An alternative approach to communicating the science and events of the 2015 Ecological Society of Australia Conference in Adelaide.
Science communication is broader than simply publishing peer-reviewed journal articles. Sometimes it’s about drawing a witty comic.
Confused? Of course you are – that statement makes little sense! But then so does the idea of a Tasmanian devil drinking a beer…. Or a Stormtrooper musing about ecological disturbance…
Intrigued? Then come on a journey with a happy-go-lucky koala, his excitable kangaroo friend and a whole cavalcade of supporting characters as I present to you a novel approach to communicating the proceedings of a scientific conference on social media…
Page 1 – the idea – So I’m at my mum’s house in Melbourne, and it’s Saturday evening, and I’m heading to the conference the next day, and it’s my sister’s 21st birthday party. I keep thinking, ‘what can I do at this conference that’s different?’ Especially when conference tweeting is reaching ‘peak-beard‘. Maybe this will work…
Page 2 – the morning after commitment – So you remember how I said just a second ago that I was at a 21st birthday party…. Well this page aimed to show my excitement that the conference had begun with what looked like a great post-grad day, and my regret at the number of old-fashions consumed the previous night.
Page 3 – touchdown in Radelaide – Now look, I’m from Melbourne, and I’ve been to Adelaide…… but as it turns out, seems like I have NOT been to Adelaide! A lot going for it, and a lot going on! Great Sunday arvo.
Page 4 – welcome mixer group shot – Classic first social event of conference. Catching up with all your old friends. Making some new ones. All kinds of people talking all kinds of science. How’s the study? Good, when’s your talk? Hey, where’s that particular researcher I was hoping was going to be here?
Page 5 – CATS WARS episode IV: a new hope – It’s a period of ecological war. Rebel commissioners, striking from an ideological base, have maybe had a victory against the evil CAT VADER. Pursued by the predatory invader, Princess Logic races to incorporate scientific evidence into the eradication plans and restore balance to the ecosystem.
Page 6 – the tackling incident – So now I’m at the conference, it’s the opening address, time to be serious. Did the Commissioner just say ‘I’m going to tackle feral cats’ a whole bunch of times? Can’t get the literal image of that out of my head. This I have to see!
Page 7 – the wizard couldn’t do it – So we ‘restore’ a community by putting the plants in the ground and that’s it? Not even close says Prof. David Watson. How are those small animals that are poor dispersers expected to get there? The idea for this page was obvious after the brief mention of ‘magic’ by Dave in his talk.
Page 8 – interconnectedness – The theme for the conference and the subject of a keynote address by Prof. Jason Tylianakis. I think Jason did a much better job of explaining complex interaction networks and the effect of disturbance with the example of patient zero, Gaëtan Dugas. How’d he even do that?!
Page 9 – speed dating group shot – End of day 1 social event of the conference. Was a great opportunity to hear from ecologists that have achieved different things in different ways. Don’t neglect life for work. Work with your partner. Hey where’s that guy I know?
Page 10 – the Mike Clarke checklist – The fire management symposium on day 1 closed off with a ‘lessons-learned’ type talk from Prof. Michael Clarke about doing science for policy and management. Best practise approach to maintaining relationships. Actions that are obvious but not always followed.
Page 11 – Philosotrooper – Some brilliant ideas can come out of chance encounters and discussions at conferences. New perspectives on old problems. The next big thing! Sometimes I run into Mark Hall and the discussion turns into this…
Page 12 – the soon-to-be doctors who – The ESA award a number of scholarships each year to PhD students for some part of their project. Shout-outs to 2014 recipients – Lachlan, Daniel and Lisa – for good research, good talks and one good pop-culture reference relevant to all their projects.
Page 13 – the assassination of Wishi the Dog by the decision theorist Tara Martin – So we have imperfect knowledge but we want to achieve a conservation outcome. Dr Tara Martin uses models to compare the multiple approaches and make the optimum decision…..which sometimes is to ‘kill a dog’.
Page 14 – stop the toads! – Sometimes we have great empirical knowledge, and very informed models are used to essentially demonstrate (not predict) the optimum decision. Want to stop cane toads spreading across the Pilbara? Dr Reid Tingley knows what to do and how to do it!
Page 15 – poster session group shot – End of day 2 social (and science) event of the conference. Everyone has gotten to know a few more people. Reminiscing the great talks we’ve been seeing. Quality posters. The endless quest for drink stickers. Where’s that researcher I had a drink with last year?
Page 16 – man of plants – Often at ESA conferences I am blown away by the research being undertaking by PhD students – both in terms of the amount of work being done and the big concepts being tested. And sometimes I’m also impressed by the obvious pop-culture reference their name provides (see Ben Zeeman).
