The Grandeur in this View of Life

IBS, part 1: Scientific meetings are not just for sun in winter…

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There has been a delay in my posting, in part because biogeocoenosis has been on the road. With family in tow, I have traveled to Tucson, AZ, where I will be doing some sabbatical research with members of Brian Enquist’s lab in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona (more on the work we are doing in an upcoming post on biodiversity gradients). After spending the holidays in Tucson (and believe me, there is nothing like xmas eve (or any other day) at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum! See the photo below…), I’ve come to North Miami, FL, for the meeting of the International Biogeography Society (IBS).

After my last post I got several comments (hooray!) reaffirming my claim that in order to combat science denialism (as well as scientific illiteracy and plain old ignorance and indifference), it is very important for everyday, non-science folk to understand how science is done. And by this, I mean how a reasoned but tentative narrative, supported by verifiable, repeatable observations, arises from the collective efforts of a large community of researchers.

Those comments got me to thinking that it might be useful for me to blog about my experience at the IBS meeting. Of course, the idea of blogging a meeting is nothing new but most cases I am aware of are either blogs targeting other researchers in the same field, so that meeting highlights can be shared with colleagues, or “news” type blogs aimed at bringing the latest scientific breakthroughs to the broader public. My hope is to do a little bit of the latter, but to also reflect on what it is that we are doing as scientists, when we get together at a meeting like this. My hope is that doing so will help to illuminate a little more, what it is that scientists do.

So just as a start, I’ll give you a brief outline of my schedule for the meeting:

Today (Wednesday) I am attending an afternoon pre-conference workshop on “Writing Science for the Public” led by Sarah Perrault from UC Davis. So hopefully, you will see a vast improvement in my posts, starting tomorrow!

Stay tuned!

Thursday is the official opening of the conference. There are two symposia (series of talks dedicated to particular subject areas), on the biogeography of islands and the biogeography of species’ traits, as well as a longer talk on the biogeography of the Caribbean. Ecologists and biogeographers generally like to learn a bit about the particular places they are, even if it takes time away from more academic scientific discussions. There is also a poster session; during lunch and a pre-dinner cocktail hour, researchers gather in a large room with posters describing a research project. Folks circulate among the posters and engage the authors in discussion. My poster, describing research testing the “Tropical Conservatism Hypothesis” is one of 135 presented during that session. I will let you know how it goes.

On Friday there are two more symposia, one on paleontology and biogeography and another looking at biogeographic implications of climate change; so we are looking both deeply into the past as well as into the near future. There will also be more posters, 137 to be exact. There will also be a lecture from an award-winning biogeographer, Miguel Araújo, and, later, a “beach party” at the resort that is hosting the meeting.

Saturday is the last day of the meeting. In the morning and afternoon, there will be four concurrent sessions of contributed talks; 15 minute presentations of research followed by short question periods. Finally, in the evening, there will be a keynote address by James H. Brown, a past president of the IBS, distinguished ecologist and biogeographer, and one of my graduate mentors.

So it’s a busy week coming up. I will learn a lot, meet a lot of new people and see some old friends. I will see old ideas overthrown (or maybe revitalized) and new ideas presented for critical assessment and discussion. For biogeocoenosis, and other scientists like me, this is NERD PARADISE!




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