Do You Believe in the Value of Your Work? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.)


Do You Believe in the Value of Your Work? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.)

There are those situations in which you have to face a reality check: do you believe in the value of your work? Would you fight to defend it? Take the “risk” of it? I do.

I have read a recent entrance in Nature:

“Biologists urged to hug a preprint”. Nature. Ewen Callaway & Kendall Powell. 16 February 2016. (link)

The intro begins with: “Physicists do it; computer scientists, mathematicians and economists do it. And this week, a who’s who of biomedical researchers and publishers is asking what it will take to convince life scientists to do it, too — release their work online before peer review and formal journal publication.”

These speed up dissemination, give students and postdocs tangible ways to cite their contributions to the literature, and stimulate discussion and ideas, — accelerating and improving life-sciences research.”

I have read this entrance with deep interest. Being a PhD Biologist blogger myself, I among those addressing scientific topics on environmental issues offering a fast paced analysis on real time occurrences and observations, and their significance in a broader picture. Altogether, it represents a body of work open to access for the public domain. But such availability without restrictions comes with its ups and downs. The ups come with the potential offered to generate productive interactivity in a multidisciplinary exchange of ideas enhancing discussion and feedback. But also,  I find my work extremely exposed to the risk of being used by authors in their publications with the sense of no need for recognition, and I have a recent example which I will address later on this publication.

So, how can you enhance the publication of original ideas if they are at risk of not being recognised?

Many researchers might find themselves being without a job position in academia. In that case, either cause your job is outside academia or you are between jobs, without institutional support it is almost impossible to publish in scientific journals.

In my case, I have used for more than 3 years the format of blogging to keep increasing my Intellectual Portfolio. I have developed what I believe is a worthy line of research on environmental issues based on making assessments from discussing data through conceptualization and visualization. Always trying to embrace transversal approaches aiming for a multidisciplinary interaction enhancing awareness for all levels of thought. What I consider the major contribution from my work is the capacity to look at issues differently from others, to create new patterns of thought, with the potential of bringing new light into complex matters. That is what my input could bring into a team stuck in playing with data without results.

So if I have to define a value contained in my work on which I deeply believe, that is its potential to transcend beyond barriers between disciplines in the scientific thought helping to push stagnant positions out of the ditch.

The risks of being invisible

In research, if you don’t make a noise you don’t exist.

But if you make yourself noticed, you exposed yourself and your work for public scrutiny.

I have already being aware of two situations showing the potential of seeing my research being applied in scientific production but also with the downside of not seeing it considered worthy to deserve recognition. One happened over the Theory proposal that I published over atmospheric dynamics, GHGs and energy gradients (Link here). The second situation has occurred few days ago with the recent publication of a paper in Nature.

On May 15, 2014 I published an entrance in my blog with the title: “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” is … 42 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) http://wp.me/p403AM-9M.

I used this publication to start several discussions over 10 different groups at LinkedIn, among them (you need to be logged in at LinkedIn):

  • NOAA Research: See discussion here 
  • Environmental Consulting Professionals. See discussion here.
  • AGU See discussion here
  • NOAA See discussion here.
  • Environmental Impact Assessments See discussion here.

I used the title on those discussions:

– “Are we ever be ready to use a number to measure the stability of our environment before establishing how it works?”

Top Contribution Linkedin Diego Fdez-Sevilla

Within the body of my publication in this blog I wrote things like, but not only:

I have experience in evaluating the limitations of monitoring environmental atmospheric conditions from fundamentally looking at limitations when monitoring meteorological parameters and biological atmospheric particle load and transport (pollen). From my research, the papers that I have found through my career as researcher and my experience participating in debates there is a general bias admitted in today’s environmental data coming from conventionalisms based on prioritising building data sets. This situation induce many studies to overlook the impact that the disparity of representativeness between monitoring locations incorporates in the interpretation of many correlations.

Those limitations are consciously present in my position about global climate variations. I am not in neither side, claiming in favour or against AGW. Actually, I would like to follow a side walk, trying to be apart from any already adopted preconception, trying to start from the bottom up and see which conclusions could be found following separate paths.

