The greatest mass extinction in the history of life

This was originally posted at:

In palaeontology, there are so many things more important than dinosaurs. For example, the study of large-scale patterns in the history of life on Earth, commonly known as macroevolution, is all about uncovering patterns of speciation and extinction. We are currently about to enter the sixth mass extinction within the last 542 million years of life on Earth, so figuring out exactly what happened during periods of elevated extinction and ecosystem catastrophe is pretty damn important if we want to offset as much damage as possible.

Recently, a suite of new papers have been published giving detailed insight into the environmental and biological patterns and processes throughout the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, an event 252 million years ago that saw the demise of greater than 90% of life on this planet (numbers vary depending on which measure you use). What I’d like to offer here are bitesize summaries of each, and show that there is much more important research out there in palaeontology than just ‘woo new dinosaur’.

Continue reading

From impact factors to impact craters

This was originally posted at:

Day 2 in the Big Brother house (aka the European Geosciences Union General Meeting). There’s no where near enough beer, and tensions are getting high. A horde of angry horses have invaded the lower levels, and taken the President of Austria hostage, with demands of lowering the Fair Straw Tax.

But throughout all the acid-fuelled hysteria, two events have stuck out so far today. The first was a workshop discussion on open access publishing for early career researchers (ECRs), hosted by a new Editor for the EGU’s publishing house, Copernicus. Unfortunately, this event confirmed a lot of the current issues with the development of open access policies globally, in that there has been a serious communications breakdown about the effects the policy transitions, particularly in the UK now that Research Councils UK’s (RCUK) open access policy has come into play (April 1st), will have on how and where ECRs can publish. Here are comments on several of the more prevalent points raised:

Continue reading

Can fossil mammals help us with our conservation efforts?

This was originally posted at:

How can the dead help the living? This is a question a lot of fossil-fanatics have bent a lot of time towards over recent years, partially due to a desire to make palaeontology ‘relevant’ as a modern science, and secondly to help guide our efforts in conservation biology. A new series, edited by my supervisor Dr. Phil Mannion and others, focusses on the way we interpret palaeobiodiversity, biodiversity in the fossil record, for different groups and the issues and solutions facing the field. The final article in the volume struck me in particular.

How can fossils help us to protect these now and in the future? Source.

Continue reading

Permanent, Full-Time Managerial Position. Lunch and Tube Travel as Salary.

There was quite a stir earlier this month when UCL advertised an unpaid internship, the full series of responses of can be found here. Now it’s happened again with BG Mag, but for an editorial/managerial position. The pay? Lunch and travel for Zones 1-3, for a permanent full-time position. Full details are here, and screenshotted below in case they remove it (as has happened before). Thanks to Kelly Oakes for pointing this out.

Job description. Incredibly harmful.

This is another example of a job only being open to those who can afford to live in London without salary, as in those with exceptionally wealthy parents. It’s financially crippling to anyone who can’t, and immoral on many levels. And this is not just for a volunteer or work experience position: it’s a full-time and permanent managerial/editorial position. I imagine the average salary for that is slightly more than the £10/day or whatever this pathetic excuse for a wage amounts to.

I’ve written the magazine a simple letter asking them to either remove the position, or offer a salary that adequately reflects the position. It may have been slightly more strongly worded than this though.

It turns out that interns also are given the same ‘salary’. How incredibly sad to see this kind of employment still being advertised. I’ll update this, should I get a response. As Ben Goldacre points out in his similar post, this is a systemic issue, and needs resolving through open discussion.

Source: Corn on the Job.

UPDATE 1: Response from GB Mag:

Dear Jon,

The details we sent over to Gorkana included a salary. They have posted the wrong details, which has obviously reflected badly on us. I wouldn’t dream of getting an intern to fill this position.

I have asked Gorkana to remove the advert immediately but they are being very slow about actioning my request.

I am sorry for the upset this has caused you.



To which I responded:

Hi Wahilda, 

Thank you for responding. That’s good to hear about the intention to have a salaried position. I can’t help but notice that you’re advertising unpaid internships too though. The link provided in the previous email gives evidence about how detrimental this is, and I’m sure you’re aware of the consistent public outrage over such positions. I find it, therefore, a little concerning that along with these positions, you appear to equate ‘unpaid’ with ‘intern’ in your response below, and these adverts.

I am an intern, and I work in London. I get paid the London Living Wage, which is a fair salary. I would not be able to do my job without this. 
I politely, but strongly, request that you reconsider offering unpaid internships, as they are damaging to not only yourself, both in terms of the quality of candidate you employ and the image you portray to the public, and also to those who you hire.
Thank you for responding to the issue of the Editorial position – I hope Gorkana rectify the situation.

Hi Jon,

All our interns are extremely well trained whilst they are with us, and have a lot to put on their CV. Plus we have offered jobs to two we took on three months ago.



Time to be diplomatic.

Hi Wahida,

Why I don’t doubt that you train your staff extremely well, I must ask, could you personally afford to live in London for 3 months with no salary? Think about how this restricts your potential candidate list, as well as the moral implications of what you offer. Consider it further in the context of a graduate emerging from university with a maxed out overdraft and ~£30k worth of debt.
Just because you offered two of them jobs, this does not iron out the fact that you hired staff and didn’t pay them. The end does not justify the means, and in this case the means is, and always will be immoral. This isn’t a personal assault on your company, it’s a systemic problem, in that employers are exploiting a loophole which enables them to get skilled labour for no cost. It is somewhat comforting to hear that you train staff well, and offer employment to some after, but if this is the case, why not just hire them as full time anyway? As an employer, you really must consider this scenario from the perspectives of those who you are employing.
No response to the above yet, but, I did get this from Gorkana:

Dear Jon,

Gorkana would like to apologise for any confusion caused to you as a candidate and to GB Mag for the error in their advert for the vacancy for an Online Editor. It was human error on the part of Gorkana. GB Mag had stated in writing that the role would be paid and should in no way be blamed for the mistake.

Again, sincere apologies for any confusion. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Many thanks,

Also, it turns out they have taken down the job advert for the unpaid internships!


Springer Respond!

Recently, an article appeared in Naturwissenschaften, with the title ‘Deep Diving Dinosaurs’, with zero content about dinosaurs and being instead about their distant relatives, the ichthyosaurs. Naturally, being a miffed Brit, I decided to write a letter to the journal’s publisher, Springer.

Here’s the mighty response from one of their Editorial Directors:

Thank you Dr. Tennant,  

much appreciated. We are looking into it.  

Paul Roos

What did you expect? A speech about how they’re going to reform and streamline the publication pipeline? Nah, I expect this means something more along the lines of..

I’m not sure either how he got confused between ‘Policy Intern’ and ‘Dr’, as I certainly haven’t finished or even started a PhD yet. Not sure whether to facedesk at the irony of him getting my title wrong.

Perhaps nothing was achieved through this. But perhaps something was. On the off chance that someone at Springer now thinks, “You know what, we have a responsibility to publish scientifically rigorous articles, so perhaps we should be a little more careful during our review/editorial processes in future”, then great success! For the sake of science, if you spot a mistake like this in future, don’t let it just fester in the system. Do something about it – it takes 5 minutes to write a letter, and the worst that can happen is you won’t get a response. If you can get someone with a bit of clout (like a Professor) to co-sign too, then even better. As John Hutchinson commented though, if you do chose to write a letter, keep it short, sweet, and diplomatic. You’re much more likely to get somewhere that way.