Are you a scientist preparing for a conference presentation? Writing a blog post? Giving a media interview? David Dobbs, a science writer and blogger of Neuron Culture, has some advice for you: “Hunt down jargon and kill it.” 
Scientists sometimes take specialized terminology, core to the research that they do, for granted. While the use of such “trade language” can make communication between issue specialists more efficient, it can make communication with audiences outside of those niches—including scientists in other specializations—less clear and less productive.
We wanted to pull back the veil from some scientific terms that we use at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). So today, we took to the streets to see how many people know what “wicked problems” means.
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Socio-environmental Synthesis? Yeah, We’ve Got an RFP for That
Great ideas need support—SESYNC honors this need by offering a variety of integrated, socio-environmental synthesis programs. The structure of these programs allows us to make advances in areas of national and international priority while still accommodating the need for innovation and knowledge generation around emerging problems or opportunities. Each program also encourages links to policy and actionable outcomes.
So, you want RFPs? We’ve got three:
For scholars interested in critical questions at the interface of biodiversity and ecosystem services, funding is available for up to six collaborative synthesis projects that bring together data, ideas, theories, or models that investigate a pressing environmental issue involving complex human-nature interactions and global change. Proposals are due October 9, 2013.
For graduate students interested in the complex interactions between human and natural systems, we will be hosting a Socio-Environmental Synthesis Research Proposal Writing Workshop that will provide participants with:
introductions to SESYNC, socio-environmental synthesis research, team science, and actionable science;
networking opportunities to build professional relationships with other students, particularly those from different disciplines; and
training sessions on the methods, challenges, and strategies associated with writing successful proposals, especially those related to the type of work SESYNC supports. Applications are due October 11, 2013.
For University of Maryland faculty, funding is available for innovative interdisciplinary workshops that bring together scholars from diverse disciplines to inspire novel research that focuses on topics related to the interdependency between humans and the natural environment. Proposals are due November 1, 2013.
Food for Thought
This fall, we’ve invited leading scholars in the fields of wildlife biology, applied mathematics, social anthropology, and beyond to SESYNC for our brown bag seminar series. Bring a lunch and an open mind and join us at our Annapolis facilities for these unique science conversations.
Click here for a listing of our seminars, which begin at 12:30 p.m. and are free and open to the public.
Image: Ana Luisa Ahern, Creative Commons
Is a Fish Saved a Forest Lost?
What are the unintended consequences of closing off large marine areas to fishing? It’s a question leading SESYNC scholars have a lot to say about. We interviewed Drs. Ray Hilborn, Taylor Ricketts, and Brendan Fisher about the global implications of marine protected areas (MPAs)—you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Earlier this year, Alan Alda—an award-winning film and television star, as well as a founder and visiting professor of journalism at the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science—told participants at a workshop hosted at Cornell University to ease up on the jargon when communicating science to the public. Scientists sometimes take specialized terminology, core to the research that they do, for granted. While the use of such “trade language” can make communication between issue specialists more efficient, it can make communication with audiences outside of those niches—including scientists in other specializations—less clear and less productive.
We wanted to pull back the veil from some scientific terms that we use at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). So today, we took to the streets to see how many people know what “epistemology” means.
the notions that the implications of any conservation action are global, not just local, and that the linkages between terrestrial and marine systems in relation to food security aren’t often thought of in marine research are right on the ball; but
possible shocks to the world’s fisheries as a result of marine protected area (MPA) governance efforts are not actually as worrying as the opinion piece suggests.
I asked Dr. Hilborn for some closing thoughts on the global implications of MPAs, as well as on my dialogue with Drs. Ricketts and Fisher. Below are excerpts from that conversation.
Melissa: Dr. Hilborn, thanks so much for taking the time to read over and respond to Taylor and Brendan’s feedback. Do you have any general comments?
Dr. Hilborn: Well, we’re in basic agreement that the marine conservation realm needs to widen its scope when assessing MPAs. Historically, studies have evaluated impacts on purely ecological elements such as biodiversity. But the interaction between MPAs and impacts elsewhere is not considered when the benefits of large marine closures are praised. What I’m saying with this paper is that in addition to biodiversity, and protections for marine landscapes, there are other, equally significant issues at stake—among them, food production.