“We try to correlate increases in temperature with changes in our
environment. That means looking at only parameters “knowingly” related
with temperature. And this relation has to be direct in order to give
the strongest correlations. The limitation that I see in this approach
is that indirect effects from multivariable synergistic feedbacks are
poorly considered.” Instead of following the already settled in stone conception of temperature as the parameter to be correlated with anything or nothing I want to explore the idea of considering temperature as a mere symptom. Why not make the question backwards? Based on what we already know, what could be the possible implications in our ecosystem derived from the broad range of changes induced in our environment?

The most difficult thing in environmental sciences is to recognise and characterize thresholds based on correlations. No correlation can explain and forecast or project the transition from a primitive thermodynamic geologically dominated system to the origin of biological processes. That transition changed the chemistry of the environment in the hydrosphere, landscape, soil weathering and atmosphere composition, affecting the thermodynamics of the whole system.
No correlation can explain and forecast or project the genetic drift in evolution. The transition from simple structures with anaerobic and not solar related metabolism to complex organisms oxygen and solar dependent changed the availability of major volumes of elements by releasing them from their complex molecules into water cycles, ground and air. And it is as much difficult to understand which environmental conditions and parameters define the thresholds that change the magnitude of forces and trigger the activation of new systems (biotic and abiotic).

Lets imagine water as an unknown substance and heat to represent the concept of what I see as our limitations in understanding environmental evolution. The characteristics (physic and chemical) of this substance are different between states from solid, liquid and gas. The major correlation defining the presence of those states is temperature and therefore, the force affecting changes is heat. The strength of any correlation between temperature and water is different for each state of the substance. And there are thresholds that break the correlations by defining changes in molecular organization (freezing and boiling points). But also other factors affect those correlations such as impurities (soluble substances) and environmental conditions such as pressure and surrounding water saturation.

Following this idea, I would take Celsius degrees and liquid water to represent the time scale that we apply in studying environmental correlations. Similarly, in our time scale of environmental data, we see what happens between heat and temperature from 20 to 80 C. We can see raising temperatures in water correlating with other parameters (mostly heat related), and yet, the limitations of our measurements (we only monitor a small fraction of what is going on in our ecosystem, mostly in urbanized areas) and our understanding of synergistic interactions, make our models short-sighted to foresee thresholds marking points of inflexion which might induce changes in the dominant role played by the forces we know, as it would happen in order to foresee what would happen increasing temperature of liquid water beyond 99ºC. Or instead of temperature by increasing pressure, or instead Tª and Pressure by adding soluble particles or instead of … Are we ever be ready to use a number to measure the stability of our environment before establishing how it works? Would not it be like building models assuming liquid water beyond 100ºC? What are we measuring? How much amount of “something” or “everything” can the environment take without other numbers changing? What are we going to measure in order to define the “predictability” of our environment when this environment is constantly absorbing “unpredicted” fast paced alterations?

Let see simple numbers. How many mechanisms of resilience have we managed to identify in our environment at local and global scale? How many perturbations in our environment have already been identified by being linked with those mechanisms? Are we going to measure thresholds defining the limited capacity of those mechanisms to absorb perturbations?

Our environment, as we know it, is the result of many forces (internal and external, biotic and abiotic) exerting pressure against each other. The self regulated – constant adjustment between variations in those forces has created, as a result, the conditions that have been suitable for our ecosystem and ourselves to develop. And we have taken for granted that those conditions that we know, are regulated by forces so strong that anthropogenic pressure might not be “statistically significant” to interfere by any means. What we still don´t fully understand is how difficult or easy might be to interfere in the adjustment existent between those forces. It might be enough to allow one of those forces to gain strength over the others just to be the cause for a change in the adjustment.