Page 17 – shameless self promotion – so it turns out that a great way to get a good crowd to your own talk on day 3 of a conference is to create a highly engaged and popular comic strip on Twitter and then use your new found power for evil….’that’s right everybody, you’re in a land snail talk!’
Page 18 – racist plants – Claire Brandenburger gave a prize-winning talk about trait differences in a daisy, between its native and exotic range, that have developed due to rapid evolution. In short, the exotics can now self-pollinate. The joke was too obvious.
Page 19 – breaking bad assumptions – When considering crop yield and all that jazz; is ecology and agronomy really mutually exclusive? Are native pollinators the heroes and exotic honeybees the villains? Well….no. For a more detailed answer, call Dr Saul Cunningham.
Page 20 – I got me the post conference dinner blues – Well…not really. That conference dinner was fun as. Still meeting new people and talking heaps of science. However, 3 full days of conferencing up a storm, and a really really late night, has made for one jaded academic koala! How will this all end??
Page 21 – equity in ecology – All joking aside, Prof. Emma Johnston and Prof. Mark Burgman gave a great keynote demonstrating and explaining some significant gender issues in ecology. Some of it pretty disappointing to hear considering it’s bloody 2015 for crying out load!!!
Page 22 – conference dinner group shot – End of day 3 social event of the conference. Characterised by a plethora of drinks and a dearth of food, but it didn’t matter because the company was so damn fine! More talking shop. More talking talks. Seriously where’s that person I’ve wanted to talk to all conference?
Page 23 – one last talk…and it’s got a dog! – Dr Cindy Hauser has employed Steve and his trusty dog Missy to track down that pesky hawkweed. In the end, dogs in conservation (+ & –) featured prominently in both this comic and the conference generally. Symposium next year?
Page 24 – the sign off – 6 days after that first page. Sooooo many retweets, ‘likes’, shares and replies. Phone constantly buzzing with notifications. Tonnes of positive feedback and way too many people to thank. I think that will about do it. Back to the airport. Promise a sequel. Done!
Of course this comic is in no way a comprehensive account of the 2015 ESA conference. Quality science was plentiful and time was poor in relation to drawing and publishing pages.
I saw many many talks, and talked to many many people and afterwards thought ‘that would make a good comic‘ or ‘ I want to make a comic about that but what is the ‘comic’ story?’ Many I obviously never got to.
With that in mind, come now on a journey with some intriguing characters – both new and old – as I offer up some very special supplementary pages for all the fans of ESA 15 COMIC!
Supp. Page 1 – censored – You know that you are trending when the porn-bot-pirates take over your hashtag! Day 1 of the conference will forever go down in history as that time people were getting (figuratively) smacked in the face with hardcore porn and there was a lot of ‘not suitable for work’ going on!
Supp. Page 2 – overview those ants – Prof. Alan Anderson laid down the 5 rules of ‘ant community response to disturbance’ which reminded me of the 5 rules of ‘dodgeball’ (dodge = habitat openness). It’s great to see experts of their field give overviews and present general rules based on years of research!
Supp. Page 3 – I was into it before it was cool – I didn’t even know that the Melbourne State Library had had a pop-up grassland park for a bit until I saw Dr Luis Mata’s talk. I only see benefits – ecological and social! Why so temporary?!?
Supp. Page 4 – the beards – When you are literally going to the home of The Beards, it’s inevitable that a ‘best beard’ discussion will eventually happen. Here we recognise full-wizard Dr Steve Leonard for services to both science and beards, with honourable mentions to Dave and Don.
Supp. Page 5 – random pub group shot – The unofficial social events of the conference are perhaps even more exciting for the wild ecologist. Any opportunity to ‘keep the party going’ and you will find them. More philosophical as the night roles on, but of course, there are many doctors of philosophy in the room. Will they ever find their friend?
Supp. Page 6 – the test results are in – In global pattern analyses, results from Australia that contradict the trend are often dismissed because Australia is just weird…but is that true? Prof. Angela Moles did the test. In many cases Australia is just at the opposite end of the continuum meaning Europe is just as ‘weird’.
Supp. Page 7 – the final wise words – In this, the final page, we revisit our rebel commissioner as he rushes his evidence-based training in order to face CAT VADER and ‘rescue’ his friends. The wise ecologist warns against the brash approach. Dr Tim Doherty covered a lot of this in his talk. In full Hollywood style, leave it on a cliffhanger.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the full account of ESA 15 COMIC. I had a great time creating this alternative form of science communication and was quite surprised with how well it was received.
Please get in contact if you want to talk about any of this further, if you’re maybe interested in covering the proceeding of your own conference via a series of comics and would like some tips, or if you are interested in getting your hands on high-res copies of any of the artwork – just shoot me an email.