To Advocate or Not?

A journal editor is let go because she resisted advocacy statements in the published literature, prompting several board members to quit in her defense.

By | June 18, 2012

Wikimedia, Vmenkov


Erica Fleishman of the University of California, Davis, learned last Thursday (June 14) that she would no longer serve as editor-in-chief of Conservation Biology, where she has worked 25- to 30-hour weeks for more than 2 years. It started last month, when the Society for Conservation Biology's (SCB's) governing board told her it had decided not to renew her contract (which ended in February) because of her tendency to remove advocacy statements from research papers to be published in the journal, ScienceInsider reported. After several members of the journal’s editorial board resigned in response to the move, including David Ehrenfeld of Rutgers University, who founded the journal in 1987, the SCB launched a new committee to discuss the matter. The committee met twice to reconsider the decision, but ultimately came to the same conclusion.

There had been a history of “friction” between Fleishman and some members of the board of governors, SCB president and board member Paul Beier of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff told ScienceInsider, but Fleishman is “a person of utmost integrity,” he added.

Fleishman claims that while she did much editing of the submitted papers, and that 1 in every 10 included advocacy statements, she merely suggested to the authors that they remove the arguments, never insisting that they do so. If the authors wanted to keep the statements, she simply made them identify them as opinion. Some authors would continue to resist her changes, she noted, and the final decision was theirs. “We have never said, ‘We will not publish your paper if you don't change this,’” Fleishman told ScienceInsider.

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Avatar of: Fletsby


Posts: 1

June 18, 2012

Congratulations to Erica Fleishman for her resistance to the politicization of science. There is a very important place for advocacy on scientific matters, but research papers are not that place. When scientists mix their science with with their opinions, the quality and impact of the work is degraded - at least as much as journalists who don't separate factual reporting from editorial. The only difference is that is is more damaging when scientists embark on such a practice, since it degrades the credibility of scientists among those who do not have a scientific training, and who assume that a scientist's findings are no different with respect to personal bias than any one else's opinion. There should be a huge difference, in fact and in credibility.

Avatar of: JBG2


Posts: 14

June 18, 2012

As a Review Editor for a journal who asks authors to be speculative in their reviews, I also request that they delineate where the data stop and the speculations begin.  I agree completely with Dr Fleishman that it is ok to allow authors to state advocacy positions, but the authors must make it clear that the advocacy is their extrapolation from data, and should also to note alternative views that might extend from the data - and again the authors may state why they prefer their view - making it clear it is their view.  Unfortunately, some ecology and conservation journals have been used to state some extreme views based on questionable or flimsy data, and guardians of quality are clearly needed in that area, unless the journal wants to be a mouthpiece for politics instead of science.  One such journal already exists like that; "the Ecologist", where advocacy is de rigeur - and supporting data is typically of the "believe me" type, or is cherry picked.  Kudos for trying to prevent a respected journal from going down-hill.

Avatar of: dovhenis


Posts: 97

June 19, 2012

Theories, Blind men-Elephant And Peer-Review
A. Theory, the first of several definitions:
The analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another.
B. Enlightenment, a philosophical movement of the 18th century, characterized by belief in the power of human reason and by innovations in political, religious, and educational doctrine.
C. The tale re the blind men and elephant:
D. Peer-review:
A process by which something proposed (as for research or publication) is evaluated by a group of experts in the appropriate field.
E. AAAS peer-review:
F. What kind of enlightenment can re-evolve in a counter-enlightenment culture, in which scientific theories postulated by “blind menâ€쳌 are selectively “certifiedâ€쳌  or “rejectedâ€쳌 by an omnipotent religious  blind-men trade-union-association?
Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

Avatar of: Roy Niles

Roy Niles

Posts: 32

June 27, 2012

If your paper supports your hypothesis, how do you avoid becoming an advocate for that hypothesis?  Ideas are not neutral to their own contentions.  In the end all science comes from educated opinions, or as Einstein said, an educated guess. This little snippet of an article has clearly left the real reason for bouncing this editor out.
That's my advocated opinion anyway.

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