In ecology as in biology, what it gives a 99% significant correlation, looking at causes having an impact over the health state of a system, does not come from what attacks the functionality of mechanisms of resilience, in biology called the immune system. Those threats do not aim to the organism existence, they just limit the capacity of defence against other threats. A 99% significant correlation comes from what threats the existence of the system by overcoming the mechanisms of resilience or just, the lack of them. In that way, anthropogenic pressure over the functionality of  the environment might not give ever a significant correlation when compared with other forces. For example,  tree rings will always be defined primarily by solar activity, however, one day it might become relevant to understand the role played in the ecosystem by the type of tree,  the location of those trees, their number and the stress factors affecting their metabolism.

There is a chance of that we might be looking in the wrong direction. Threatening the state of our ecosystem is a different matter that threatening the capacity of this ecosystem to absorb perturbations “in a manner suitable to our capacities for adaptation“. The question following this idea is about, what would happen if the global environment loses flexibility to absorb unusual variation from all the forces playing part in our climate?

The behaviour of the atmospheric circulation (climate) might well generate an indirect indication of fluctuations in forces being part of the mechanisms driving our climate. The correlations might also point to connections between Solar activity and localised events (AO/NAO/PDO/ENSO …). However, several studies have already pointed out that the atmospheric circulation, and potentially the oscillations associated, are also sensitive to the influence of established ecosystems (oceanic and continental). Thus, ativities changing the environmental performance of those ecosystems become part of the whole feedback network.

Measuring singularities might give us numbers. However, if we want to find a number, a significant number which represents the answer to all our environmental questions, I may well take that the answer is 42. What I am missing here, is not about the value of understanding numbers, but the meaningfulness of questions … And please, don´t get me wrong, I am aware of that I might be so off topic, or redundant, or biased, or …  that, my own point of view might be a meaningless one. I leave it open for debate… I just want to make a point.

Now I have found the following publication pointing to a paper released on Nature.com:

“Researchers find the tipping point between resilience and collapse in complex systems”. Using statistical physics, network theorists have developed the first-ever tool to identify whether systems are in danger of failing. February 17, 2016.
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160217180253.htm

“The failure of a system can lead to serious consequences, whether to
the environment, economy, human health, or technology,” said Barabasi,
Robert Gray Dodge Professor and University Distinguished Professor in
the Department of Physics. “But there was no theory that considered the
complexity of the networks underlying those systems–that is, their many
parameters and components. That made it very difficult, if not
impossible, to predict the systems’ resilience in the face of
disturbances to those parameters and components. Our tool, for the first
time, enables those predictions.”

“Barzel, a postdoctoral fellow in Barabasi’s lab who collaborated on
the research and is now at Bar-Ilan University, draws an elegant analogy
between the role of temperature in identifying that tipping point in a
pot of water and the single parameter–a temperature equivalent, as it
were–that their tool can uncover to identify the tipping point in any
complex system.

Consider: 100 degrees Celsius is the tipping point for water changing
from liquid to vapor. Think of liquid as the desirable state for the
system and vapor as the undesirable one, signifying collapse. Millions
of parameters and components quantify what is going on within that pot
of water, from the relationship of the water molecules to one another to
their speed and the chemical bonds linking their elements.

As the water heats up, those parameters and components continually
change. Measuring those multitudinous changes over time–a microscopic
approach to assessing the water’s state–would be impossible. How, then,
are we to know when the water is reaching the threshold that divides
the desirable (liquid) state from the undesirable (vapor) state?”

“We collect all the data and map it to one number, a universal
resilience curve,” said Gao, a postdoc in Barabasi’s lab. “That’s the
only number we need in order to quantify whether the system is on the
desirable or undesirable side of the threshold, or even approaching the
danger zone.”

The paper in itself does not make any direct use of the content that I published in my blog and yet the way they describe it to make it comprehensible to the broad audience goes too close to what you find in my publication to be considered a mere coincidence. Same analogy to address the same issue, different tools to play with it.

Neither I applied any mathematical development I could claim that it was copied or misused. Even I don´t agree with their conclusions and I believe that biological systems can not be enclosed in mathematical expressions, and far less by considering one single variable (Temperature) to assess the evolution of an organic system. That is exactly what I have discussed in my publication and many others included under the category “Environmental Resilience“. Among them, the following have a significant value in this matter:

I feel that what I offer through my publications is what it can be misused: Original ideas and patterns of thought with scientific functionality.

