Cheating in academia?

It’s been all over the media in the past weeks – Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong, in which he admitted having used EPO, blood transfusions, and hormones. Having been a semi-professional mountain biker for years, I have been following the accusations that preceded the interview, the buildup to the interview, and the (media) response after the interview. One thing I found particularly interesting is that Lance Armstrong didn’t feel he was cheating, because (at the time?) everyone was using doping.

After having read a recent blog post on Retraction Watch, I couldn’t help starting to compare cheating in sports with cheating in academia. There are quite a few parallels – for example, Tyler Hamilton, a convicted doping user, has written a book about his years in Lance Armstrong’s team, giving insight in the systematic drug use in the peloton. One of the most notorious committers of scientific misconduct, Diederik Stapel, has written a book about his fraud, and I am sure others will follow his example. After all, once your career is over because of cheating, writing a book about it is a good way to make money as well as coming clean, which must be a massive relief after having lived a lie for many years. Continue reading

Blog and Twitter etiquette in academia?

Three weeks ago, I was a social media virgin. This is only my third blog post, and so far I have tweeted 37 times (that includes my tweet about this post!). I deliberately started both my blog and my Twitter account from a professional point of view – I don’t have the illusion that strangers want to read about my social life (I might write about this on Facebook), or what I have for breakfast (something that I would never write about on Facebook). But, I do think I might have something sensible to say about science, and I do think that maybe others, who are in a similar career stage, or maybe a bit more junior, might find it interesting to read about my career. But, I have already written about why I decided to write a blog here.

There seems to be a fair amount written about general etiquette in blogging and tweeting. For Twitter, here it says that you shouldn’t scream or stalk, which seems quite obvious to me. Then, for blogging, obviously, you need to comply with copyright law and cite your sources (but I am assuming that everyone on academia does this anyway), be polite, and don’t make spelling mistakes. Here, you can find some content on how to promote your science blog, with the general message that this is a good thing to do. I also found a rather old Guardian article about whether journalists’ professional guidelines apply to their personal activities online. Continue reading

A little bit of background on my latest paper

In my latest paper, Extensive management promotes plant and microbial nitrogen retention in temperate grassland, published in PLoS ONE last month, we show that traditionally managed, species rich haymeadows lose less nitrogen with drainage water from their soils than more intensively managed grasslands. This is important, because nitrogen that leaches from the soil can pollute ground and surface water, reduce plant species diversity, and cause problems for human health if concentrations in drinking water are getting too high.

In this paper, we used both extensive field observations and a mechanistic glasshouse experiment to show that traditional haymeadows have lower nitrogen leaching because of more uptake of available nitrogen in plant roots and in microbes. Specifically, we found that a greater biomass of soil fungi increased microbial nitrogen uptake, and that this in turn increased the retention of nitrogen retention in soil.

These results confirm an ecological theory, namely that ecosystems with a more fungal-dominated microbial community are more efficient in their nitrogen cycling, and have thus lower nitrogen losses. This is not a novel theory at all – in fact, it is often assumed to be true, but it has never before been experimentally tested. To illustrate this, in this Science paper, it is said that ‘Because fungal-based soil food webs promote less leaky nutrient cycles that are more retentive of nutrients than do bacterial-based food webs…’ and subsequently, a paper by Coleman et al. from 1983  is cited. However, on further inspection, this appears to be a review paper, which by no means proves that this theory is correct. Moreover, it is not possible to adequately test this theory, since it is not possible to take the microbial community out of its environment, and thus it is impossible to test whether it is the composition of the microbial community that is responsible for lower nitrogen leaching, or its environment, for example the amount of organic matter in the soil.

Continue reading

The first one.

This is my first blog post. Ever.

Why did I decide to start a blog? Why do I want to throw my opinion into the digital world, why do I want to promote my own science, or rather, myself? Why am I building this altar for myself? Why would anyone care about what I write?

Well, according to the Nature jobs blog http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/2012/11/23/why-female-scientists-dont-blog-but-should , female scientists don’t blog, but should – because women are underrepresented in the media, and seem to be reluctant to put themselves forward. However, Athene Donald argues here http://www.nature.com/spoton/2012/11/spoton-london-2012-to-blog-or-not-to-blog/ that much is to be gained from blogging by female scientists. Social media can help you get your research (and you) more known, but it can also increase your writing skills, something which I, as a non native English speaker, am always interested in. In addition, you can also see blogging as online mentoring, something which I am very interested in (I have been involved in two mentoring schemes for women in ecology by the British Ecological Society http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/getting_involved/mentorship.php )

However, apart from these strategic motivations, I really feel that I might have something to say.

Continue reading