Wesołowski T. 2012. Faulty practice in field biology – what should be done? www.forestbiology.org/articles/FB_01: 1-7.
I recently expressed my concerns related to the use of nest-boxes in ornithological research. The issues raised there, however, seemed symptomatic of deeper problems in the practice of field biology, which could undermine the integrity of the science we pursue, a concern shared by others in ornithology and in a wider zoological community. Here I outline some major problems in field biology (deficiencies in the study design, style of data reporting and editorial procedures), identify possible causes, and propose feasible solutions. There are several problems in the practice of field biology which, if not remedied, could have harmful long-term effects. The authors intending to publish many papers in the most prestigious journals tend to frame titles using very broad terms to overestimate their importance and overgeneralise the results. Exploratory, observational, studies are undervalued (treated as a sort of inferior science, not deserving publication in high-profile journals). Field studies are done and published by people without basic field skills/taxonomic knowledge (an especially acute problem in poorly known tropical regions). Moreover, field procedures are inadequately described (others cannot evaluate the quality of work and replicate the study if necessary). Field data can be underreported (biological data in the results section are replaced by outcomes of statistical analyses). Proper credit to earlier work is missing. Many authors tend to ignore earlier sources and refer only to the most recently published papers. I think it is possible to relieve the discussed problems. In order to do so, we have to “dethrone” publications, cease to treat them as if they were the purpose of scientific work and the sole measures of scientific output. To improve the situation, we also have to require that journal editors (1) modify the list of requirements distributed in Guidelines for the authors to include aspects crucial for proper documentation; (2) extend the list of questions which referees have to address, to include the above aspects as well, and (3) consistently reject all submissions not fulfilling these minima. Additionally, the journals would have to stop promoting unsubstantial quality criteria, e.g. “impact factors”.