Chiudi gli occhi e immagina una scienziata
I really like how in English, unlike in Italian, this sentence is gender-neutral:
Close your eyes and picture a scientist
I would like to tell you about my life as a scientist, and about our new research on the Tagliamento, published precisely in correspondence with articles on the new Flood Risk Management Plan (PGRA).
The PGRA has brought up the issue of the hydraulic risk of the Tagliamento, and the works on the middle course (Pinzano) associated with flood risk mitigation. The infrastructures in the middle course have been confirmed. I will write a post about how the new PGRA is different from the previous one. But first I would like to answer a question that was asked to me at Radio Onde Furlane last Saturday.
The main topic was around the new PGRA, planning, major works and constructive opposition. The great question was "What can we do"?
I answered poorly. I said that each of us can do their best, based on who we are. I went on to say that I, as a scientist, will continue to work on the Tagliamento to obtain results based on recent scientific knowledge (and on future changes). I said "as a scientists" using the word "siensiade", which in Friulian is used also as a mocking term for someone that is acting like a know-it-all, and it got me thinking: why did we start using the term in this way?!
And here I am off to a tangent, because the answer to the "What can we do?" question is anything but easy.
Do you know how long it takes to publish a scientific article? And do you know how much it costs to publish a scientific article so that it is freely readable and downloadable (that you don't have to pay to read it)?
Let's take my latest ERL on the values of the Tagliamento river (which stands for Environmental Research Letters, an excellent journal of the IOP science group).
The work was done, as they say, pro bono (it is also said in English). Hence, all the researchers involved spent their personal time and did not use their projects to manage all phases of the work. This means that we have all worked after working on projects that pay us.
Here are the timing of this latest work:
summer 2020 - Development of the idea (Chiara and me)
end 2020 - Data collection (the questionnaire),
02 / 2021-07 / 2021 - data analysis and publication of the first work on flood risk perception
08-2021 / 09/2021 - data analysis for work on ecosystem services
09-2021 - writing the work (about a month and a half)
10-2021 - Work sent to the magazine.
10-2021 / 11-2021 - The work was reviewed by two researchers who told us to improve things so that the work reaches a higher level
12-2021 - we worked on the proposed corrections, and sent the work back to the reviewers
01-2022 - The reviewers have accepted the new version of the work and the editor has decided to publish the article.
(I don't know how to calculate this in hours but I will try - even if we added only an hour a day for each day of the months mentioned above, it would be a lot of working hours!)
Then, my university covered the costs of the open access publication, meaning the article is accessible to all. These costs vary but are never below 2,000 US dollars. Swedish universities, through their libraries, have reached an (difficult and expensive) agreement that allows for employees to be able to publish open access.
So when I said on the radio that I have an idea of what to do to prepare another job, I'm basically saying that with three more researchers we have 6 months of pro bono work ahead (unless we get funding, of course!). We will all work in our spare time and the work will be carried out without a project.
Do I want this?
No! Because I am selling short off my work and the other researchers involved. The "free" time I spent and the absence of pay.
But is it just a question of "money"? Yes and no. it is certainly important to distribute resources in order to also finance researchers who have innovative ideas and who follow the latest developments. Our research, albeit developed during the "extra-time", came out on ERL because it was of high quality.
Here then we open a broader discussion on how it is important and necessary to show your work without being "siensiade" but showing the value of what you do. Do you think that in 2022 we are discussing how disciplines become "soft" when, finally, there are many women to be part of them. As if the scientific value expires, it is sold off, once we manage to be part of some disciplines in many.
What I had to say is that someone should worry about having scientists do the work necessary to understand how to manage the Tagliamento (in the long term, in a sustainable way, based on up-to-date scientific data and knowledge).
For those of you outside of academia but interested in the topic, I highly recommend the movie Picture a Scientist (it's even on Netflix, I was told).
PS: The scientific article that I quote in this post has been published here.
Unlike those published by me and collaborators, open access has not been published (because the open access publication as I told you is expensive!). So, unfortunately only I who work at a university can read it without paying. This "elite reading" is one of the many problems related to modern science. We will talk about it again!