Egosystem management. Or how tantrums and unprofessional behavior are hindering conservation

In helping to organize several meetings and events for conservation groups, I’ve frequently encountered conservation professionals loudly declaiming “Don’t you know who I am!” and expecting special treatment. Recently I got an email from someone whose abstract was rejected by a conference committee I was assisting, in which they had quite a tantrum. There were lots of exclamation marks and capital letters saying that it was unfair they were rejected and they will never ever go again to any meetings by this professional society and will resign their membership. I was asked by someone outside the conservation field whether it was usual that we get such childish and temperamental responses to rejections. Sadly we often do – whether it be rejections for journals, jobs or conference presentations.

However, I also told that person that anyone who’s been an academic for a while gets used to being rejected. Few papers get accepted at first submission, for example. So most conservation professionals take it in their stride. Moreover, anyone who is in the conservation field should really get used to difficulties and failures, as these are all too frequently components of the job. A conservation biologist is not going to last long if they go berserk at the least slight or hard knock or have a fragile ego. Conservation is often about conflict, and trying to resolve this conflict through reasoned argument, understanding and diplomacy. You often get knocked down, but to quote Chumbawumba, you just have to “get up again”.

As a result, one could reach the conclusion that someone who is really childish, temperamental, rude etc. should not last long in real-world conservation. Sadly, such tantrum-throwing individuals may last longer, or even thrive, in academia, but that’s another story. However, that person will be a horror for colleagues in the field. So for the case above, resigning from a society or refusing to go to conservation meetings is like natural selection, weeding the weak and unfit from the gene pool. If they are going to ditch going to premiere meetings to learn the latest cutting-edge conservation and science over a run-of-the-mill abstract rejection, then it’s their loss and frankly our gain…

However, despite the potential forces of natural selection, inflated – yet fragile – egomaniacal bloviates are still all too common in the conservation world. There are several major marine conservation initiatives that foundered because, for example, coalitions would not let certain organizations have top billing in materials, and the thwarted organizations walked away, taking their essential funding with them. Others would not cooperate with conservation academics from a competing institution, and held back essential information and resources, causing the project to collapse. Frequently managing a conservation project is more about managing the egos of collaborators, or the egos of their organisations, rather than managing the actual project itself. This type of “human resources” management is, unfortunately, a skill in which few conservation professionals receive any training. Too frequently these days, in order to achieve conservation success, you have to first manage the ego-system, before finally getting down to efforts to restore the eco-system.

To tweet to whom – a tweeting guide for marine scientists

Logic is a tweeting bird” – Spock, Star Trek

Social media can be a great tool for spreading and disseminating published science. Potentially it can reach a wide audience and for free !

Most platforms allow you to insert links to direct readers to the original paper or publication. If you are working in an area that is relevant to conservation or policy, social media can be a great way of getting papers to the right audience that may need that information (Parsons et al., 2014). Moreover, there is now increasing data that using social media can increase download and citation rates of scientific papers, which in turn is good for the careers of scientists in an academic setting.

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Everything you need to know about conservation you can learn from Alien(s)

As a provider of advice on how to do effective conservation, Southern Fried Science has previously looked to such as The Game of Thrones for inspiration. Today we look at another famous source of conservation tips: Alien (and Aliens)…

A single charismatic animal can be a great motivator for action.

Jones the cat

Scientists sometimes have self interests that can derail a project.

Science officer Ash

Just when you think everything is going ok a crisis hits…

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Beware the ghost! The problem of conference ‘ghosting’

 

Ghosting – the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Have you ever seen a ghost at a conference? That’s when a presentation is in the program, and the audience is assembled expectantly, and the presenter never turns up. Ghosting is becoming increasingly common at conferences, and as a meeting organizer it’s incredibly frustrating. Conferences only have a limited number of presentation slots. So, if someone says they are going to attend, and then don’t, that’s a slot that could have been taken by someone else. For a student, or someone early in their career, having a conference presentation slot could make a huge difference. So for someone to ‘waste’ a presentation slot by simply not turning up, you are being unthinking towards colleagues as well as the meeting organizers.

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The State of the Environment Address

US President Donald  Trump said “I believe in clean air. I believe in crystal clear beautiful water.”

Image via gify.com

 

However, in last night’s State of the Union Address he declared his support for promoting coal-based energy* and he gave public notice of his intentions to curtail the environmental impact assessment process and environmental regulation for construction and road-building. This would be the latest in a series of executive actions that are removing or  hindering environmental protection including, amongst others:

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Desert island discs – the marine conservation edition

In the UK, there is a famous and long-running radio show called Desert Island Discs. On this show celebrities are asked to imagine that they are marooned on a desert island, but they have rescued 10 discs (mp3s I suppose these days…) of songs that they have rescued from their sinking ship to keep them company on the desert island.

clipart credit: istock.com

My chum – marine mammal scientist and general ocean hero – Asha De Vos recently asked for a list of key papers in marine conservation that she could pass onto students working on marine conservation issues in Sri Lanka. So I decided to write up my top ten “desert island” marine conservation papers that I think have been influential, and that all marine conservation students should read.

So after much pondering, this is my list:

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The sorting hat of conservation

The Hogwarts Sorting Hat divides students into their respective houses in their first year at the school of witchcraft and wizardry. Each house is known for having its own “personality.” In addition to potential wizards/witches, one can also sort those involved in conservation into the four Hogwarts houses.

  • Hufflepuff – This house stands for dedication and hard work, but also patience, tolerance, fair play and kindness. Most conservationists working in NGOs, especially those related to protection of megafauna species, are Hufflepuffs. One famous Hufflepuff was Newton Scamander, a socially awkward wizard who took it upon himself to try to save endangered magical creatures, when others just saw them as pests. Most of the herbology teachers at Hogwarts were Hufflepuffs (Neville Longbottom being a notable exception).

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The Game of Thrones – is this real life, or is this just fantasy…?

I trust the eyes of an honest man more than ‘what everybody knows’

– Tyrion Lannister to Jon Snow, as Jon tries to convince everyone that he has seen the Army of the Dead coming.

 

In the current season of Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister is unexpectedly sitting on the Iron Throne of Westeros after immolating most of the existing peerage in King’s Landing. Because of this purge, most of the seats in the Privy Council are empty (assuming she even means to establish one), and her inner circle consists of: the Hand of the Queen, a clever ex-Maester with no morals or ethics; the commander of the Queen’s Guard, a conscience-less zombie; and two military commanders, one a troubled brother/lover and one an ambitious wily psychopath, of uncertain loyalty.

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The impact of the March for Science

Along with an estimated forty thousand other scientists, I braved the rains to attend the March for science in Washington DC. I went with a bit of trepidation, as I was wondering if anyone would attend, but the staging post at the based of the Washington Monument was absolutely packed.

Donald Trump blamed rain (a brief smattering of drizzle) for poor numbers at his inauguration, but pouring rain and cold did not deter the masses of scientists who attended the March. Although we be derided as “snowflakes” for protesting the current administration, clearly scientists are snowflakes made of Titanium.

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The call of the Chthulucene ?

We are currently in the Holocene epoch, and many of us have heard about calls to name the current era (from the industrial revolution) the Anthropocene (which dates back to at least the industrial revolution, if not before): a period when  humans change the essential nature of the planet through their activities (primarily via the production of greenhouse gases).

But what comes after the Anthropocene? Some sort of Mad Max style wasteland perhaps?

Donna Haraway (2015) proposed that there will be a new epoch, the “Chthulucene” where refugees from environmental disaster (both human and non-human) will come together .

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