Melissa: Taylor and Brendan raise two major questions in response to your opinion piece: one of them is spillover, or the capability of a community to “make up” for lost fishery yield by harvesting from the boundaries of an MPA. Would you say this is a fair point?
Dr. Hilborn: I’ll agree that the occurrence of MPA spillover does allow for stability in some local seafood production. But I’m talking specifically about large marine closures, and the concept of viable spillover is effectively limited to MPAs that are comparatively small, or to communities located on the perimeter of those regions. What about MPAs that are 2–8 times the size of California? My paper mentions Australia’s no-take area of 3.1 million square kilometers in the Coral Sea—that size is significant. That size does not lend itself to convenient mediation by boundary fishing for all affected communities. That’s the size that is most likely to result in the issues of alternative food production I’m describing.
The other important issue here is that many of these large MPAs are obviously in parts of the world where fisheries are well managed. When we do see a resultant reliance on surrogate sources of fish, those sources will almost always be from parts of the world where fisheries are poorly managed, such as Thailand, China, and Vietnam, and from aquaculture. It’s sort of a contagion effect: efforts to provide ecological protection in one area may actually give rise to intensified ecological degradation elsewhere.
Melissa: The other question Taylor and Brendan raise is related to social cost-benefit: that when we evaluate MPAs, we have to look at the “big picture,” not just one qualifier—in the case of your opinion piece, food production.
Dr. Hilborn: Again, the assertion here is quite reasonable and not dissimilar from what I’m saying in my paper. I’d emphasize that one piece of the puzzle, and a hugely important one, is an assessment of an MPA’s implications for food supplies. As I’ve written, the information on trade and environmental consequences of alternative food production is now available to calculate these trade-offs, but it’s just not currently being done. We can’t argue that comprehensive cost-benefit analyses are being conducted if we’re not taking a close look at the effect closing large portions of the ocean has on actions such as forest clear-cutting, pesticide application, water scarcity as a result of increased irrigation, and other agriculturally-related practices. We cannot afford to ignore the consequences of MPAs on our food production activities.
Melissa: For those interested in this subject, where should they go to learn more?
Dr. Hilborn: The new book The Perfect Protein gets into some of this conversation. They could also look into some of my lectures on YouTube. (Editor's note: One example is embedded below.)
That said, due to a lack of research on the subject, I’d encourage scholars to look at centers like SESYNC and NCEAS for opportunities to pursue this type of transdisciplinary synthesis study on marine conservation and food-based systems. These are questions worth answering.
Dr. Ray Hilborn is a former member of SESYNC’s External Advisory Board and a Professor of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington.
Dr. James Holland Jones is a biological anthropologist with interests in biodemography, life history theory, and the human ecology of infectious disease. Biological anthropology is the study of the origins and maintenance of human diversity; the axis of diversity that defines his research interests is the stunning variation across populations and through time in the fundamental quantities of demography: age-specific mortality and fertility rates.
This talk will report on on-going studies at three sites in the Brazilian Amazon where the speaker has been working on the three dimensions of land use, population, and environment for the past 16 years. Migration flows have been a powerful force over this time, as well as the internal dynamics of household decision-making interacting with the macro-economy. There is evident transformation of landscapes, strong urbanization development, and a move towards land consolidation.
Dr. Susan Winter is a Lecturer and Assistant Program Director of the Master of Information Management (MIM) program at the iSchool, University of Maryland (UMD). Before joining the faculty at UMD, Susan was Program Director of Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation. She received her PhD from the University of Arizona, her MA from the Claremont Graduate University, and her BA from the University of California, Berkeley. She has more than 20 years of international managerial and consulting experience.
There are widespread concerns that current trends in population and resource-use are unsustainable, but the possibilities of an overshoot and collapse remain unclear and controversial. Collapses have occurred frequently in the past five thousand years, and are often followed by centuries of economic, intellectual, and population decline. Many different natural and social phenomena have been invoked to explain specic collapses, but a general explanation remains elusive.
Recent work by the European Research Council (ERC)-funded EUROEVOL research project has established with a high degree of certainty that radiocarbon-inferred human demography during the Neolithic exhibits a boom-and-bust pattern that is probably driven by endogenous population dynamics rather than climate for