here are a couple of examples where they are trying a bit harder and getting a bit more sophisticated.

 

The name of a real journal, Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment highlighted to take advantage of the careless reader.

The suggestion that they are on the look-out for reviewers implies a certain degree of respectability.

 

I am sure that you have all had similar emails, but if you have had even more outrageous or more cunning invitations, please feel free to share.

 

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