So, where should it be enhanced the participation of scientists, in the generation of original ideas or in the production of data from ideas picked-up from others? If both are relevant and necessary, both should have equal recognition.

Adopting postures

I work on finding connections and developing methodologies. Producing data to claim the originality of a methodology is like making km on wheels and to claim its invention. How would an institution feel if after having invested thousands on a contract for a research to produce work with original intellectual value, finds out that other people claims their originality?

I believe in the value of what I do, and since I am the director of the institution holding my work (my blog), the principal investor (economically and time wise) and the principal  researcher driving the line of research presented, I want to stand up behind my work and what it represents even if that it is seen as challenging the establishment. Do I feel proud of my work in this blog? What I feel is responsibility behind it. If I am wrong, I would save time and resources to others following my path, but, if I am right and I don´t share it for public review, I would see events unfolding in front of my eyes making me feel guilty from not making anything about it. May be it seems presumptuous to some. I´ll take it.

I have invested the development of my professional career as researcher in publishing my independent line of research in the public domain seeking an open review which would allow me to reach more than a limited process of two reviewers in a single journal. Risky business indeed, but since I don´t have institutional support (or any other) I believed that such approach had the potential to overcome my limitations and unify peers in discussing topics which I believe require new lines of approach. Since I have received plenty of silence and none claims against my publications I can assume that some of it comes from silent approval. My major worry comes from seeing that somebody tries to take advantage from my inconspicuous presence in the main stream media to offer as theirs what they found in my work.

Last week, I was about publishing a new post sharing new approaches analysing data to backup my line of thinking in atmospheric dynamics.

Atmospheric dynamics Diego Fdez-Sevilla

Some of the latest analyses which I have performed have taken me to obtain an intriguing figure obtained from confronting series of daily values for one parameter in different locations opposite in the NH over five full years between 2010 and 2014. I was willing to share it in hope of discussing its significance, but now I wonder, with whom?

Diegto Fdez-Sevilla

Only by having a clear posture on this it will be enhanced the use of Digital media in science and speed up the so much needed process of resolving the present challenges that the state of science face.

Beyond networking

I might share too much from my own experience but I feel that any person in their early stages looking at what a career in scientific research involves should be aware of the reality that some of us live.

Some time ago I received a petition to share networks in LinkedIn by a senior profile. And I asked

Your profile is not among the ones to miss easily. I am glad of having your interest on being part of my network. Everybody sharing values and a state of mind is always welcome to become part of my network. Since I publish in my blog as well as at LinkedIn, I like to know the repercussion that my activity has in the social media. So, if you don´t mind, I would like to ask how have you found my profile and what has moved you to send me an invitation. Have a nice day, and thanks for your interest. Diego.

The answer was:

I invited you to join my network for three reasons: 1- interested in aerodynamics and spacial relationships relative to environmental remediation processes; 2-you are a Ph.D and capable of deeper scientific discussions and you want critical thinking, productivity, are passionate and are still trying to make a difference and find the puzzle pieces and the synergy; and 3-a scientist that has well-developed social and communication skills is a welcome participant.

I sincerely found so much value on those words that I could not hold back and I shared what I felt when I read them:

Thanks for replying and your feedback.

I really appreciate it. Since you have shared some insides on your way of thinking I will share some from my own.

I am glad that you find value on my contribution and yet, it makes me feel sad. Meanwhile people with your profile can find it useful, I get the feeling of that in order to further develop my career, the same values you find worthy might be actually the ones getting on my way at professional level.

I used to published my research and participate frequently in groups like AGU, NOAA and NASA. The kind of interaction I got from other linkedin users in those groups, at all levels, was mainly silence. Not even people denied the value from my approach towards environmental issues. Actually, having a well formed assessment over my body of work highlighting its weaknesses would make my life easier. And It would even have saved me time and money if I see that it is not worthy to carry on with it.

And that makes me wonder. Might it be that my approach does not share enough interest from those in relevant positions? Could it be that my critical thinking challenges the statement and is not seen as tamed enough to be considered worthy to incorporate it in a team or just to recognise it? But also, would it be my contribution seen as naive because of my passion trying to fight for what I believe?

I am not a youngster with attitude any more, or at least, not a youngster. Being 41 years old already, I look at my body of work and the passion that I put on it. And then, I look at the world around me, my family and friends. And I see two worlds sharing space but distant one from the other.

I have made a bet investing in my self, defending my own line of thinking and research over the role of being a follower. But my work and passion is not allowing me to offer an emotional and economic stability into my own life, and neither makes me an option to support economically those close to me when they are in need for help. Actually, my situation is barely sustained by my savings and small sporadic jobs as consultant. A situation with no future prospects.

Altogether it makes me think if its worthy for me to keep going with my research and social interactivity. I made my bet investing on myself and my passion, opening a line of research and way of doing things which I could no see offered by others. My passion has led me to work in producing and discussing a body of work which is out there for others to judge and use, functionally. So I have accomplished my main goal.

Now it is time for me to assess the reality of my own situation and consider that if my current activity does not bring me stability I will have to somehow, find another type of activity that it will. Gardening, waitering, …

100 things to say by Diego Fdez-Sevilla stats Oct 2013-Oct 2015

Visits to this blog from Oct2013 to Dec2015.

—xxx—

PerspectiveSince October 2013 I have been studying the behaviour of the Polar Jet Stream and the weather events associated as well as the implications derived into atmospheric dynamics and environmental synergies.

Many of the atmospheric configurations and weather and climate events we see these days are very similar with the progression followed since 2013. Please take a look at posts addressing those events from previous publications in this blog or look at the categories in the top menu. Also at research-gate. Feedback is always welcomed (d.fdezsevilla(at)gmail.com).

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About Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.

Citing This Site "Title", published online "Month"+"Year", retrieved on "Month""Day", "Year" from http://www.diegofdezsevilla.wordpress.com. By Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD. More guidance on citing this web as a source can be found at NASA webpage: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/bibliography/citations#! Bachelor in General Biology, Masters degree "Licenciado" in Environmental Sciences (2001, Spain). PhD in Aerobiology (2007, UK). Lived, acquired training and worked in Spain, UK, Germany and Poland. I have shared the outcome from my previous work as scientific speaker in events held in those countries as well as in Switzerland and Finland. After couple of years performing research and working in institutions linked with environmental research and management, I find myself in a period of transition searching for a new position or funding to support my research. In the present competitive scenario, instead of just moving my cv and wait for my next opportunity to arrive, I have decided to invest also my energy and time in opening my own line of research showing what I am capable of. The value of the data and the original nature of the research presented in this blog has proved to be worthy of consideration by the scientific community as well as for publication in scientific journals. However, without a position as member of an institution, it becomes very challenging to be published. I hope that this handicap do not overshadow the value of my work and the intellectual rights represented by the license of attribution attached are respected and considered by the scientist involved in this line of research. Any comment and feedback aimed to be constructive is welcome. In this blog I publish pieces of research focused on addressing relevant environmental questions. Furthermore, I try to break the barrier that academic publications very often offer isolating scientific findings from the general public. In that way I address those topics which I am familiar with, thanks to my training in environmental research, making them available throughout my posts. (see "Framework and Timeline" for a complete index). At this moment, 2017, I am living in Spain with no affiliation attachments. Free to relocate geographically worldwide. If you feel that I could be a contribution to your institution, team and projects don´t hesitate in contact me at d.fdezsevilla (at) gmail.com or consult my profile at LinkedIn, ResearchGate and Academia.edu. Also, I'd appreciate information about any opportunity that you might know and believe it could match with my aptitudes. The conclusions and ideas expressed in each post as part of my own creativity are part of my Intellectual Portfolio and are protected by Intellectual Property Laws. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial conditions. In citing my work from this website, be sure to include the date of access. (c)Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD, 2017. Filling in or Finding Out the gaps around. Publication accessed 20YY-MM-DD at http://www.diegofdezsevilla.wordpress.com/
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59 Responses to Do You Believe in the Value of Your Work? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.)

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